Charleston Offshore Fishing Report

Billfishing blends with history in this easily-accessible hot spot

charleston offshore fishing

charleston travel brief

Charleston has some of the hottest offshore fishing along the Atlantic.File Photo

Combine an unmistakable Southern charm, hundreds of years of history, and some of the hottest offshore fishing south of Cape Hatteras, and the result is one of the most genteel destinations in the sport-fishing world: Charleston, South Carolina.

Founded on a low-lying peninsula of land between the Ashley and Cooper rivers in coastal South Carolina in 1670, Charleston became an important port in the following decades as the colonists established a thriving trade with Europe. The city was the site of two significant battles during the Revolutionary War, and was also the location of the opening salvo of the Civil War, when shore batteries under the command of General Pierre Beauregard opened fire on the Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. After a 34-hour bombardment, Union forces surrendered the fort, thus starting the War between the States in 1861. And while the city itself was ravaged by both wars, a remarkable number of historic sites still remain, including homes, commercial buildings and churches. Examples of colonial architecture abound, especially in the downtown areas.

For the offshore enthusiast, history was made again in 2005 when angler Corky Taylor set the state record for blue marlin with an 881.8-pounder aboard Rascal, a fish good enough for the win during the Charleston Harbor Billfish Tournament. With a moderately long run to the Gulf Stream, usually 60 miles or more, the fishing days off Charleston start early and run late, but with the advent of today's faster boats, those trips are easier and more comfortable than ever before.

There’s also been a considerable increase in the number of sailfish and white marlin released during the last decade as well, proving that the state’s billfish stocks are in good shape and that conservation efforts also seem to be paying dividends. During this year’s Carolina Billfish Classic, tournament director Deidre Menefee reported that the fleet of 31 boats let 56 billfish go: six blue marlin, six white marlin and 44 sailfish. In another Charleston tournament, hosted by the Charleston City Marina and known as “the Megadock,” 48 boats released 56 sailfish and two white marlin. “We attract boats not only from South Carolina but also from Georgia, North Carolina and beyond,” Menefee reports. “We’ve got a reputation in this state for competitive tournaments and also great parties — our visitors know they’re going to have a fun time and really enjoy the camaraderie of tournament fishing; plus, the city is a terrific destination for families.”

Aside from billfish, Palmetto State water also holds a significant number of game fish. Like most southern coastal states, dolphin is the most common offshore catch in the summertime, along with hordes of tasty blackfin tuna that stack up along the offshore humps and ridges.

A central starting point for many boats is known as the Georgetown Hole, just to the northeast of Charleston and approximately 65 miles offshore. The depth drops off rapidly in this area, from about 160 feet to over 100 fathoms in less than a half-mile, creating a bait-trapping upwelling where pelagics of all kinds are concentrated.

Nearby hot spots also include the Southwest Banks, Wynah Scarp and Bubble Rock. And if the trolling bite is slow, many boats move a bit inshore and drop a line to the bottom, which is loaded with hard-fighting grouper and snapper. Live bait usually rules the day, but the recent resurgence of deep jigging with braided line also pays off.

Governor's Cup Series

The state’s top tournaments collectively form the South Carolina Governor’s Cup tournament. A season-long tournament series, the Governor’s Cup is comprised of the state’s finest billfishing events, with teams amassing points for three major awards: Outstanding Billfish (single heaviest), Outstanding Billfish Boat (most points overall) and Outstanding Billfish Conservationist (most release points). Additional awards are presented for the top dolphin, wahoo and tuna of the series, as well as for top female and top youth. Winners are presented with individual trophies and also have their names engraved on the perpetual trophy for each division, an award that’s presented by the state’s governor at the end of each fishing season.

Founded by former governor Carroll Campbell, the series’ purpose is to promote the state’s billfishing tourism industry, increase coastal tourism in general, and encourage the conservation of billfish species through a tag-and-release program. Past accomplishments include the financing of two artificial reefs in South Carolina state water, initial funding for the South Carolina Dolphin Tagging Research Project, and funding for tournament surveys conducted at major billfish events along the coast of the state. The success of the series inspired North Carolina to form its own Governor’s Cup Series as well as the annual interstate competition, known as the Carolinas Shootout.

For the 2011 tournament season, according to statistics compiled by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, 152 boats fishing the five series tournaments released a total of 163 billfish: 16 blue marlin, 46 white marlin and 101 sailfish. No billfish were boated.

History buffs will enjoy the pleasures of a simple stroll around the downtown area, with its multicolored houses and scenic waterfront views of Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. Lodging options are what one would expect from a city of some 120,000 residents, ranging from five-star to budget, including numerous bed-and-breakfasts in historic homes — a great option for visitors. No matter what the reason or season, Charleston’s a great vacation getaway.

For more information on the South Carolina Governor's Cup, please visit govcup.dnr.sc.gov.

Travel Tips

Charleston is readily accessible via land, sea or air from just about any point in the Southeast and beyond. The Charleston International Airport, located northwest of the city, is both modern and well attended by the major air carriers. The city itself lies approximately 30 miles east of Interstate 95, the main north-south artery along the eastern seaboard (take I-26 straight into the city or use I-526 for access to the northern or southern reaches of the Lowcountry). Charleston is just over 175 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina, 200 miles from Jacksonville, Florida, and 265 miles from Atlanta, Georgia, making it an easy day’s drive from just about any location in the Southeast.

Given its status as one of the South’s busiest ports, Charleston is also easily reached by sea. Popular area marinas include the Charleston City Marina (centrally located downtown; mile marker 469.5 on the Intracoastal Waterway), Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina (at Patriot’s Point, just across the river from downtown) and Bohicket Marina (Kiawah and Seabrook islands, about 20 miles south of the city). Transient boats should always make reservations in advance, as these are all popular destinations with visitors, and slips go quickly, especially during tournament time.

Back ashore, there’s a wide range of activities for the entire family. Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum is a favorite with all ages, featuring the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as well as the U.S. submarine Clamagore on permanent display, along with dozens of aircraft from the World War II to Vietnam and Gulf War eras spread between the carrier’s hangar bay and flight deck.

Golf is another popular pastime in the Lowcountry, with more than 20 championship-caliber courses in the Charleston area alone (and dozens more scattered throughout the surrounding coastal region). In 2012, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island will host the 94th Annual PGA championship, becoming just the fifth course in the world to host the Championship as well as the Ryder Cup and Senior PGA Championship tournaments. To say that golf is taken seriously in this area is an understatement of significant proportions.