My most memorable fall fishing trip happened last year during the peak of the mullet run. I'll never forget this trip not because of how many fish we caught — in fact we didn't even land one — but because of what we witnessed.
A good friend and I had headed out before daybreak in search for tarpon. We first checked the mouth of an inlet north of Charleston, looking for rolling or busting fish. We didn't spot anything, and after a while began to lose hope.
On our way back in, I caught a glimpse of whitewater way off in the distance.
As we slowly approached the area, mayhem broke loose. Tarpon and sharks had a large school of mullet pinned up on a creek bank. Every other minute, a tarpon would roll or make an explosive strike at the surface (above). We got so close to the action that you could see big fish looking back at us.
At this point, we had no live bait, so we decided to throw out a big Hogy lure to see what happened. On the third cast, we jumped a monster tarpon that peeled off 100 yards of line and then shot half-way out of the water, shaking his head almost if in slow motion. The Hogy came flying out of his jaw, and the fish was gone. Heartbreaker — but what a sight!
Meanwhile, the fish were still feeding strong. So I checked my leader and threw it back in the blitz. Almost immediately I had another hit. I reared back and thought the fish was hooked well. This tarpon was smaller and came flying out
of the water, full force, almost cutting a full flip. As soon as he hit the water, the hook flew out.
After losing this one, I gave up the rod and began taking pictures. The wild and beautiful feeding frenzy was like something out of National Geographic Magazine.
This experience not only taught me which hooks not to use, but it also gave me enough dreams to last a lifetime.
These are the kind of days you can have out on the water here in the Lowcountry during the magical time of September and October. The weather has begun to cool and fishing is at its best for just about every inshore species we have.
Here are some tips to take advantage of our phenomenal fall fishing:
Redfish are, hands down, the most popular game fish in Charleston's inshore waters. Locally known as spottail bass, these fish can be found just about anywhere and everywhere. Shallow mud flats, under docks, on sand bars, and around jetty rocks are among the likely hideouts.
By the time September rolls around, finger mullet and shrimp have matured into bite-sized candies. The reds know that winter approaches and often gorge themselves to prepare.
Early morning low tides can produce awesome action in the shallow flats. You might see packs of fish crushing shrimp as they move down a bank, with sea gulls picking up the leftovers. DOA Shrimp, Hogy swimbaits, jerk shads and topwater lures all work well for these hungry fish. When the tides drop out of the flats, look for the fish to school up along nearby adjacent oyster reefs.
During higher tides, hard-bottom spartina grass flats will be teeming with fiddler crabs and tailing redfish. Poling a boat, paddling a kayak, or wading from shore all prove effective for sneaking up on tailing fish. Weedless jerk shads, gold spoons, and a number of weedless flies are standards in the flooded grass.
When fishing for reds along structures such as docks, remember that the older the dock, the better. Old pilings will be encrusted with mature oyster and barnacle growth, which attracts crustaceans and bait fish. This time of year, it's hard to beat fishing around such docks with Carolina rigs or popping-cork rigs baited with live shrimp or finger mullet.
Sand bar fishing also can be extremely productive in the fall. Young reds as well as bull reds roam the surf line looking for any feeding opportunity. Cut mullet, menhaden or crab all work well when fished on the bottom. I have also done well casting jigs and flies to these fish. They seem to get fired up out there in the surf zone (cooler water and less fishing pressure might be a factor).
Fishing for bull reds at the jetties and shipping channel edges should be on fire through October. Cut bait or live mullet on the bottom will get the job done. Remember, though, that it's important to properly vent deep-water fish before releasing them. If a fish looks bloated and was caught in 40 feet or more of water, I would definitely vent them.
For many Charleston anglers, trout reign supreme.
Easy to locate and catch with both live bait and artificials, these fish are perfect for fisherman of every skill level.
Trout numbers were down several years back due to a few consecutive cold winters. But they have bounced back, big time, over the past two years, and anglers are taking advantage.
Grass points, dropoffs, rock piles and docks are a good starting point. Pretty much any break in the current where bait is prevalent will hold fish.
Use popping corks paired with DOA Shrimp, live shrimp, mud minnows or finger mullet. Working grubs around oyster reefs produces plenty of trout as well.
To go after that monster trout, try topwater lures at day break. The Badonk-A-Donk by Bomber is a great choice.
Flounder is one of the most delicious inshore fish. These bottom-dwelling ambush predators can be caught on live shrimp, mud minnows or finger mullet.
During low tides, try fishing bottom rigs around creek mouths and structures. As the tide comes up, switch over to popping cork rigs fished against the grass line.
Trolling, drifting and casting are all effective for flounder.
White curly-tail and paddle-tails grubs seem to be their favorite artificial.
Sheepshead, also know as the convict fish, swarm the jetties in early fall and provide loads of fun.
Dropping fiddler crabs, oysters, clams or live shrimp vertically against the rocks will get you into the action.
This fish is difficult to hook due to its almost humanlike teeth. Small, sharp hooks such as Owner's Mosquito are a necessity.
One thing to remember when going after these efficient bait-stealers: You will probably catch one fish for every 10 fiddler crabs, if you're lucky, so bring plenty of bait.
Probably the least targeted fish in the Lowcountry, tripletail arrive in our waters in the early summer and remain until October.
Believe it or not, you can find these prehistoric-looking predators just about anywhere. I have seen them up in the marsh grass, along inlet tidelines, under crab trap buoys and 40 miles offshore under sargassum mats.
September is prime time for searching large bays near inlets that are full of shrimp and menhaden.
Prospect any pieces of structure or anything floating within these bays using a popping cork with live shrimp or DOA Shrimp.
The tarpon, also referred to as the “silver king,” ranks as one of the most difficult fish to catch here in the Lowcountry.
Tarpon in Florida may average 50-80 pounds, but they often exceed 100 pounds in South Carolina. The state record stands at 154 pounds, 10 ounces.
Tarpon migrate up the East Coast each spring, with the first wave hitting our beaches sometime in May. The fishing season peaks in late August and September.
Sandbars, deep holes and strong rips are just a few of the silver king's likely haunts. Finding areas holding lots of bait is important — these tarpon are here to gorge on plentiful menhaden and mullet.
During the mullet run in September, it's not uncommon to see these silvery giants skyrocketing through schools of mullet heading south for the winter. Locate these rafts of mullet and the tarpon won't be far behind.
One of my top tarpon rigs consists of a heavy-duty popping float such as the Blue Water Thunder, 80- to 100-pount-test leader, and a 5- to 9-ought circle hook baited with a frisky mullet, menhaden or croaker.
Bottom baits with similar leader and hooks catch plenty of tarpon as well.
To book a trip with Capt. Tucker Blythe of Grey Ghost Charters, call 843-670-8629 or go to greyghostcharters.com.