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Hilton Head Island fishing: Take a break from golf, grab your tackle

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - There are probably just as much, if not more, fishing options in and around Hilton Head Island as there are golf courses.

Harbour Town Lighthouse
Hilton Head Island and surrounding areas offer an unusual bounty for the golfer/angler.
Harbour Town LighthouseHilton Head Island Fishing

It's a known fact that a huge chunk of golfers would just as soon have a Shakespeare rod and Ugly Stick in their hands as a 7-iron, and the island and surrounding areas offer an unusual bounty for the golfer/angler. So if you're planning a Hilton Head Island golf trip and want to escape the cozy confines of the course for a little wilder action on the water, by all means bring your tackle.

From the tidal creeks and lagoons in and around the island, to nearshore and offshore fishing on Calibogue Sound and beyond, and even 70 miles out to the warm Gulf Stream, Hilton Head is one of those coastal areas that can provide practically any kind of fishing you want. It can be as simple and cheap as tossing a line from the bank or beach, or as complicated and expensive as hiring an overnight charter out to the blue water.

Even if you're staying at one of the resorts on the plantations, you can get some fishing action, but be aware of the rules.

At the Sea Pines Resort, you must be a resident or guest, and you need a permit from security. It's the same for Palmetto Dunes, and fishing is restricted to the banks of the lagoon crossed by the Queen's Folly Bridge. At Shipyard Plantation, there is no license requirement and no restrictions for residents or guests.

Outside of the plantations, you'll need a license; non-resident, seven-day licenses are available for $11.

If you want to escape the island and get in some freshwater lake action, there are excellent, nearby lakes holding a variety of fish, like Lake Keowee, Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie, Lake Murray and the big Santee Cooper system. By the way, there are some reasonably nice golf courses in Santee. You'll be going after the king of freshwater, largemouth bass, here, as well as striped bass, crappie, catfish and bream.

But, if you want to stay on and around Hilton Head, fishing in saltwater or brackish water - a combination of fresh and saltwater - is your best bet.

Personally, I think flyfishing for reds is as rewarding a fishing day as you can have. When it warms up, you can sight-fish for reds on the many sawgrass flats around Hilton Head in as little as two feet of water - be sure to use a floating line since you'll be fishing in the grass beds. Try the Redfish Express, a local favorite.

If you really want some action, cobia up to 70 pounds spawn in the Broad River in the spring. You'll need some heavy-duty tackle here, 10-12 weight rods.

If you want to just throw out a line from the beach or bank of a creek, you don't need a license, but there are rules against catching sharks - the sharks don't always read the rule books, though.

Fishing the brackish lagoons, tidal creeks and the big Calibogue Sound is a little more serious. You'll need a license if you're 16 or over and fishing from a private boat.

Saltwater charters are very popular for getting out on the big water, and you can book them for a full or half day. These boats usually handle up to six people and generally troll for fish. You'll most likely be fishing for redfish, cobia, tarpon, spotted seatrout, Spanish and king mackerel, sheepshead and blacktip and lemon sharks. By the way, you can catch sheepshead off docks. Just dangle a crab by the side of a piling.

Party boats of 12 or more people go farther offshore for snapper, grouper, black sea bass, amberjack, barracuda and, of course, sharks. These boats usually anchor at one of the many artificial reefs or natural banks off Hilton Head. If you're after sharks, there are charters that specialize in them, and they usually head out toward sunset. Just ask at any marina; if they don't have charters themselves, they can almost always point you in the right direction.

Be aware, even recreational anglers must know the limits. Being such a popular destination, the Hilton Head area has seen its fish dwindle in recent years. In fact, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently set stricter limits on both commercial and recreational fisheries for some of the more popular targets, like black sea bass, snowy grouper and others.

"Just think of the migration of people moving to the coastal area and the pressure they are going to bring," Bluffton recreational angler Collins Doughtie told the Island Packet newspaper. "There's got to be a little law and order, or otherwise our fisheries are going to disappear."

Then there's the ultimate in bluewater fishing - heading out to the Gulf Stream for blue and white marlin, sailfish, dolphin and tuna. June through September is best, when the seas aren't as rough and many of the migratory, pelagic fish move through.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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