Deep Sea Fishing in Charleston: The Complete Guide

Aug 23, 2022 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

It’s no surprise that the largest city in South Carolina offers explosive bluewater action. Situated on the East Coast, “The Holy City” never ceases to amaze with its rod-bending opportunities. And it’s a well-deserved nickname, if you ask us. With the Gulf Stream and the Atlantic Ocean at its doorstep, deep sea fishing in Charleston is nothing short of divine!

An aerial view of Charleston and its landmark, the "Battery"

As the home of America’s first museum, numerous theatres, a municipal college, public garden, and golf club, Charleston is deeply rooted in history. It’s always been an epicenter of adventure. Be it vivid pirate stories from the past or Billfish battles of biblical proportions every summer, Charleston is the place to be.

We’re fans of the latter, of course. So, we’ll help you out with exploring the deep sea fishing realm and leave Charleston’s inland treasures for you to discover on your own. We’ll cover the most prominent big game species, angling techniques, fishing spots, and regulations. Let’s start because it’s a big fish to fry!

What fish are biting in Charleston?

Big ones indeed! While nearby reefs can pleasantly surprise you with hefty bottom fellas, the most impressive specimens abide much further. But don’t worry – we’ll mention a sampling of both below.

An infographic showing top Charleston deep sea fish species like Mahi Mahi, Snapper, Sailfish, Cobia, King Mackerel, Wahoo

Red Snapper

Let’s kick off Charleston’s deep sea fishing journey with these small but mighty creatures. Red Snappers are the absolute favorites among anglers in South Carolina, and there’s no doubt about it. They’re so sought-after in the southeastern waters that their recreational season is closely monitored – all over the coast.

An angler holding a Red Snapper with both hands caught in Charleston

While you may cross paths with Red Snappers in state waters, a true deep sea fishing experience begins in Charleston’s federal waters. Once you go past 3 miles offshore, you’ll have better chances of finding their whereabouts. Red Snappers inhabit areas around natural and artificial reefs. They meander the seafloor looking for food, so bottom fishing is your go-to technique when targeting them.

Regulations change every year, so don’t forget to double-check the latest rules before you head out. 

Mahi Mahi

By gradually moving toward the bigger players, you’ll come upon some VIPs of the summer fishing frenzy in Charleston – Mahi Mahi. These gorgeous-looking brutes dominate the offshore waters from spring to fall but they truly shine with summer’s blazing sun. The hottest season of the year brings reel-screaming action to the table. And delicious Mahi Mahi sashimi, too!

A group of anglers on a charter fishing boat holding Mahi Mahi caught while deep sea fishing in Charleston

Trolling ballyhoo or squid is the name of the deep sea fishing game when luring Mahi Mahi in Charleston. The fun starts once they bite, as they won’t go down without a fight. Also, don’t expect to land a brag-worthy catch in waters nearer than than 30 miles offshore. This means that you’ll need a well-equipped charter boat and a knowledgeable crew by your side. Fortunately, top-tier charter operators are plentiful in Charleston. 

Tuna

Mahi Mahi aren’t the only fast-swimming and hard-hitting headliners around here. Charleston’s Tuna are good challengers as well. Unlike their pelagic neighbors Mahi Mahi, Tuna increase in size (and numbers) as time passes. Come fall, Tuna deep sea fishing turns from excellent to exceptional. Sound too good to be true? Luckily for you, it’s more than real!

A happy angler holding a Yellowfin Tuna caught while deep sea fishing in Charleston

50-pounders are common in late summer. And you can find them in waters anywhere from 90–600 feet deep. The royals, however, prefer intimidating depths. So, let’s see how to snatch them.

To lay your hands on majestic Yellowfin or Blackfin Tuna you should take multiple factors into account. Apart from the time of the year and the depth in which you can find them, pay attention to angling methods. While effective, trolling alone might not be enough. Pair it up with chumming to maximize your chances of landing Tuna. 

The same goes for bait. Mix natural baits with artificial lures for the best results. Mullet boosted with colored skirts could be your winning combo. Our advice? Mix and match to secure that catch!

Billfish

With Billfish, we reach the top of Charleston’s deep sea fishing pyramid. This infamous family needs no introduction, as their stellar reputation precedes them. Bear in mind that Billfish pursuits aren’t for the faint-hearted. These formidable opponents will get your blood pumping and sweat dripping. Be it Blue Marlin, White Marlin, or Sailfish, an action-packed adventure is guaranteed!

A side-on view of an angler trying to pull a Sailfish out of the water from a Charleston charter fishing boat

July and August are your allies when pursuing Billfish off South Carolina’s coast. Trolling medium-sized ballyhoo or mullet will intrigue these behemoths. As with Tuna, they’ll fall for a mixture of natural and artificial baits as long as you present them properly. Adjust your speed while trolling to grab their attention (and keep it, too). 

Once hooked, hours of back-breaking struggle will follow before you come out victorious. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Tight lines!

… And More!

Of course, there’s more! Deep sea fishing in Charleston is so much more than its superstars – although, they’re the stars of the show for a reason. Anyways, let’s avoid overshadowing the magnificent Wahoo, King Mackerel, Cobia, False Albacore, and Grouper. These guys don’t steal the spotlight like acrobatic Sailfish or picture-perfect Mahi Mahi, but they’ll steal your hearts for sure!

A happy kid with a False Albacore in his hands

Adrenaline seekers who would like to stay closer to the shore but still get in on the premium deep sea action can always go for species like Amberjack and Barracuda. They patrol areas around artificial reefs and coastal shipwrecks. During summer, ‘Cudas can be picky, but live bait should change their mind. Gear up with a wire leader and some patience, as these toothy beasts won’t be fooling around.

When to go deep sea fishing in Charleston?

While the simple answer to this question would be: year-round, there’s more to it. Some species meander these waters throughout the entire year. However, the most impressive specimens prefer higher temperatures. So, the more precise answer would be that the odds are in your favor during summer.

A teenager holding an Amberjack caught while deep sea fishing in Charleston

Now, depending on the fish you’d like to pursue, you’ll further adjust your schedule. Sailfish, for example, peak in summer and so do Mahi Mahi, Barracuda, and King Mackerel. Amberjack and Wahoo won’t mind spring, while the rest of the species feel at home during late summer and early fall. To sum it up – each season has its own flavor, but summer promises prosperity.

Bonus: If you’re a tournament junkie, you might plan your fishing vacation based on a prestigious event. Here’s a list of South Carolina’s top fishing tournaments. Many of them take place in and around Charleston, of course!

How to Go Deep Sea Fishing in Charleston

While you can stumble upon good game fish just a couple of miles offshore, the real bluewater exploits happen at least 30 miles from the coast. We’re talking about extended full day trips between 10 and 12 hours. This means that an authentic Charleston’s deep sea fishing experience begins with charter operators and their first-class boats.

A sunset view of a Charleston charter fishing boat with its captain and a group of anglers on it

Playing tug of war with deep blue giants like Sailfish or Marlin isn’t a one-man endeavor.  It takes an entire arsenal of top-grade equipment, local insight, the crew’s expertise, and a suitable vessel to reel in a trophy fish and return glorious from your hunt. And who better to help you with all that than captains born and raised in Charleston? Book ’em while you can!

Ok, you’ve got a boat and a captain, now what? Well, once you’re out there in the open, you’ll most likely employ a couple of successful fishing techniques to attract the fish your way. Let’s take a look at the two most common angling methods for deep sea fishing in Charleston.

Trolling

Trolling is by far the most popular deep sea fishing approach. Be it Mahi Mahi or Billfish, trolling will captivate them. And that’s exactly what you want! But how does it work? Well, the idea is simple – you put your lines with baits behind a moving boat to imitate the prey of your game fish. Once you do that, it all comes down to speed and movement.

A view of a Charleston charter fishing boat while speed trolling

Believe it or not, presentation is the key. Trolling is applicable to a multitude of fish species as long as you present the bait appropriately. Wahoo, for example, love high-speed trolling, while Tuna prefer a less intense chase. Remember that speed adjustment is crucial for a realistic presentation of the bait. 

Bottom Fishing

Unlike fast-paced trolling, bottom fishing is more stationary. It also focuses on creatures that inhabit the hard bottoms instead of surface runners. So, if you’d like to target Snappers or Groupers while deep sea fishing in Charleston, bottom angling would be your best bet.

A view of an angler bottom fishing from a boat in Charleston

Bait presentation is as equally important with bottom fishing as it is with trolling. The only difference is that you’ll carefully lower your bait down and serve it to your fish near the seafloor instead of making them chase it. As with trolling, you can combine bottom angling with different fishing techniques to get better results.

Where to go deep sea fishing in Charleston?

With the Gulf Stream and the Atlantic Ocean within its reach, Charleston’s deep sea fishing spots are endless. You can cast your line anywhere and end up with at least a dinner dish. Though, chances are you’ll pull out something more exciting than that. 

An infographic featuring a map of Charleston in South Carolina and text that says "Charleston Deep Sea Fishing Spots" and names of the hotspots against a blue background

When you aren’t sure where to start, local guides are your best bet. They know these waters like the back of their hands, and might have a secret spot or two up their sleeves we’re unaware of. Meanwhile, we can share some well-known corners with you below. 

  • Charleston 60′ Reef: South Carolina has more than 40 artificial reefs and the Charleston 60′ Reef – as the name suggests – is a 60 foot deep compound. It’s situated around 15 miles offshore and it’s a solid fishing ground for Cobia, Kingfish, Cuda, Snappers, and Groupers.
  • Edisto Offshore Reef: Somewhat deeper than Charleston 60′ Reef, Edisto Offshore Reef is your go-to angling area for big game fish. After all, 25 miles out means more deep sea fishing opportunities than the structures closer to the coast.
  • Comanche Reef: Further out, lies an Amberjack, Wahoo, and Mahi Mahi hotspot. Comanche Reef is an unmarked complex consisting of ships, tugboats, and trawlers that attract all sorts of big game fish. This is a 105 foot deep, must-fish destination. 
  • The Gulf Stream and the Atlantic Ocean: When you hit the 60-mile mark, the possibilities are endless. Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and Billfish will grace the end of your line. Team up with a Charleston fishing charter operator and go against the real deep sea monsters.

Anything else I should know?

An infographic featuring the flag of South Carolina along with the text that says "Charleston deep sea fishing regulations what you need to know"

Last but not least, you should be familiar with the latest recreational angling law before wetting your line in Charleston’s waters. Firstly, if you’re 16 or older, but aren’t fishing with a certified charter operator, you have to buy a fishing license. 

South Carolina takes care of its fisheries, so certain areas are strictly monitored. These special management zones follow a set of rules and regulations regarding the equipment you can use and the species you may target. Learn more about saltwater fishing regulations in Charleston.

Finally, speaking of big game fish, there are bag and size limits worth knowing. Don’t forget to check them out, too. 

Deep Sea Fishing in Charleston: Angling at Its Finest

A side view of an angler and captain trying to pull a Sailfish out of the water

The Holy City truly lives up to its name! From its historical importance to its contemporary significance, Charleston deserves a place on your vacation bucket list. Obviously, one day won’t do it justice. You need at least a couple of days of deep sea fishing before you move to explore Charleston’s inland beauties. But, all in all, you can’t go wrong with this South Carolina gem.

Have you ever been deep sea fishing in Charleston? What did you catch? Any secret spots or honey holes to share with us? Tell us all about your Charleston fishing experience in the comments below.

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