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Charleston, South Carolina is a prime destination for fishing enthusiasts, offering a wide range of opportunities for both fresh and saltwater fishing. Whether you're a seasoned angler or just starting out, this ultimate fishing guide to Charleston will provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your next fishing trip. From the best fishing spots and techniques, to local regulations and tips for a successful day on the water, this guide covers everything you need to know to catch the big one in Charleston. So grab your gear, pack a cooler, and get ready for an unforgettable fishing adventure in the Lowcountry.
Find your fishing trip
Local Charter Boats
Charleston, SC is a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts. The area offers a variety of charter fishing options, including inshore fishing, nearshore fishing, and offshore fishing.
Inshore fishing typically takes place in the shallow waters near the coast and is ideal for catching red drum, flounder, trout, and other species. Trips usually last 4-6 hours and are available year-round.
Nearshore fishing involves venturing a few miles off the coast to fish in deeper waters. This type of fishing is best for catching species like king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, cobia, and more. Trips usually last 6-8 hours and are available year-round, with peak seasons during spring and summer.
Offshore fishing is for those looking for a more intense fishing experience. This type of fishing involves heading 20-50 miles off the coast to fish in the deeper waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Offshore trips are typically longer, lasting 8-12 hours, and are available year-round, with the best seasons for certain species such as tuna, wahoo, and marlin, being spring through fall.
Before booking a fishing charter boat in Charleston, there are several important considerations to keep in mind.
When to book: To ensure you secure your preferred date and time, it's best to book your fishing charter well in advance, especially during peak fishing season from April to October.
Popular times of year: Different species of fish are more abundant in Charleston waters at different times of the year. For example, red drum, trout, and flounder are popular catches in the spring and summer months, while fall is a prime time for tarpon and shark fishing. Be sure to check with your charter company to determine the best time for your desired catch.
Maximum party size: Charter boats have varying maximum party sizes, so it's essential to ask and make sure the boat you book is suitable for your group size.
Adverse weather conditions: Fishing in Charleston can be impacted by weather conditions such as high winds and rough seas. Make sure to check the forecast before your trip and be prepared for changes. Your charter company should also be able to advise you on the best course of action in the event of adverse weather conditions.
Keeping your catch: Ask your charter company if you'll be allowed to keep your catch and if there are any size or quantity restrictions. Some charter companies may also have a policy of catch and release.
Cleaning your catch: Find out if the crew will clean and fillet your catch or if you'll need to do it yourself. Knowing this ahead of time can help you plan accordingly.
Sea sickness: If you're prone to sea sickness, it's a good idea to bring Dramamine or another over-the-counter medication to help prevent symptoms.
Essential items to bring: In addition to appropriate clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen, make sure to bring food, drinks, and any other items you may need for a day on the water. Also, don't forget to bring a cooler to keep your catch fresh.
- Remember to tip the first mate! Like servers or bartenders, first mates are generally paid a minimum amount and earn their living off of tips.
By taking these factors into account when booking a fishing charter in Charleston, you'll be well prepared for an enjoyable and successful day on the water. Whether you're an experienced angler or a newcomer to fishing, the abundance of opportunities in Charleston is sure to deliver a memorable experience.
Who Issues Licenses and Permits
In South Carolina, fishing licenses and permits are issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR is responsible for managing and conserving the state’s natural resources, including fish populations and aquatic habitats.
Where to Get Them
Fishing licenses and permits can be obtained online through the DNR website or in person at authorized licensing agents, such as sporting goods stores, bait and tackle shops, and county offices.
Types of Licenses and Permits
Recreational fishing licenses are required for all individuals over the age of 16 who plan to fish in fresh or saltwater. A variety of licenses are available, including resident and non-resident annual and short-term licenses. There are also special licenses for seniors and disabled individuals.
In addition to a recreational fishing license, some bodies of water in and around Charleston may require additional permits or stamps. For example, saltwater fishing requires a saltwater fishing license and a red drum tag. Commercial fishing operations may also require special permits and licenses.
Enforcement of Fishing Licenses and Permits
The enforcement of fishing licenses and permits is the responsibility of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. Officers regularly patrol the waters to ensure that all individuals fishing are in compliance with state fishing regulations. Penalties for fishing without a license or without the proper permits can range from fines to imprisonment.
In conclusion, obtaining the proper fishing license and permits is an important step for those wishing to fish in and around Charleston, South Carolina. The DNR is responsible for issuing licenses and permits, and enforcement is handled by the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. Before heading out on the water, make sure to check the specific requirements for the body of water you plan to fish in.
Whether you're a seasoned angler or a beginner, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a variety of species of fish in this beautiful coastal region.
Popular Surf Fishing Locations:
- Folly Beach
- Isle of Palms
- Kiawah Island
- Seabrook Island
- Edisto Beach
- Sullivan's Island
- Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
Types of Fish Caught During Each Season:
- Spring: Red drum, black drum, sheepshead, and flounder.
- Summer: King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and shark.
- Fall: Spotted seatrout, black drum, and redfish.
- Winter: Whiting and black drum.
Recommended Types of Bait:
- Live bait: Live sand crabs, live mullet, and live shrimp.
- Artificial bait: Jigs, spoons, and soft plastic lures.
Other Considerations Before Casting a Line into the Surf:
- Check fishing regulations and obtain necessary licenses at the DNR website.
- Pack appropriate gear, including a rod, reel, line, hooks, and bait.
- Know the tides and the effects they have on fishing conditions.
- Respect other beachgoers and wildlife.
- Use proper surf fishing techniques to increase your chances of catching fish.
No recommendations were influenced by manufacturers. We did, however, heavily consider customer reviews at retail websites when deciding which products to feature. We like these products, but we took care to make sure other customers agree. Some of the product links include affiliate codes. If a purchase is made, OuterBanks.com is paid a commission for the referral.
See our full surf fishing gear guide including rods, reels, line, rigs, carts, waders and more.
Surf Fishing Rod and Reel Combos
Rods can be purchased separately, or as a rod and reel combo. Though the length can vary by beach and surf conditions, local anglers traditionally recommend using an 8 to 16 light to medium surf type rod, which can adapt to most conditions and most species. Keep in mind that the rod you choose has a lot to do with your physical size – some rods are heavy, and can tire out an angler quickly after multiple casts.
Surf Fishing Line
Your line will literally make or break your ability to reel in a catch. Look for 20-25 test line for the best results in all conditions, and go for Nylon Monofilament, Fluorocarbon, or Braided Line varieties in terms of materials. Monofilament nylon is a great choice for new anglers, as it is fairly cheap, knots well, and has an inherent stretch, which is a great attribute for surf fishermen who are developing their skills.
Rigs for Surf Fishing
Like all gear designed for surf fishing, when it comes to rigs and rig set-ups, there are a lot of options, which generally depend on the fish you are targeting, the season, and other conditions and factors that change depending on where along the North Carolina coastline you land. In fact, there is likely a unique and distinct type of rig available for every species of fish, and every type of body of saltwater.
Some experienced anglers attest that the best set-up for beginners is likely a basic two-hook leader with 3-4 ounce pyramid sinker and Khale hooks, which are adaptable for virtually all water conditions and types of fish. In addition, you can opt for the three following popular surf fishing rigs:
- The Fish-Finder Rig: The fish finder rig utilizes a pyramid sinker with snap / ball-bearing swivel, and a leader that connects with the hook. This set-up provides as little resistance as possible as your fish is attracted to the bait. You can make the leader as long as you’d like, but on average, 24” inches is a good baseline.
- The Fireball Rig: The fireball rig utilizes a pyramid sinker connected to foam balls, which keeps the bait slightly off the ocean bottom, The bright colors makes the rig a solid choice when the waters are rough and cloudy, and the rig also works great with live bait. This rig can be set up manually, but can also be purchased already set-up, which is likely the best option for beginners.
- The High-Low Rig: The high-low rig uses two hooks, which increases an angler’s chances of attracting their target fish. It works well with large predatory fish and natural bait, and can be manually created, or purchased as a complete rig at most bait and tackle stores.
Sand spike and other varieties of rod holders will hold your rod in place when you need a break, or just want to enjoy a little downtime relaxing on the beach. This piece of equipment comes in a variety of different materials – such as PVC or aluminum – as well as different lengths, and different price ranges. Rod holders that are made of PVC or ABS plastic are traditionally the least expensive, but if you’re in rough ocean conditions and do a lot of surf fishing, upgrading to a more durable metal rod holder may be your best rouet.
A pyramid weight is often the preferred weight for surf fishermen, as it can stand up to currents and hold at the bottom. A roughly 2 oz. to 4 oz. pyramid weight should hold strong in most ocean conditions, when used in conjunction with a surf rod. If it’s a rough day, or you are fishing on a beach with large breakers close to the shore, up the weight a bit to hold strong in the surf.
A cart will make a surf fisherman’s life infinitely easier when heading to and from the beach. Built to be pulled across the sand with ease, and large enough to hold all the essential equipment and then some, a beach cart is a great way to pack and tote along all the equipment you’ll need for a full day on the sand.
Look for carts that can hold a lot of weight – you may be bringing back plenty of big catches, after all – as well as carts that have larger than normal, sturdy wheels. Larger wheels will essentially transform a standard cart into a 4WD mode of transportation that can easily haul your supplies across soft sand.
If you want a longer cast, and you prefer to fish in colder or cooler weather, waders will be your best friend. Waders are effectively worn like overalls, protecting the lower 3/4th of your body from water inundation when you wade out to the surf to cast.
Don’t skimp on quality when it comes to waders! Inexpensive varieties can leak, which can turn a great fishing day into a bad one fairly quickly.
Bait and Lures
One of the hardest decisions for surf fishermen is what type of bait, or artificial lure, to use for the best results. Many local tackle shops can direct new anglers in the right direction when it comes to what’s biting, and what bait or lures to use, but here’s a closer look at some of the most popular varieties for fishing along coastal North Carolina.
Shrimp: Shrimp are a versatile bait that can attract many different species of fish, including red drum, spotted seatrout, flounder, black drum, and croaker.
Sand Fleas: Sand fleas are a popular bait for surf fishing, especially for species such as black drum, whiting, and croaker.
Mullet: Mullet are a commonly used bait for surf fishing, especially for larger species such as red drum and bull reds.
Squid: Squid is a great bait for surf fishing, attracting species such as striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.
Oysters: Oysters are a great bait for surf fishing, especially for species such as black drum, red drum, and spotted seatrout.
Bloodworms: Bloodworms are a popular bait for surf fishing, especially for species such as croaker, whiting, and spot.
When it comes to lures, there are plenty of options, and what an angler uses is all dependent on where they are headed, and what they are targeting. Bait and tackle store will provide the best recommendations for lures to use for specific species, weather conditions, and seasons, but there are a few popular varieties to try that can work in most any coastal fishing environment.
Here are some of the most popular types of lures for saltwater fishing.
- Gold Spoon – Known as one of the most common lures there is, the spoon is available in all types of colors and sizes, but it’s the gold variety that tends to provide the most flash, and attract the most fish – especially in cloudy waters.
- Berkley Gulp Alive Shrimp – If you don’t have fresh or frozen shrimp handy, artificial shrimp can certainly work in a pinch and yield great results. Try the Berkley Gulp Alive Shrimp, which most resemble their live counterparts to a wide array of saltwater species.
- Bucktail Jigs – Bucktail jigs are also varied when it comes to colors and flairs, and the White Bucktail features a steady and sturdy “tail” that easily attracts fish from the end of the hook.
- Topwater Lure – Topwater lures are another popular option for anglers that can vary from store to store. Red and white varieties are especially popular due to their visibility, and a 4.5” - 5” lure will catch most all saltwater species along the North Carolina coastline.
- Soft Plastic Flukes – The good thing about a soft plastic fluke is that it can be used just about anywhere – in the ocean, in the sound, or even inland. Completely versatile, flukes come in a wide range of colors and sizers, but bright green or white varieties will work well when the ocean conditions aren’t terribly clear.
Other Gear You’ll Need for Surf Fishing
In addition to all of the above essentials, there are some other tools you’ll need to bring along to ensure you have everything you need for a full day (or night) of surf fishing along the North Carolina coastline. Available at bait and tackle stores, sporting goods stores, and even traditional beach shops or grocery stores, look for these items that will make it easier to spend long hours on the beach.
Quick Beach Fishing Tip
If you find yourself stranded on the beach without any bait left, a quick fix is to find a lumpy pile of sand right in the ocean wash and start digging. Small mole crabs, affectionately known as "sand fleas" or "sand diggers" seasonally gather and nest in the low tide line right where the waves are coming ashore, and a larger sand flea (about 2 inches) can work remarkably well as surf fishing bait.
Pier fishing in Charleston, South Carolina, offers a unique and exciting experience for anglers of all levels. With a variety of piers to choose from, each with its own set of attractions and fishing opportunities, there is something for everyone in Charleston. Here is a closer look at some of the most popular piers in the area, including what they are known for, where they are located, and what types of fish can be caught there during different seasons.
The Mount Pleasant Pier is one of the most popular piers in Charleston and is known for its stunning views of the Charleston harbor and the Cooper River Bridge. Located in Mount Pleasant, this pier offers anglers the chance to catch a wide variety of species, including red drum, spotted seatrout, black drum, and flounder. In the spring and summer, anglers can also expect to catch bluefish and Spanish mackerel.
The James Island County Park Fishing Pier is a favorite among local anglers and is known for its peaceful surroundings and scenic views. Located on James Island, this pier is a great place to catch species such as red drum, black drum, and flounder. In the summer, anglers can also expect to catch Spanish mackerel and bluefish.
With its diverse water bodies including tidal creeks, marshes, and the Atlantic Ocean, kayak fishing enthusiasts can enjoy a wide variety of species and experiences. From seasoned anglers to beginners, kayak fishing in Charleston has something to offer for everyone.
Charleston has many options for kayak launch points, with several parks and boat ramps providing access to different fishing spots. Some of the popular put-in points include:
James Island County Park: Located on James Island, this park provides access to the Stono River and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Shem Creek Park: Located in Mount Pleasant, this park provides access to Shem Creek, which is known for its redfish, trout, and flounder.
Buck Hall Recreation Area: This park is located on the Wadmalaw River and provides access to the tidal creeks and marshes of the Lowcountry.
If you're new to kayak fishing or looking for a more guided experience, there are several local fishing guides who offer kayak fishing tours. They can provide all the equipment you need and take you to some of the best fishing spots in the area. Some popular guided kayak fishing tours include: Charleston Kayak Fishing: This company offers guided fishing trips in the Lowcountry, with an emphasis on redfish, trout, and flounder.
Redfish Cup Charleston: This tournament is held annually and is a part of the Redfish Cup series, which is one of the largest inshore fishing tournament series in the United States. The tournament takes place in the fall and focuses on the popular species of redfish. For more information, visit the Redfish Cup's website.
Charleston Open Billfish Tournament: This tournament is held annually and is a part of the Offshore Grand Slam series. The tournament takes place in the summer and focuses on billfish species such as marlin, sailfish, and others. For more information, visit the Charleston Open Billfish Tournament's website.
Whether casting off from the beach, from the back of a charter boat, or off the side of your local pier, fishermen return to the greater Charleston area year after year for the outstanding fishing.