The salty, coastal waters of the Charleston harbor and surrounding areas are a flyfisherman’s playground with many species to choose from. The top two fish to chase with the fly rod have got to be the Spottail Bass (aka-Redfish, Red Drum, Bull Reds, etc) and the Speckled Seatrout (aka- Trout, Speck, etc) as they are both plentiful in these waters and a blast to catch. One of my favorite ways to target these fish is to hit the floodlights on docks at nighttime. Often at night, the baitfish and shrimp will flock to the illuminated waters under these docks with floodlights turning that dock into a haven for fish. The trout and spottail will cruise around in these waters gorging themselves on the shrimp, glass minnows, and other juvenile baitfish that swarm the lights. Dock light fishing is a lot of fun normally but even more so this time of year as the shrimp are large and abundant and the water is cooling down, driving the baitfish out of the shallow creeks into deeper, higher salinity water with a more stable temperature range. Fall is a great time for fishing in the South Carolina Lowcountry
This past Thursday evening, I went to a captains meeting for the 4th annual Put up or Shut Up tournament out on the dock at a creekside bar. There were lots of old friends and seasoned fishermen talking about fishing, women, fishing, boats, and of course, fishing. As the evening came to a close, people started giving excuses for going home early such as work in the morning, their significant other at home, and having to catch that night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. A friend and I decided we’d had enough talking about fish and we wanted to catch some, so we loaded our 8 wt fly rods in his boat tied off at the floating dock and departed about 9 PM. Off we went!
As we arrived to our first fishy looking light that has traditionally held trout, we were disappointed to find nothing so we ran up a bit further to some other promising docks eager to start throwing our flies. The wind was particularly uncooperative this night so it was mighty difficult to find a dock in which the wind and current were not going against each other too bad. After finding a dock with a large lit up area, we watch and listen for the splash of trout attacking the swarming baitfish. SPLASH! As we both see the first fish crash the surface, we’re scrambling to silently get the boat in position, untangle the anchor line, make ready our fly rods, and keep an eye on the fish all at the same time
After battling the wind and current for a minute, we are in position and start throwing our flies, Roger with a Gummy Minnow and myself with a shrimp pattern. Roger hooks up with a beautiful 16” trout and the first fish is in the boat at 10 PM. As I get on the bow and start casting, a massive 30”+ spottail appears cruising the surface slowly. I toss my fly and get ready for battle. Strip, strip, BAM! The fish turns and crushes the hair and epoxy shrimp. He sets the hook on himself and as he turns tail and swims back towards the dock, I feel the line go tight and POP! There’s a big swirl in the water, a chewed up line, and no fish to be found. Note to self, make sure you change out your leader after fishing for toothy bluefish. After that crushing defeat, we pull anchor and move up the way to another light.
As we anchor up to the next light in between two docks somewhat sheltered from the wind, we hear fish crashing bait in between us and the marsh grass in the dark and get excited. I hop up on the bow and start casting another shrimp pattern. I place the fly a little under the dock in the dark, let it settle for a few seconds and strip it into the light. I keep stripping and jerking it around like a panicking shrimp and start feeling the bumps of interested fish. I repeat this a few more times until I decide to let it settle just a bit longer, and as I start to strip the line, it goes tight and I’m hooked up. I land a nice 17” trout and its Roger’s turn. He casts his Gummy Minnow a few times and hooks up to a pretty 13” trout. It’s 11 PM and we are now up to 3 fish in the boat. I decide to cast a few more times but determine the fish have turned off as we are not even getting any more bumps so we pull anchor and run back to our first dock.
Once again, we battle the wind and current to get in position only to find nothing at the first dock. Somewhat disappointed we decide to start heading back to the bar where my truck is parked. On our way back, we pass a dock that we had looked at on the way in and a serious case of OMC (the dreaded One More Cast disease) hits us. Roger cruises the boat up to the light slowly and silently and we are overcome with excitement as we see dozens of fish crushing bait and cruising the surface. We bring the boat around and drop anchor, rods ready with itchy casting arms. Roger has switched to a black Clouser and I am throwing a white and chartreuse Clouser with flash. As we both strip our flies through the school of 20+ trout we are watching swim in the current, both flies get bumped. Roger picks up a bluefish and 2 more trout measuring 15” and 17” and I pick up 4 more measuring 14”, 19” and 2 of them at 18”. By this time it is 1 AM and we are dog tired so we decide to head back to the landing.
After a nice ride back to the dock, we say our goodbyes and I head on home. We left each other with high hopes for the fishing for the upcoming weekend as Roger had another boat ride over to the marina he was staying in for his mini-vacation. I finally get back to the house at 2 AM covered in salt, tired and ready to crash so I wash my rod off and hit the bed. I’d call it a mighty successful night. Come to find out the next morning, Roger had stopped to fish a dock light he saw that was swarmed by fish on his way back to the marina and picked up another 31 trout on the fly rod. Talk about a slamdunk! This sure is a red hot time of year for flyfishing in the Lowcountry.