Hilton Head Island Fishing Charters
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Fishing in Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head fishing is some of the best fishing in the United States. A top tourist attraction, this island off the coast of South Carolina is known for pleasant weather, scenic views, and beach for miles. Add to that a year-round fishery and the opportunity to land the catch of a lifetime, and it’s no wonder why anglers keep coming back for more.
The secret to this fisherman’s paradise is a matter of location. After all, it is an island and when you find yourself surrounded by water on all sides, the fishing is bound to be good.
Mainland South Carolina and Hilton Head are divided by the Calibogue Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway. On the island’s eastern side rests Port Royal Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. All of these waters are home to excellent fishing opportunities. Whether you spend your time on Hilton Head Island fishing the flats, trolling the Gulf Stream, or casting lines anywhere in between, rest assured it doesn’t get any better than this.
- Inshore Fishing
Anglers will tell you that inshore fishing on Hilton Head is the best in the country, and it stays that way 365 days a year. The island’s flats, saltwater rivers, and estuaries are home to a number of sought-after species. No matter the season, something sweet is biting, from Redfish, Sheepshead, and Speckled Trout to Flounder.
The local favorite in these shallow waters is without a doubt the mighty Redfish, sometimes referred to as Spot Tail Bass. In autumn you can target Bull Redfish in the 20-40 lb range in the sounds. During the same time of year you can catch a lot of shrimp in the estuaries.
On the other hand, spring is a great time to bring home a mixed bag of Redfish, Speckled Trout, Flounder, and Sharks. Summer is the time to come aboard for the hardest fighting fish, featuring Tarpon and a variety of Sharks in the sounds.
Inshore waters are typically calm and you won’t spend all day traveling to the fishing grounds. Most Hilton Head fishing charter operators offer four hour, six hour, and eight hour inshore trips. Four hour trips are great for families with small children and first time anglers hoping to get a taste of the experience. A full day trip (eight hours) might take you into the sound, where you can chase after Bull Reds, Tarpon, and other prizes without feeling pressed for time.
- Nearshore Fishing
When the weather allows, you can head slightly farther from shore for a totally different fishing experience. Nearshore fishing might take you anywhere from five to 25 miles out, where the sounds and ocean waters are dotted with artificial wrecks and reefs.
Sunken subway cars, battle tanks, and other structures draw the most delicious fish in the sea to Hilton Head’s doorstep. In addition to Bull Redfish, Sheepshead, Bluefish, and other inshore species, you can land a variety of tasty delights. Grouper, Snapper, Black Seabass, and other bottom fish are common catches from fall through spring. On the other hand, Amberjack, Cobia, Spanish Mackerel, and King Mackerel make their appearance in spring and summer.
Some popular locations for nearshore reef fishing include the General Gordon Reef, Whitewater Reef, Fish America Reef, and the Savannah Ship Channel Entrance. These reefs are accessible in a half day trip. If you book a six to eight hour charter you can travel 10-20 miles out and fish the Beaufort 45 Reef, Hilton Head Reef, Eagles’ Nest, or the Betsy Ross Reef and Tybee Trough.
- Deep Sea Fishing
If you’re an avid sport fisherman, it could be the Hilton Head deep sea fishing that sparks your interest most. Many Hilton Head fishing charters advertise themselves as “offshore” or “deep sea” experiences, but some of these will actually keep you in the nearshore range.
For a true deep sea fishing experience, look for a trip that takes you 40+ miles offshore. Out here you will find more fish and fewer fishermen. Roughly halfway between the coast and the Gulf Stream, this is an excellent spot to fish for Snapper, Amberjack, Triggerfish, Cobia, Sharks, and other critters. You will spot an occasional inshore or deep sea species, too, including the odd Sailfish here and there.
Roughly 50 miles from shore lie the Navy Towers R7 and R8, a spot where locals hook into Amberjack, Cobia, and Barracuda. You can enjoy great trolling and bottom fishing in this area on a full day trip.
Better yet, a trip to the Gulf Stream 60-80 miles from shore is your ticket to big game fishing and even bigger tales about the one that got away. Out here you can target Mahi Mahi, Blackfin Tuna, Sailfish, Wahoo, and more. Gulf Stream trips can last up to 12 hours, usually leaving before dawn.
- Shark Fishing
For the ultimate adrenaline rush, try Shark fishing Hilton Head. We said Hilton Head is home to some of the best fishing in the country, and that includes these bad boys too. With more than 30 Shark species swimming around the island, you can have your pick of any specimen from the cute and cuddly Bonnethead to the infamous Great White.
Shark fishing is a sport you can enjoy anywhere between the Gulf Stream and the beach. Many species can be found within minutes of leaving the dock, including larger specimens like Tiger Sharks. It’s common to hook into Blacktip Sharks, Duskies, Bull Sharks, Lemon Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, and many others. Some say you are even more likely to hook into a Shark than a fish while casting lines near Hilton Head.
- Surf Fishing
With 14 miles of public beach at your disposal, it’s easy to spend your time on Hilton Head surf fishing. Most of the island’s beach stretches along the Atlantic Ocean, though some reaches the Calibogue Sound and the Port Royal Sound.
In most areas, the beach along Hilton Head slopes vary gradually into the ocean, making it possible to wade in quite far. This also makes for calmer waters and some enjoyable fishing. While casting lines along the shore you could land Redfish, Bluefish, Whiting, Spanish Mackerel, or even a Tarpon if you’re lucky.
While you might hook into a Shark or two by accident, Shark fishing from shore is illegal on Hilton Head. Just be sure to unhook the fellow as quickly and safely as possible. Catching Rays from shore is also prohibited.
Be sure to keep an eye out for designated swimming areas while surf fishing on Hilton Head, especially during the island’s tourist season in summer. Swimming spots are easy to identify: you will see a sign or a lifeguard on duty, which means anglers need to keep moving. But fear not—you can find plenty of room to get away from the crowds.
Rules and Regulations
Anglers age 16 and above must have a license for recreational fishing in South Carolina. You need a license for all sport fishing, whether from a boat, a pier, or the beach.
Most Hilton Head fishing charters include a fishing license. Otherwise you can purchase a license online through the South Carolina Department of Resources. A 14 day license for non-residents is $11 (price subject to change).
State fishing regulations apply to all fishing within three miles of shore. When fishing more than three miles offshore, federal fishing regulations apply. While very few species are illegal to catch in South Carolina, size and bag limits do apply.
Some species of Grouper are closed to harvest early in the year. Fishing for Black Seabass in federal waters closes once the annual catch limit has been reached. You cannot fish for Sharks or Sting Rays from shore at any time.
Always refer to local regulations ahead of time and book a licensed fishing charter to make sure you fish according to law.
What to Expect
You can count on relatively pleasant weather on Hilton Head Island most of the year. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing in winter, while mid-summer temperatures can occasionally reach up to 100°F. Summer is known for brief tropical thunderstorms here and there, with the potential for dangerous lightning strikes. If you are on the beach when a storm hits, be sure to stay away from tall structures like trees and head off the beach.
The weather on Hilton Head allows anglers to take advantage of many fishing opportunities year round. Charter captains typically tell customers to bring light layers (a sweatshirt or windbreaker) and sunscreen. Non-spray sunscreen is encouraged to make sure you do not ruin material on the boat or cause harm to the fish.
A gratuity for the crew of 15-20% of your charter price is customary.
Hilton Head Fishing Charter Prices
Charter prices vary depending on where you fish and for how long. You can find private as well as party boat fishing charters on Hilton Head Island.
Inshore fishing charters range from $400 to more than $1,000. A half day trip for four hours typically costs between $400-$600. A ¾ day trip could cost up to $800, but you will find many in the $550-$650 range. You can expect to pay $750 or more for a full day trip.
Nearshore trip prices vary widely, depending on the captain’s definition of “nearshore” and how long you plan to stay on the water. A four hour nearshore trip could cost less than $500, and is likely to keep you within 10 miles of shore. You can also find shared charters for about $65 per person ($55 for children).
Choosing a five to eight hour trip allows you to fish around 20 miles from shore. These trips cost $600 and above. A full day trip for eight hours typically has a price tag between $800-$1,000.
Offshore trip prices start at about $900 and work their way up to $1,200 and above. Some captains place a fuel surcharge on top of the base price, which varies depending on how far from shore you travel. A trip that takes you 40-50 miles out might use 50-100 gallons of fuel, while a trip to the Gulf Stream uses 125 gallons or more.
How it’s Done
- Fishing Inshore
Inshore fishing on Hilton Head could take you along the flats, into the saltwater rivers and estuaries, and occasionally into the sounds when the season is right. While fishing the flats you are likely to do a lot of sight fishing with light spinning tackle or fly fishing gear. In summer you can wade fish, as well. In winter months you’ll see anglers poling the flats for Redfish and other species.
In the slightly deeper waters of Port Royal Sound and saltwater rivers like the Broad, you can target Redfish, Speckled Trout, Cobia, Tarpon, Black Seabass, Bluefish, Spanish Mackerel, and more. You might sight fish, drift fish, bottom fish, or troll for a number of these species. Anglers use all kinds of bait while fishing inshore, whether it’s cut, live, or artificial.
- Wreck Fishing
For something really delicious, you can spend your time on Hilton Head fishing a variety of wrecks between five and 25 miles offshore. You will also find great bottom fishing within the sounds and inlets. While fishing for Sheepshead and other small species you can use light tackle, such as 15 or 20 lb spinning tackle.
As you venture farther from shore and the fish get bigger, heavy gear is recommended (50-80 lb test line). While fishing near wrecks you will usually drop anchor and bottom fish, though you can troll for species closer to the surface such as Barracuda and Cobia. Live bait fishing for larger species also works well.
- Deep Sea Fishing
Deep sea fishing off the coast of Hilton Head involves trolling for large pelagics such as Wahoo, Sailfish, and Tuna. It is also common to bottom fish for large Snapper, Grouper, and other species near the seafloor. Depending on your preference or the captain’s insider knowledge, you might fish with cut bait, live bait, or lures.
- Surf Fishing
Surf fishing is a great way to test the waters of Hilton Head. Depending on the season, you might catch Redfish, Trout, Tarpon, Whiting, Spot, and much more. You are very likely to catch a Shark or Sting Ray while surf fishing. While there is no penalty for accidentally hooking into one of these species, you must release it immediately.
While surf fishing, you might have success with a spinning rod, conventional rod, surf rod, or any other gear available to you. Some anglers recommend using wire leaders and circle hooks to keep toothy fish like Spanish Mackerel from cutting your line. Monofilament and 3/0 or 4/0 hooks are sufficient.
Many fish can be found just beyond the break, meaning it is not necessary to wade while surf fishing. You can fish with live bait, cut bait, or lures. Squid is a great way to catch Whiting and other species. Mullet works well for Bluefish and Spanish Mackerel.
Hilton Head Island Fishing Seasons
Winter is your chance to experience the best inshore fishing around! You can pole the flats for Redfish, hit the nearshore wrecks for Sheepshead and Black Seabass, or catch a Speckled Trout with artificials.
At this time of year you will see Redfish flocking to the flats by the hundreds. This is a great time to sight fish for them. You are also likely to catch Sheepshead, Seabass, Flounder, and more on the wrecks.
In March you can expect cool and clear waters inshore, where there's still plenty of Redfish to be found. Other species will start heading inshore soon. For now you can enjoy catching a variety of critters on the wrecks.
It's spring and inshore fishing is hot! Casting lures and live bait could land you anything from Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder to small Sharks. Cobia, Spanish Mackerel, and large Sharks are entering the sounds.
May is a great time to get out in Port Royal Sound, where you'll find Cobia ranging from 30-60+ lbs! You will also see more of this fish on the offshore wrecks, along with King Mackerel, Spadefish, and Barracuda.
In summer you could catch anything! Tarpon have made their entrance in Port Royal Sound and the backwaters, where you will also find large Cobia. Farther from shore you can target big game fish and Sharks.
Close to shore you might catch anything from Redfish, Tarpon, or Tripletail to a massive Shark. A trip to the Gulf Stream gives you a chance to target Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Tuna, and Sailfish.
The summer hype continues, with great fishing everywhere from the beach to the Gulf Stream. Whether you are looking for the catch of a lifetime or something tasty to cook for dinner, now is the time to get on the water.
You can still enjoy great offshore fishing, trolling for Barracuda, King Mackerel, and Sharks. In the Gulf Stream you’ll have luck fishing for Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, and more.
Autumn marks the beginning of Hilton Head’s iconic inshore fishing season. Tarpon are slowly replaced by Bull Redfish weighing up to 40 lbs. Inshore you will also find Flounder, Sheepshead, and Speckled Trout.
This is the best time to catch some eating fish! In the sound and on the wrecks you can target Bull Redfish, or stay closer to shore and fish for Speckled Trout, Flounder, and shrimp.
Fishing for Redfish doesn’t get better than this. You can sight fish for Reds inshore or head out to the wrecks for the rest of the Bull Redfish and Flounder, Seabass, Snapper, and Grouper.
Hilton Head Island Fishing Calendar
What People Are Saying About Hilton Head Island
"Elijah catches his first ocean fish "
Fish weren’t biting and we caught several small fish, but Captain Tim made it as easy and enjoyable as could be! Definitely going to be loyal to him in our future excursions. Booking website, however, kept canceling; charters would say they have openings and then would cancel after we reserved, saying they didn’t. :-(
"3-hr Inland Waters Trip"
I've seen the pics - we didn't do as well as others, but that's why its called fishing and not catching.
"Half Day Trip with Captain Zack"
Great outfit with friendly and helpful folks running it
Top Types of Fishing in Hilton Head Island
Top Fishing Techniques in Hilton Head Island
Top Targeted Species in Hilton Head Island
- Size 10 to 20lbs
- Food Value Average
- Game Qualities Average
- Habitats Inshore, Nearshore, Offshore, Reef, Wreck
- Size 1 to 5lbs
- Food Value Excellent
- Game Qualities Average
- Habitats Inshore, Nearshore, Offshore
- Size 3 to 12lbs
- Food Value Good
- Game Qualities Good
- Habitats Inshore, Nearshore, Flats, Backcountry
- Size 2 to 6lbs
- Food Value Good
- Game Qualities Low
- Habitats Inshore, Nearshore
Top Fishing Charters
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