The Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing in South Carolina
Jul 19, 2021 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

If you’re looking to explore the wealth of the “Palmetto State,” there’s no better way than by discovering its rich fisheries. And fly fishing in South Carolina takes it to the next level. From wild mountain Trout streams to productive freshwater lakes, and all the way down to Charleston’s bays and beyond, there’s no end to the fun that’s in store.

An aerial view of the Little River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway, in South Carolina

As any fly angler will know, this is a serious sport. While the fun lies in the fight you’ll have with whatever takes your lure, the excitement doesn’t end there. The list of species you can catch is sure to whet your appetite, and there’s always the chance of a record catch too!

In this guide, we’ll take you through the fish you can target, how to go about it, where to cast your line, and much more. We’re sure that by the time you’re done reading, you’ll be booking an adventure to at least one of South Carolina’s prime hunting grounds. So let’s see what’s in store.

What can I catch while fly fishing in South Carolina?

The first thing you’ll want to know when deciding where to go fishing is what species you can catch. South Carolina is an angler’s oasis, with freshwater and saltwater creatures in abundance. Wherever you are, you won’t be far from a productive fishery, so there’s plenty for you to sink your hooks into. 

Trout

An angler holds a Trout caught while fly fishing in a remote stream

We’ll start with freshwater, where Trout reign supreme. These are the bread and butter of the fly fishing world, and South Carolina is no exception. Brown, Brook, and Rainbow varieties are all available in the hundreds of miles of rivers and streams across the state. This means that there’s always something available for you to target.

The spring spawning season is the best time to come and target these beauties, with a shorter fall run also offering plenty of action. But whenever you visit, there’s the chance of testing your skills against these wily creatures. Head out into the remote wilderness and marvel at the stunning nature, as you get your fish on just as you’d imagined it.

Striped Bass

Two men hold a Striped Bass on a boat on a lake in South Carolina

If you’re hitting up some of South Carolina’s productive freshwater lakes, then Striped Bass will be top of your to-catch list. Not always associated with fly fishing, Stripers present an altogether different challenge, even for the most experienced angler. Growing to incredible sizes, they’ll test your strength to reel ‘em in, but you’ll also need to be at your best to get them to bite.

The Striper is the official state fish, so that tells you all you need to know about how plentiful they are. Come in fall to get the best action on the fly. That’s not to say you can’t catch them the rest of the year. On the contrary, these beasts help make South Carolina the year-round fishery it is. 

Redfish

An angler holds a Redfish caught fly fishing in South Carolina

Head out towards the Atlantic, and the brackish inshore waters offer a different kettle of fish – literally. Fly fishing for Redfish in South Carolina is world-famous, and rightly so. These creatures fill up the flats and backcountry in the numerous rivers and bays. And, while fly fishing isn’t about filling the cooler, you’re sure to land a tasty reward for all your effort.

Reds are known for putting up an intense fight, even on heavier tackle. Rest assured you’ll be made to work hard to land one. Come in fall when these fish move inshore to the warmer waters, and get ready for battle. While you’re at it, there’s the chance of landing a different Trout, too. Spotted Seatrout are found in the same waters as Reds, so you could get two for the price of one!

Cobia

Two anglers hold a Cobia caught fishing in South Carolina

If you know anything about fishing, you’ll be surprised to see Cobia make this list of fly fishing targets. These creatures usually live nearshore and are best caught by bottom fishing or trolling. However, in South Carolina, they come inshore in spring to spawn. That means two things. They’re aplenty and they’re a-hungry!

When the feeding frenzy takes place, you’ll have the chance to hit the bays and test your strength against these truly prized fish. Tough-fighting and delicious in equal measure, they’re a real all-round specimen, but we’re sure you may find it tough to land a second after using up so much energy battling a first. 

Tarpon

Two anglers hold a large Tarpon in the water caught inshore in South Carolina

Speaking of strength, few fish come close to the “Silver King.” Tarpon are number one on most inshore anglers’ bucket lists, and landing one on the fly is the stuff dreams are made of. They may not be as abundant here as in Florida, but the short summer season sees the waters come alive with anglers and fish. 

Hit the shallow flats and get ready for an exhilarating time, battling it out with this beast. Make sure your line is strong enough, as these creatures will do whatever it takes to wrestle free. We’re talking at least an 8 wt line. Try not to marvel too long, as they leap out of the water to escape your clutches. You’ll need all the focus you have to keep ‘em with you, before brute strength wins out to reel one in. 

How to Go Fly Fishing in South Carolina

People who’ve never been fly fishing before think there’s just one way of going about it. But we’re here to tell you there are plenty of diverse opportunities for fly anglers. And you can experience them all in South Carolina! With such diverse fisheries, this shouldn’t surprise you. But anyway, here’s the lowdown of how you can get your fish on.

Freshwater 

A man casts his fly line in the wilderness in South Carolina

There’s a lot to be said for the old school way of fly fishing. Freshwater fly fishing is the back-to-basics stuff that all non-anglers imagine and all fishermen love. Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and discover the wilderness. Set up camp for the day next to a lake or wander along a river, and you’ll discover the true essence of fly fishing.

South Carolina is a great place to get lost, with numerous natural and man-made lakes, along with some exciting Trout streams. Explore them all with a fly rod in your hand, and it’ll just add to the beauty. Go on your own, with some family or friends, or with a guide, and you’re sure to make incredible memories. Who knows? You may even land a tasty treat.

Surf Fishing

An empty fishing pier in Charleston, SC

If saltwater fly fishing appeals to you, you’ll be glad to know that you can cast your line without leaving shore. The brackish waters of the rivers and bays mean that you can cast your line out from dry land and attract the bite of a range of exciting and delicious creatures. 

We’ll get to the prime spots in a second, but the more adventurous among you can try wading the flats. If you feel like gaining a real vantage point, you can take advantage of South Carolina’s numerous fishing piers. You’ll have the view, purchase, and even the support of like-minded anglers to give you the edge over your target species. 

Charter Fishing

A fishing boat lies docked inshore in South Carolina with two fly fishing rods resting on board

For those of you wanting to have your cake and eat it, a fishing charter is in order. Head out with a professional guide and you’ll be in for some serious action. That’s just as true for the bays and brackish rivers as it is for the freshwater streams and lakes!

A vessel gives you the advantage of covering a number of different fishing grounds unimaginable on foot. Not to mention, it’s the only way to get your hands on Cobia in spring. You can tailor your trip with a guide to go after whatever you want. Meanwhile, the help of an additional pair of hands – not to mention some expertise – is sure to stand you in good stead, no matter what you’re targeting. 

South Carolina Fly Fishing Spots

An aerial view of Lake Jocassee in South Carolina

No matter whether heading out alone or with a guide, you deserve to know where the honey holes are. With so many prime hunting grounds, narrowing the list down to just a few spots was tricky. But here’s our pick of the best:

  • The Chattooga River: Without a doubt, the best Trout fishery in SC – maybe even the whole south! You’ll need to go out of your way to find the best spots, but it’ll be oh so worth it thanks to the state hatchery that lies along it.
  • The Saluda River: The middle and lower sections in particular. These are prime Rainbow and Brown Trout fisheries, with stunning nature all around for you to escape all of life’s troubles.
  • Lake Jocassee: If you’re looking for trophy-sized Trout, then this is your place. Both the state Rainbow and Brook records were set here, along with a few Black Bass records. You’re in with a chance of a real mixed bag. 
  • Santee-Cooper Lakes: Lakes Marion and Moultrie are the Striped Bass capitals of South Carolina. Come here and explore the riches of a submerged forest, with plenty of rewards on offer.
  • Winyah Bay: A little more remote than some of the better-known saltwater fisheries, this is a prime Redfish habitat. Head out of Georgetown and test your skills and strength surrounded by wildlife centres and nature reserves.
  • Charleston: On the other end of the scale to Winyah Bay, the hustle and bustle of Charleston also offers plenty of fishing. Numerous rivers and bays flow to the productive estuary just south of downtown. This means a range of angling opportunities unparalleled elsewhere. 

Anything else?

So we’ve spoken about what you can catch, how to go about it, and where to get the biggest bang for your buck. But before you start booking your South Carolina fly fishing adventure, you’ll need to know about the rules and regulations. 

An infographic stating "South Carolina Fishing Regulations" on a blue background with the state flag

First thing’s first: fishing licenses. If you’re casting a line in freshwater, you’ll always need a South Carolina freshwater fishing license. If fishing in saltwater, you won’t need to get one if you’re fishing with a registered saltwater charter. Find out how to get yours with our handy guide.

When it comes to the fish you’re targeting, things get a little trickier. In saltwater, a good rule of thumb is catch and release for Tarpon, just two Redfish per day, and just one Cobia per day. However, size limits vary and there are restrictions on Cobia south of Jeremy Inlet in May. You can find out all the latest information here.

As for freshwater, it all depends on where you’re fishing, with different rules for each body of water. Keep up to date with all the general freshwater information here. However, for Trout fishing, you’ll want this page

And You’re Good to Go!

An aerial view of Charleston, South Carolina, with the marina in the foreground

Now you may feel you’re an expert on fly fishing in South Carolina, but you won’t know anything until you’ve tried it yourself. We’re sure you don’t need us to repeat it, but whatever you fancy, the Palmetto State has it. From the Trout streams out to the ocean, hundreds of miles of incredible fisheries await. Don’t miss out on it!

Have you ever tried fly fishing in South Carolina? How was it? Let us know in the comments below! We love to hear from you! 

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