As the days get longer and the mercury rises, so do the temperatures in the Kiawah River and the surf zone. Soon the cool 60 degree spring water temperatures will rise to the 80 degree summer water temperatures. Warmer waters mean more fish. When the water reaches around 70 degrees, usually in early May, the mullet, menhaden, and shrimp all begin to move in to enjoy our warmer waters. These schools of bait fish get so dense and concentrated that hungry predatory fish (and naturalists armed with cast nets) begin to hunt them down and fill their empty winter bellies.
It doesn’t take long after the bait fish arrive and the sport fish flood the Kiawah River that the fishing rods begin to bend. This process all begins as the water temperature rises and millions of microscopic plankton (phytoplankton and zooplankton) enter and thrive in the water. As the plankton numbers build, the water changes from a clear, cold (50 degrees) winter water to thick, nutrient charged warm (85 degree) summer water. This plankton is the major food source of the species fishermen commonly use for bait, such as mullet, menhaden, silversides, glass shrimp, among others. Now that the bait fish have followed the plankton into the nutrient rich warm waters of the Kiawah River, what do you think follows? Sport fish! Redfish, Speckled Sea Trout, flounder, ladyfish, tarpon and massive schools of Bonnethead Sharks migrate in from southern waters to exploit the seafood buffet that the Kiawah River has transformed into. Typically, many of these fishes concentrate near any type of structure (oyster reefs, spartina grass, docks, pilings), simply because that’s where the bait is hiding.
On the beachfront, the churning of the surf zone disturbs the sand below, releasing incredible amounts of food (mole crabs, polychaete worms, and various clams) that many of the bait fish depend on. In the surf, you’re likely to hook into weakfish, Spanish Mackerel, whiting, and various rays. These ocean fish are simply cruising the surf zone pursuing any type of bait fish they can sink their teeth into. Oftentimes you can detect where the bait is – and the sport fish that are chasing them – by watching for flocks of pelicans, terns, and gulls that are also trying to get a meal in. Yes, it’s tough to be bait in our healthy marine environment.
May through November is the best time to fish our local tidal estuary, so get out there and wet a line. You’ll be sure to get worn out from the pull of a monster sport fish. Even if you’re a novice fisherman, you can join one of our experienced captains on a motor boat fishing trip. Tours are available daily but book up fast at this time of year.