fisherman holding fish and pole

Preparing for a Hilton Head Island Fishing Trip

Hilton Island is a paradise for anglers but there are a few things you will need before hitting the water. The differences between fishing freshwater areas and the ocean are immense and the gear requirements are often different. The diversity of opportunity and abundant access make the island an incredible destination for fishing. Get ready for the trip of a lifetime on Hilton Head Island.

Get Your License

Before fishing, most anglers will need a South Carolina fishing license. Everyone at the age of 16 and older will need a recreational license that is available through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Some vendors sell licenses in person but purchasing online is easy and you can complete the task from home or a smartphone. The prices vary based on residency and duration. You also must purchase separate licenses for freshwater and saltwater fishing. Long term residents can consider the annual or even three-year license options for convenience.

Selecting the Appropriate Gear

Short term visitors can rent gear from an island outfitter. Many anglers bring their own rods and reels, however. Lightweight spin and baitcasting rods work well for freshwater lakes and canals. Fishing the saltwater from shore or a vessel requires a sealed drag to prevent damage from corrosion. Surf rods and reels are heavy duty with heavy lines as well. Fishing gear for off-shore is also more involved with big rods and reels capable of fighting sharks, barracudas and the big fish found in open waters.

Every angler will need to select some favorite lures or baits as well. General spinners and spoons can catch fish in the freshwater and saltwater environments equally well. Fly anglers also have success with minnow imitations.

Fishing on Foot

A simple day of fishing on foot can involve visiting a local park, pier or beach. The Charles Haigh Fishing Pier is a favorite for saltwater anglers. It’s a free spot to cast a line and potentially catch a big fish. For those wanting a salt march experience, lagoons at the Sea Pines Resort have sea trout, redfish and drum. The occasional tarpon may even show up here. You will find shore access here and at Palmetto Dunes but using a kayak or small boat can really expand the water available. Some anglers fish directly off the beaches, casting into the surf as well. For freshwater anglers, it’s hard to beat Jarvis Creek Park. Grab a spot on the dock and try catching the many bass available here.

Paddling the Backwaters

Backwater fishing for redfish, trout and drum is a great way to explore the low country. Kayak rentals are available on the island and you can even fish from a paddle board. The Sea Pines Resort remains a favorite location for paddling but the island is surrounded by secret spots. Daufuskie Island is also worth the trip for paddlers and it holds remote creeks where big redfish roam. Pedal style kayaks are great for traveling while having your hands free for fishing. The pedal style does hang up in very shallow waters however but this is rarely an issue. Standup paddle boards work great for local spots that have little current. Pedal and paddle kayaks are better for covering more ground and really exploring the extensive backwaters. Always know the tides and pay attention to timing to ensure you fish the high tide and paddle out of creeks before the water recedes.

On the Open Ocean

Off-Shore trips are best run with an experienced captain. Multiple fishing guide services run off-shore where they have excellent fishing opportunities. They still target big drum, sheepshead and other species that crossover in the marshes. Expanded opportunities include barracuda, mackerel, grouper, sharks, snapper, grouper and more. The possibility of catching a huge shark, barracuda or mackerel makes for an exciting day on the water.

Attempting to fish the ocean waters on your own is possible but should only be attempted by experienced captains who know the waters, currents and have the equipment to navigate a vessel off-shore. Visitors who only plan a day or a few days of fishing will benefit from a captain who knows the area and can drive directly to the hottest fishing zones.