Step Right Up . . .
Offshore and nearshore fishing is a big deal in the South Carolina Lowcountry, but you don’t even have to launch a boat to enjoy a great fishing spot in this water-blessed region.
Text & photos by David Lucas
The landscape of the South Carolina Lowcountry is crisscrossed with rivers making their final push to the Atlantic Ocean. Twice daily tides cover vast acres of saltmarsh and tidal creeks in St. Helena and Port Royal sounds, an endless dance between salt and freshwater that makes this one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems.
As a result, from the Savannah River up through the ACE Basin and northeast to Edisto Island, fishing is second nature for the people who live here. It’s ubiquitous, an ever-present backdrop as unremarkable to locals as the rods and reels, baits and cast nets sharing space with the canned goods at local grocery stores. No wonder, then, that it’s also one of the most popular outdoor activities – among a wide array of available options – for the people who come for a visit.
“Choose Your Adventure,” urges a video that folks planning a vacation down here will find on the website of the Lowcountry and Resort Islands tourism region, and when you click play the music swells, and breathtaking scenes of beaches, sounds, creeks and saltmarsh being navigated by some seriously happy-looking folks in various boats small and large ensues. Well heck yeah! Who wouldn’t choose that.
But not everybody with the urge to catch a fish has easy access to a boat. Fear not though, for the Lowcountry region also offers a bounty of great options for the terrestrial-bound angler seeking his or her supper from bank or pier, beginning at its easternmost corner, where the beaches of Edisto Island offer great surf fishing opportunities. The area around Jeremy Inlet on the north end of Edisto State Park is popular with surf anglers (though I have also seen lots of folks fishing off the southern tip where the Edisto (the E in ACE) meets the ocean. A quick “Youtube” search yields a number of videos offering tips for the right bait and gear to use when targeting red or black drum, flounder, whiting, or other species here.
Travel inland from Edisto Beach and head south on Highway 17 towards Beaufort, Hilton Head and the Savannah River, and you’ll again cross Edisto River at Jacksonboro a drive that will take you through the heart of the ACE Basin. The suggested route for the east side of the ACE will take you by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources-managed Bear Island WMA. Bear Island is made up primarily of old ricefield impoundments and is a favorite of both waterfowl hunters and bird watchers/photographers. But between April 1 and September 30, designated impoundments on the property are also open to fishing. Most people who fish Bear Island tend to stick to the spots that are easy to access via car. The most commonly-caught species are mullet and blue crabs.
Anglers at Bear Island should also keep these guidelines in mind:
Pack in what you pack out. Littering on one of S.C.’s WMAs can net you an expensive ticket!
Bring plenty of bug spray. Especially as the weather warms, the mosquitos and no-see-ums can be intense.
Be aware of alligators, which are common on the property, and enjoy viewing or photographing them, and other wildlife, AT A DISTANCE.
NEVER climb or stand on water control structures (trunks) while fishing in the impoundments at Bear Island, or tie lines to a structure.
All anglers must fill out a hang tag at the front gate, keep it visible in their vehicle while on the property and return portion B when they exit.
The ACE Basin region and surrounding area offers plenty of other opportunities for shore-based angling. One of my favorites to visit is the Wimbee Creek Fishing Pier (adjacent to the boat ramp that shares its name) in Beaufort County. It’s a great “off-the-beaten-path” spot, and if you’re interested in expanding your fishing horizons, Briar’s Creek, which enters the Wimbee adjacent to the pier and boat ramp, is a great place to try getting your kayaking feet wet.
Another great pier-fishing spot is the Knowles Island Pier in nearby Jasper County, on the upper reaches of the Broad River. These old railroad trestle spots provide great structure to fish around, are very accessible, and generally allow shore-based anglers to get further out into the river than they would otherwise be able to.
There’s also the massive (1,800 feet long) Broad River Fishing Pier where Highway 170 crosses the very top of Port Royal Sound. Locals and visitors from Beaufort, Port Royal and the surrounding communities flock to this beautiful spot, especially in the summertime, to soak live or cut bait around the pilings of the “old” two-lane highway bridge that was converted to a pier when a larger bridge carrying traffic to Hilton Head and Point west was constructed. Fishing here, you are in deep water, and the structure provided by the pier makes it a productive spot.
Any list of shore-based angling opportunities in this region would surely have to include Hunting Island State Park. Campers and day visitors to the park have been enjoying the fishing opportunities there for generations. Surf fishing is popular on the beach, as is fishing in the lagoon and Johnson’s Creek. There’s also a pier at the park that extends into Fripp Inlet, but unfortunately, it was damaged during Hurricane Matthew and has not yet been repaired/reopened.
There’s plenty of other saltwater options to choose from in the coastal parts of the Lowcountry region, especially in Beaufort County. With all that access to salt water, freshwater fishing in this region can sometimes get overlooked, but upriver from the salt/freshwater dividing line on the Ashepoo, Combahee or Edisto rivers, the bass and bream are plentiful. And over on the region’s western edge, you’ll find the SCDNR’s Webb Wildlife Center. A center for wildlife conservation and research for more than 75 years, “the Webb” as it is affectionately called is well-known (and beloved) by South Carolina sportsmen for its deer and turkey hunting. But tucked away at the far end of Bluff Road at the edge of the Savannah River swamp, you’ll find one of the prettiest fishing spots you’ll ever see – at the pier next to the Bluff Lake boat landing, which is shrouded by large, Spanish-moss draped cypress and tupelo. It’s also a great place to launch a canoe for a blackwater paddle, and a two-mile hike down the nearby nature trail will take you through the swamp to the banks of the Savannah River.
Bank fishing is also allowed in the property’s upper and lower lakes, and all three areas provide opportunities to harvest largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker, and catfish. Small fishing lakes at the adjacent Hamilton Ridge WMA are also open to the public, according to property managers. All of these properties are open to the public year-round during daylight hours, but each may be closed at various times during hunting seasons for special hunts, so be sure and visit the web site or call before planning your trip. The number is (803) 625-3569.