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Nothing finer than fishing in South Carolina

fishing at sunrise.jpg (copy) (copy)

An angler does some early morning surf fishing at Folly Beach. File/Staff

When it comes to fishing opportunities, both freshwater and saltwater, it's hard to beat the quality available to residents of South Carolina's Lowcountry.

Within a few miles of Charleston, anglers can sample some of the best fishing for largemouth bass and giant catfish in the country in the Santee Cooper lakes, the Cooper River, the Edisto River or any of several other bodies of water.

Or they can dip their lines in brackish or salt water and tangle with everything from red drum (redfish) ranging from keeper-sized reds (between 15 and 23 inches) up to giant breeder bull redfish that must be released.

Have access to a boat? That opens even more opportunity.

It's no wonder that some of the largest fishing tackle manufacturers in the world — Ladson-based Shimano and Z-Man, along with Columbia-area companies Pure Fishing and Lew's Holdings — make their homes in South Carolina. They know a good thing when they see it.

Gettys Brannon, executive director of the consumer-advocate group S.C. Boating and Fishing Alliance, said the pandemic was a boon for people who moved to the Lowcountry and began looking at the available outdoor opportunities.

"With just fishing licenses alone, South Carolina sells more than 725,000 licenses annually and that contributes $6.7 million to the state's economy," said Brannon, who noted that boating and fishing in South Carolina has a $5 billion economic impact in 645 related businesses that provide 23,000 jobs. "People realized that spending time on the water was good for mental health."

Finding ways to successfully participate in those outdoor activities can be a challenge, if you don't know where to look. And determining what type of fish you've landed and the regulations that cover those species can be daunting.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources' website, dnr.sc.gov, is a one-stop place to visit for all types of fishing information, including size and catch limits, license requirements, tips and techniques and even freshwater and saltwater fishing clinics.

Visit your local tackle shop and meander around or follow them on social media. There's usually a bulletin board offering information about upcoming fishing clinics, which can be a treasure trove of information. And don't be afraid to participate and ask questions when you attend these clinics. That's the best way to learn.

Better yet, get their recommendations and hire a fishing guide for a day — not to learn where they fish, but to learn how they fish.

The biggest decision may be the type of fish to target. They require different skill sets and the learning curve is often complicated by the movement of the tide, which can come into play in the coastal rivers as well as along the oceanfront.

Fishing for largemouth bass or giant blue and flathead catfish in the Santee Cooper lakes is different than landing them in coastal rivers.

When it comes to saltwater species, the most popular inshore gamefish is the red drum, and they come in all size ranges, from small puppy drum often found in the creeks and rivers to giant bull redfish caught around the jetties or in the surf during the spring and fall. Live or cut mullet and menhaden are preferred baits. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources suggests using a short leader and circle hook on a fish-finder rig to help reduce mortality.

Clean, fast-moving water at ambush points is a good starting point for targeting spotted sea trout. Mud minnows, finger mullet or shrimp fished under a float are top live baits. You also can score by casting quarter-ounce jig heads rigged with soft plastic grubs.

You can also target small coastal sharks, such as the bonnethead or Atlantic sharpnose, in inshore or nearshore waters. As you move farther from shore, king mackerel and Spanish mackerel are popular targets.

And as your boating skills increase and you are on a boat capable of heading to blue water, South Carolina offers top-notch dolphin (mahi mahi), wahoo and billfish fishing.

So what's a fisherman to do? Heck, go fishing!

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