You may not catch the numbers of trout you were accustomed to this fall, but there's a good chance you might catch the trout of a lifetime.
"We've had a ton of really big trout around. We don't have as many as we did since the freeze, but we have some nice ones for sure. The average fish I've been catching on my charters is bigger than normal. It seems like every fish you catch is two or three pounds," said Capt. John Irwin of Fly Right Charters.
The freeze occurred last January and sent temperatures in South Carolina's coastal waters below the critical point for several species, most notably spotted seatrout, one of South Carolina's most popular inshore species. Temperatures in the low 40s were recorded in Charleston Harbor and in some areas the water temperature fell into the high 30s.
In an effort to help speed the trout recovery, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources initiated a "Let ‘Em Spawn, Let ’Em Live” campaign, encouraging anglers to release all trout until the end of September, which is the end of the spawning season.
Robert Boyles, Deputy Director of SCDNR's Marine Resources Division, said this summer that the fish kill was more pronounced in shallow-water systems (shallow creeks and shallow ponds), but studies have shown that it wasn't as bad as fish kills that occurred in 2000, 2001, 2010 and 2011.
Irwin said he catches 95 percent of his trout using artificial lures, with those taken on live bait generally being by-catch while fishing for other species.
"I've been fishing the Rapala X-Rap, Shimano ColtSnipers, the MirrOlure MirrOdines, the D.O.A. 1/4-ounce shrimp and the 3-inch soft plastic shad tails and I use a lot of Eye Strike jig heads," Irwin said.
He said color choices are based on the color of the bottom he is fishing and the color of the sky.
"Dark against dark and light against light is always a pretty good combination," he said. "On a gray, cloudy day with really clear water I use dark colors against that gray sky. On a real clear, bright sunny day with a sandy type bottom, maybe whites and brighter colors are definitely better. You have to have a lot in your tackle box to find that right one."
Moving water is important in catching trout, and Irwin said he looks for rips that form off of certain creeks and drop-offs.
"You get a little seam of current where you have some swifter water that meets water that is moving slower," Irwin said. "I've got some spots that are non-descript, out the middle of nowhere, that have a little edge. Some of those spots, if I didn't have GPS I wouldn't be able to find them. Out in Bulls Bay I'm fishing a lot of channel edges, getting the boat in about 12 feet of water and casting into about four feet of water and I'm finding fish along those channel edges."
As for the speed of retrieve, he likes to let the current do most of the work with an occasional twitch and pause.
"When we were kids it was all about 1/4-ounce jig heads with plastic bouncing off the bottom," Irwin said. "Now I go a little bit lighter. If I'm fishing the lure in moving current, I want the water to move it as much as it can. Rather than fishing something that's so heavy it's going to find its way to the bottom quickly, I like the water sweeping those baits."
The big fish can be found anywhere, he said. He recently had a client catch a 7-pound trout at the Charleston Jetties, but he said there have been plenty of big trout in the Cooper River and he has seen pictures of big trout caught in Awendaw.
Reach Capt. John Irwin of Fly Right Charters at flyrightcharters.com or at 843-860-4231.