Fish America: The Carolinas

Before heading to South Carolina, I made one last stop in North Carolina, and fished from Harkers Island with Chuck Laughridge, around the area of Cape Lookout Light, North Carolina.
Laughridge is experienced fishing the Harkers Island area and filming both shows for television and the web from his skiff.
The scenery fishing out of Harkers is incredible. The wildlife view is worth the boat ride in of itself, and you can even catch a glimpse of wild horses from the beach if you're lucky. A pair of binoculars might be a good thing to pack.
Cape Lookout Light is one of the more beautiful lighthouses I've seen on the coast. Chuck and I caught good numbers of small bluefish at dawn that were pushing bait up onto the sand. The fish weren't enormous, but the action was fast and with soft plastics and on light tackle, it was an enjoyable morning on the water.
After leaving Harkers Island it was on to South Carolina. The heat hadn't let up in days. It's just an oppressive heat that surrounds you, starting as soon as you wake up and it's unrelenting. It feels like when you step out of your jeep you're in a Hot Pocket that's almost done. Everything black in your jeep is sizzling to the touch, and all you want to do is keep moving, figuring you've got to get outside of it somewhere. It seems like there must be an edge to it, but there isn't.
I went to South Carolina to fish with Tommy Scarborough, owner of Georgetown Coastal Adventures. Tommy has been fishing the waters in and around Georgetown for more than 20 years. He has a slow, steady southern confidence that makes you think that if you don't catch fish, they simply weren't there to be caught. He has a booming laugh, a quick wit and a million one-liners. He is the kind of captain that you don't forget fishing with. He's the kind of Captain you go down to fish for one day with, and wind up spending three days on the water with, and wishing you had more.
The first order of the day, on Thursday the 22, is to procure some bait, in this case mullet. These striped leaping baitfish are everywhere in South Carolina, and almost everything eats them. We cast-net enough for the day and it's down to business.
The plan for the day is to follow shrimp boats, like the one pictured here, and target the sharks that swim around feeding on the scraps and bycatch that go over the side. Just think of it like moving structure with a chum slick you don't need to set up. We "butterfly" a mullet, which means cutting it open to make it more enticing, and pitch behind the boat.
I make my first cast and begin to ask Tommy about my placement and what to do next when my line just starts screaming in the opposite direction. It's as if I hit a shark in its open mouth. The mullet was just inhaled as soon as it splashed down. The light rod bends double as the fish, with 30 feet of water to work with beneath the boat, wears me out for 15 minutes.
Finally, I resort to palming the spool, and with Tommy's kind advice I "stop fighting it like his 11-year-old niece," and we're able to bring the shark boatside.
The shark we bring boatside looks to be a dusky shark between 80 and 100 pounds. We grab a few photos and give it a safe release. I manage to let a few more sharks come unbuttoned, and we call it a morning. A 15-minute battle with an 80-pound shark on light tackle is one instance when one fish can be the difference between a disappointing and an amazing day.
Tommy lets me in on a secret, as we stop by one the best-hidden little seafood shacks in the Georgetown area.
The grilled and seasoned tuna is definitely a meal-highlight of the trip, and a good way to take in some air conditioning and cool down after a hot day on the water. I'd recommend stopping by the Belle Isle Marina Bar and Grille if you're ever in the area.
If you're from the Northeast, like I am, one of the things that you never tire of in the southeast is the amazing abundance of wildlife. There's just life everywhere. Here, a miniature alligator waits to ambush its next meal.
I call Tommy the next morning to thank him for a day on the water and he lets me know that his charter has canceled, and asks if I want to get back on the water. What can you say to that? We're going to probe some of the shallow-water creeks and backwaters for redfish, among other things. Running through the shallow cuts and channels at a high speed is an amazing experience. You feel like you're taking a Go-Cart at 30 miles per hour around a winding bike path.
Tossing clam strips to the backsides of oyster bars pays off with my largest redfish ever. Not a monster, but you've got to start somewhere. These beautiful fish make long steady runs.
I take my time making sure the fish is healthy, the water, especially back here, is sizzling hot and the fish are feeling the pain as much as we are, if not more.
Tommy epitomizes the ideals of southern hospitality and won't let me spend the night in my jeep. Fresh steaks off the grill, salad, warm bread and an actual bed make me think I might just stay in South Carolina forever. And Tommy isn't making leaving any easier. His client for the next day, Dave Boyden from Maryland, says I'm welcome to join the trip, and again I can't turn an offer down.
Dave is a fly guy, and today he and Tommy have arranged to chase sharks, the way we were two days prior, except with a fly rod. It will certainly add a new challenge to the whole procedure, but that's the fun part.
Dave's only been tying flies for about a year, but Tommy says he's made astounding progress, and he uses Dave's flies now on the water. Dave comes stocked with an assortment for the day.
Again, we're running right up behind the shrimp boats like this one. Wind and angle play a large part in placing these flies where the sharks will be, and it certainly looks more challenging than heaving a dead mullet.
Sharks aren't the only ones taking advantage of all the excess nutrition. There are pods of dolphins that pop up behind every shrimp boat.
Dave executes some perfect casts with his 10-weight and before you know it he's hooked up. After battling one of these sharks on light spinning gear I can't imagine trying to subdue one on a fly rod. Especially with Tommy heckling you from the background.
Dave does an admirable job, however, and subdues another dusky.
Fighting these tenacious fish on the fly isn't an easy task, and you've got to know the limits of your equipment. There are several times when Dave just can't put the brakes on this shark, but wears him down in the end.
We bump around for the remainder of the day, and have front-row seats to some massive tarpon crashing mullet on top. It's the height of angling frustration to watch these prehistoric creatures explode only yards away from your boat and not be able to hook one up. But in the end you're grateful for the show. The heat and high winds make finding fish nearly impossible, so, grateful for our sharky morning, we head in. My three days in South Carolina have finally come to an end. I know better than to think that my run to Atlanta will help me escape the heat, but it's moving anyway.