I am often asked “when is the best time of the year to fish around Hilton Head” and I usually respond with “October through December”. Not only is the fishing and shrimping great but the weather is spectacular! Hot summer days give way to crisp cool conditions that make being out on the water just perfect. Moreover, the fish can feel the changing weather and they will fire off looking to eat as much as they can before winter.
Our main focus around the backwaters throughout October will be on redfish and speckled sea trout but don’t be surprised to se quite a number of flounder, ladyfish and bluefish feeding along the edges as well. With mild cold fronts pushing through and shorter days we will start to see a drop in water temperature which will surely get our inshore fish fired up to feed from dawn till dusk and with plenty of bait washing in and out of the marsh there will be no shortage of places for these fish to find a meal. This is prime time for shrimp so you can bet that most of our gamefish will be keyed in on the bait shrimp around the creek mouths and grass edges but don’t forget about small mullet and mud minnows as these will be deadly effective baits as well.
This is the time of the year to catch trophy sized red drum; AKA Bull Redfish. These are the large adult reds that come back into the nearshore waters to spawn and average in size from 25-30 plus pounds. Redfish have a rather unique life cycle – these fish start out as fry within the protective waters of the estuary where they will spend the next 4-6 years hiding, feeding and growing around the shallow grass and oyster bays. Here they have fewer predators and plenty of food to grow into mature redfish and after about the 6 year mark these adult redfish will move out of the estuary and join the brood stock to continue the process. Adult redfish generally stay in offshore waters only coming back to the estuary to spawn during the late summer and fall. These “bull reds” will free spawn and allow the current to wash the fertilized eggs into the backwaters where the cycle continues with the next generation. In fact, the primary reason that we have an upper limit of 23 inches to keep red drum is so that these fish can continue to spawn and thus keep the fishery healthy. Moreover, considering that redfish can live well over 60 years and continuously grow you can see why the South Carolina state record stands at 75 pounds (caught out of Murrells Inlet in 1965). These large redfish are a lot of fun to catch but remember that they are the future of our fishery so please take care in handling and releasing them unharmed back into the water.