Somewhere out there is a hefty red fish literally crawling on its belly as it searches for food in water hardly deep enough to cover its back. As it moves, it keeps its head close to the bottom intently searching for crabs, shrimp, and minnows with little concern for its tail and back being exposed to the waterless world above. While this scenario occurs in coastal areas all over the southeast, it is exceptionally common in South Carolina’s coastal area known as the Low Country. This area’s large tidal swings and vast inshore waterways create thousands of acres of flooded marsh during high tides and countless mud/sand bars and shallow creek beds during low tides. The Low Country also boasts a healthy population of red fish (aka red drum or spot tailed bass) that have an affinity for shallow water. Red fish found feeding on flats are typically 20 to 30 inches long. These phenomena offer anglers a unique style of sight fishing know as flats fishing.
The basic premise of flats fishing is that the angler spots and stalks fish in shallow water hoping to get close enough to present an accurate cast. While flats fishing holds the thrilling elements of spot and stalk hunting, it is more relaxed and, if properly handled, your fish is able to be returned to the water unharmed. Before you start thinking its like shooting fish in a barrel it is anything but. The fish seeing you, rocking or banging the boat, looming shadows, wayward cast and poor lure or fly presentation are all sure-fire ways to blow your opportunity to tangle with one of these bruisers.
Anglers have the option of flats fishing with spinning or fly fishing gear. With either choice it is important that the angler can hit a hula-hoop at 7 yards within a couple of casts. The more efficiently and accurately an angler can cast the better their chances are of catching fish on the flats. I definitely recommend that all anglers learn to cast in the wind and wear polarized sunglasses. I use spinning rods spooled with 15 pound braid and eight weight fly rods.
While it is possible to wade some flats and paddle to others flats fishing is more efficient from a flats skiff. These skiffs are designed to be silently pushed across very shallow water. The pusher or guide stands on a raised platform over the motor giving them a distinct advantage for spotting fish and maneuvering the skiff. Due to the nature of these skiffs, most flats fishing trips are limited to two anglers.
Flats fishing is a year around activity in the Low Country with best fishing times varying each day based on the time of high and/or low tide. Fishing high tide flats is typically best from April early November. Low tide can be fished year around and is especially popular late November through the winter months when the water tends to be clearer and red fish congregate into large schools.
While so much focus is placed on the act of fishing it is only a small part of the Low Country flats fishing experience. Everywhere you go you are surrounded by scenic views and an abundance of wildlife including herons, raptors, and dolphins. Anglers venturing into the shallow flats enjoy the added experience of getting to view and engage with the saltwater ecosystem on a very personal level. Finally while you’re here be sure to enjoy the charm, history and culture of Savannah, Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, and Beaufort.