Charleston Fishing: The Complete Guide
May 25, 2020 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

There are a lot of reasons to love Charleston, SC. Great food, live music, friendly people – “The Holy City” is an all-round great place to be. As if that wasn’t enough, the fishing in Charleston is outstanding. The city’s surrounded by salt marshes and tidal creeks. Farther out, ancient wrecks litter the seafloor and currents draw in fish from across the Atlantic. It’s got it all.

An aerial view of Charleston, SC

In this guide, we give a full run-down on fishing in the Lowcountry’s greatest city. You can learn about the top species and how to catch them, as well as fishing spots, tournaments, and much more. By the time you’re done, you’ll be ready to enjoy your dream Charleston fishing trip – whatever that means to you.

What to Fish for in Charleston

The waters around Charleston are home to an impressive variety of fish. From Shrimp to Spadefish, Cobia to Marlin, pick a species and chances are it’s here at some point. If you’re after a full list of what’s biting each month, check out our full fishing calendar. In the meantime, these are the city’s top species.

Red Drum

An angler holding a large Red Drum caught while fishing in Charleston, SC

If you can only catch one fish while you’re in Charleston, it’s got to be Red Drum. This is the favorite of pretty much every angler in the area. The signature catch on inshore fishing trips. Known locally as “Spottail Bass,” these guys grow big and mean in the city’s shallows. The smaller ones taste great. The big “Bulls” put up the fight of a lifetime.

Redfishing in Charleston is good all year round. However, the most iconic bite is in winter, when the water’s clear and the weather’s cool. Imagine yourself poling through shallow marshes on the lookout for tailing fish poking out among the grass. You make your cast and watch as a hungry Bull slams your bait. By the time you release your first fish, you’ll be hooked for life.

Spotted Seatrout

An angler holding a Spotted Seatrout

Redfish aren’t the only things hunting in the shallows. Charleston has an awesome Trout bite, with some real trophies and plenty of keeper-sized fish. Again, you’ll find them in the marshes. Unlike Reds, though, they prefer to hang out around the edge, waiting to ambush prey. Harder structure, like oyster beds, is also great at holding Trout.

You may hear local anglers refer to Spotted Seatrout as “Winter Trout.” Despite this, the best time to fish for them is actually in fall. They’re fattening up ahead of winter and even more aggressive than usual. Spring is also good, when they’re getting ready to spawn. You can still find Trout in winter, but you need to look in deeper holes where they hide from the cold.

Black Seabass

A man holding a Black Seabass on a boat

If you’re after good eating, it doesn’t get much better than Black Seabass. These slow-growing bottom fish are commonly known as “Blackfish” in Charleston (no, they don’t mean Tautog, Northeasteners). They produce flaky white meat that’s delicious any way you cook it. If you’re around in winter, you’ve really got to catch some.

Black Seabass usually hang out around shallow reefs and rocky structure. You can also find big fish much deeper, but it’s not worth wasting the gas. Catching them is pretty simple. Just drop some cut bait on medium tackle and wait for something to bite – it shouldn’t take long.

King Mackerel

Two anglers posing with a big King Mackerel

Every year, Charleston comes alive with monster Kingfish. You can often catch them inside Charleston Harbor itself. Heading out past the jetties, you’ve got dozens of wrecks and artificial reefs, all teeming with Kings. Most SC anglers target Mackerel by trolling live baits, either around structure, near commercial boats, or along the tideline.

Charleston’s Mackerel season starts as early as May and continues well into the fall. However, the heat of August is the best time to target them. This is also peak season for their smaller, tastier cousins: Spanish Mackerel. Keep them for the grill or use them as bait to tempt in a monster. Either way, you won’t go home empty-handed.

Wahoo

Three anglers with a big Wahoo caught offshore from Charleston

Years ago, Tuna dominated Charleston’s deep sea fishing. These days, it’s the Wahoo that bluewater anglers get excited about. Wahoo come crashing onto the scene in early spring. During these early months, fish in the 40–50 lb range are normal and trophies can be double that. They stick around until the end of summer, getting smaller as the season goes on.

Wahoo are the main event, but they’re not alone. Mahi Mahi arrive hot on the heels of the ‘Hoos and stay until fall. In terms of size, it’s the same story. Early-season “Dolphin” (as they’re known here) are normally double the size of the late arrivers. Your best bet for both fish is to troll lures or skirted baits around offshore structure, working temperature breaks at different depths.

Sharks

A Shark with a fishing hook in its mouth

There are over 30 species of Sharks in South Carolina. The main catches inshore are small Blacktip and Sharpnose Sharks, which are fun for beginners and even for kids (with some adult supervision). However, you can also find bigger species like Bulls, Hammerheads, and even Tiger Sharks. Whatever you’re after, the bite is best in summer, especially at night.

Fishing for Sharks isn’t exactly rocket science. Get a hunk of bait, the bloodier and oilier the better, and rig it onto a sturdy hook with a wide leader. If you’re fishing on a boat, you can also chum the water to really get the fish going. If you’re fishing from shore, always check with local authorities – Shark fishing is banned on many of the busier beaches.

How to Fish in Charleston

You know what you can catch, but how are you going to do it? There are plenty of ways to work these waters. Here are a few options that might suit you, based on your budget, taste, and target species.

Surf Fishing

Fishing rods set up on a sandy beach

Surf fishing lets you get in a few casts while also enjoying the beach. This makes it a good option for family anglers. It’s more about the experience than the catch rate, but people have caught some real trophies over the years. Ideally, you should bring your own equipment. Failing that, you can rent a basic surf fishing combo from several spots in town.

Your main targets will be Red Drum, Trout, Flounder, and Whiting. There’s also a chance of Sheepshead, Pompano, Bluefish, and much more showing up. Fair warning, though: you may spend the whole day wrestling Rays that seem determined to eat every bait you throw out.

Pier Fishing

Folly Beach fishing pier at sunrise

Piers are perfect for people who just want to catch some fish. You won’t find the same outdoorsy feel that surf fishing offers. Instead, you get a serious increase in hookups. There are several fishing piers in Charleston. Some are full-service, paid piers with tackle shops and restaurants. Others are no-nonsense fishing platforms that you can enjoy for free. Whatever suits you best. 

So, what can you catch? That kind of depends on the pier. The smaller ones are great for Drum, Trout, Flounder, Sheepshead, and Crab. Head to deeper waters, and you can expect all that plus Seabass, Cobia, and even King Mackerel. Bear in mind that Shark fishing is often against the rules on fishing piers.

Kayak Fishing

A yellow fishing kayak on a beach, with a surf fishing rod near the water behind it

Have you ever been fishing from shore and thought, “If only I could get out to that buoy, lighthouse, or [insert other fish magnet]”? If so, kayak fishing might be right up your alley. It’s an easy way to escape the crowds and find more varied fishing grounds. You can either join a tour or rent a ‘yak and head out on your own. Bear in mind that proper fishing kayaks are hard to come by outside of guided tours, though.

Your main limitations with kayaks are your experience and fitness levels. Beginners can paddle through the marshes in search of tailing Reds or drop lines over inshore structure for Sheepshead. Skilled ‘yakers often head farther out for Kingfish and even big game species. However, the weather turns quickly in the Lowcountry, so it’s best to fish close to land unless you’re a pro.

Charter Fishing

A charter captain poling along the flats near Charleston

Charters are the absolute best way to fish around Charleston. It’s that simple. Fishing on a boat lets you reach more remote spots where the biggest fish live. Doing it with a local guide saves years of trial and error. Many of Charleston’s charter boats are based in nearby Folly Beach and Mount Pleasant. They either offer private charters or shared “party boat” trips.

Private charters give you the full VIP experience. You get quality tackle, complete flexibility, and the undivided attention of the captain. Party boat fishing is more basic. You get a rod and spot on the boat, but much less help from the crew. It’s a great budget option for confident anglers. It can be a little frustrating for beginners, though.

Where to Fish in Charleston

A view across the water of the sea grass marshes of the South Carolina Lowcountry

You’ll have a blast wherever you wet a line around Charleston. The city’s literally surrounded by water, and it’s all full of fish. However, there are some tried and true spots that you can always rely on. These aren’t hidden honey holes, just popular fishing grounds that consistently produce results.

  • Colonial Lake: The fun starts before you even leave town in Charleston. This tidal pool holds Red Drum, Flounder, Mullet, and more. These aren’t babies, either. Just ask the guy who caught a 45” Redfish here!
  • Folly Beach: Surf anglers, this one’s for you. Folly Beach is as productive as it is beautiful. Fish near the lighthouse for Drum, Trout, Bluefish, and even Seabass. Shark fishing is banned here, though.
  • Bulls Bay: One of Charleston’s best kayak fishing spots. Launch out of Garris Landing to explore the bay and surrounding creeks for Reds and Trout. Do not fish here in a boat unless you really know the area.
  • Charleston Jetties: If you don’t mind choppy water, you’ve got to hit the jetties at Charleston Harbor Inlet. They’re the go-to place for Red and Black Drum, Trout, Mackerel, Sharks, Tarpon, Seabass, and more. 
  • Charleston 60’ Reef: An artificial reef complex around 17 miles southeast of the inlet. This is a productive spot for Seabass, Cobia, and Kingfish. You can also come across Barracuda and Grouper out here.
  • Comanche Reef: This one’s a little farther, around 35 miles offshore. It’s well worth it, though. Amberjack, Red Snapper, Grouper, Kings, Cobia – even Wahoo and Mahi Mahi show up in these waters!
  • Gulf Stream: The Gulf Stream starts 70 miles offshore. Make the trip, and you could catch Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and Tuna, with a chance of Billfish. Otherwise deep drop for large Groupers and Tilefish.

Final Thoughts: Tournaments and Regulations

By now, you’re probably raring to get out on the water. We won’t keep you much longer, we promise. Here are a few final tips and dates to bear in mind when planning your trip.

Charleston Fishing Tournaments

An angler fighting a fish on a boat near Folly Beach, SC

You might expect a variety of fishing tournaments running throughout the year in Charleston. You’d be right. The season kicks off with the South Carolina Wahoo Series, a unique event where you pick any three days from February until April and head out to catch the biggest ‘Hoos possible. 

By the time summer rolls around, you’re spoiled for choice of tournaments. The Lowcountry Open puts both inshore and offshore anglers to the test in June. The Hooked on Miracles King Mackerel Tournament lets people battle monster Kings for charity in July. The season closes with the Southern Redfish Cup, which is held in three stages starting in November.

No boat? No worries! Mount Pleasant Pier hosts a series of family-focused events known as Cast Off Fishing Tournaments. These are cheap to enter and are all about having a great time. Sadly, the city’s longest-running tournament fished its last year in 2019. The Charleston Trident ended after a 53-year run and will be missed by many local anglers.

Fishing Regulations

Most saltwater fish are open year-round in South Carolina. The exceptions are Striped Bass, which are release-only from June 1 to September 30, and saltwater Catfishes, which are always closed for harvest. Gigging for Redfish and Trout is also prohibited throughout December, January, and February. As we mentioned before, Shark fishing is banned on Folly Beach, and on many beaches state-wide.

Every angler aged 16 and up needs a license to fish around Charleston unless you’re on a licensed fishing charter or pier. Not all piers are licensed, though, so be sure to ask the staff before your lines hit the water.

Charleston, SC: A True Fishing Paradise

An aerial view of Charleston, SC

There are a lot of good places to fish around the country. Very few of them compare to Charleston. From monster Wahoo in the deep to Bull Redfish worthy of the name inshore, you can find fish everywhere you look. Throw in great weather, beautiful scenery, and a long fishing heritage, and a Charleston fishing trip suddenly jumped to the top of your to-do list.

Have you ever been fishing in Charleston? What did you catch and how did you do it? Let us know your tips and stories in the comments below!

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