Inshore Fish Species

Flounder

Murrells Inlet is known around South Carolina for its flounder fishing. There are four species of flounder that can be found here, summer flounder, southern flounder, winter flounder and gulf flounder. When inshore fishing in the warmer months, all but winter flounder can be found. The most common species caught are summer and southern flounder.  Most flounder caught range from 10in-17in, but flounder over 20in are possible as well. In the low country, when a flounder over 20in is caught, it earns the nickname “doormat”, due to the flat shape and size of the fish. The legal keeping size for flounder is a 15in minimum. Flounder are a key predator and lay in ditches, holes, sandbars, and oyster beds waiting to attack a baitfish or shrimp. One of the great challenges of flounder fishing is how they bite your bait.  When they bite, the key to success is patience. Many anglers set the hook way too early when flounder fishing. When a flounder takes your minnow, they bite it at the tail. Next, they begin to spin the bait around and eat it head first in order to lay the fins down to prevent injury during feeding. This means giving the fish proper time to eat the bait is the biggest key when fishing for flounder. They are excellent to eat, and more times than not, you can get 4 fillets off of one flounder.

Redfish

The redfish has many names; spot tail, red drum, channel bass, and puppy drum are commonly used. They are a very strong fish and put up a great fight when being caught. Most redfish in Murrells Inlet are found back in the creeks or at the jetties. They will eat a variety of baits such as, shrimp, mullet, mud minnows and cut baits. Depending on what time of year and where you are fishing determines what kind of bait is preferred. The redfish have a very distinct copper/orange skin and a black spot on their tail, occasionally having more than one spot. This is used as a form of confusing camouflage when larger predators, such as dolphin, are trying to eat them. The redfish often times will school and get close together when threatened and the spot on the tail looks like an eye to a hungry predator. When the school gets close together and all the spots are grouped up it is harder for the predator to decipher where the head and tail is on an individual redfish. One of the best times to catch redfish is in the fall (October-December). However, they can still be caught almost year around.  Usually in October and November, the larger redfish, also known as bull reds, can be found near the jetties or just off the beach about a mile out. These bull reds fight hard and can get upwards of 40lbs. The bigger redfish must be released due to the legal slot for keeping redfish is 14-23in. If you do catch redfish in the slot limit, they are great to eat. All in all, any size redfish will put up a great fight and test you as an angler.

Spotted Sea Trout

Spotted sea trout are a highly targeted game fish in Murrells Inlet. They have beautiful colors and most have black spots all over. Many anglers refer to them as speckled trout or winter trout. Unlike what you may think, the sea trout is actually a member of the drum family and has no relation to any freshwater trout. Speckled trout are normally targeted in October, November and December. That is when the larger schools show up in the creeks and around the jetties, potentially catching large numbers of speckled trout. On rare occasion, a few can be caught in the warmer months. However, catching a speckled trout in the summer is usually a big one. When an angler catches a speckled sea trout that is near 20 inches or bigger, it earns the nickname “gator trout”. The more popular way to catch speckled trout is using an adjustable cork with a live shrimp.  Sometimes, you can catch them on live mullet using a Carolina rig or a three-way swivel rig. There are days when they will eat artificial baits just as good, if not better than live shrimp. The more common artificial baits are soft plastic swim baits or shrimp imitations on a jig head. If you ask sea trout anglers what is the best artificial lure, each one will give a different answer. Speckled sea trout can also be caught using hard plastic baits such as mirror lures, a variety of jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits or zara spooks. Speckled sea trout are a great fight on light tackle and are excellent to eat.

Black Drum

The black drum is the lazier cousin of the red drum (redfish), but can fight just as hard. Black drum are normally found in schools and love to eat a variety of crustaceans and cut bait. The easiest way to fish for them is to use a shortened Carolina rig with a small piece of shrimp. These fish are shaped a little different than redfish. They are broader and their mouths are located more on the under-side of the chin. Black drum also can have very distinct black and white stripes and are sometimes confused with a sheepshead. There are also times when black drum will be almost solid black in color. Black drum can usually be found at lower tides near oyster beds and deep holes inside the inlet. When fall arrives, the bigger black drum will start to show up around the jetty rocks and more schools will show up in the creeks. Normally, the best time to target black drum is November and December. Like many other fish, they still can occasionally be found many months out of the year in Murrells Inlet. That being said, some months are just better than others on average. Larger black drum put up a great fight and normally will swim against the current when hooked. They are an excellent fish to eat and can be prepared various ways.

Cobia

Cobia can be one of the most exciting and hardest fighting fish for any angler. They can be caught offshore and nearshore depending on the time of year and how the bait is migrating. One of the best things about cobia is the ability to hook them by sight casting. You can watch them attack your bait. These fish can be found on the surface around giant schools of baitfish, like menhaden, or near any structure off the beach. Examples of these types of structures are bell buoys, offshore channel markers, offshore and near shore wrecks or just floating debris. The best time to target this fish near shore is typically in late April-June. Keep in mind this can be subject to change depending on water temperatures and baitfish migrations. Cobia are very curious fish and sometimes will show up and swim around your boat just to see what is going on. They can be caught casting bucktails, large curly tail grubs, spoons and eel imitating lures. Live bait and cut bait fishing can be productive in the right circumstance. When fishing for cobia, you are usually targeting fewer bites. However, the quality of fish is much better. They are one of the best tasting fish in the ocean. Juvenile cobia, that must be released, can be found back in the inlet or at near shore reef. If the season is open, the minimum length for keeping is 36 inches to the fork in the tail. Cobia over 20 pounds are not uncommon and, on occasion, ones over 50lb are caught.

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel, “Spanish” for short, is normally a schooling fish and can be a blast to catch. Schooling spanish can be caught trolling, live bait fishing or by casting lures like gotcha plugs, mirror lures and jigging spoons. Casting for these fish on light tackle can be a great fight. They will eat almost any baitfish that is in the area, but normally look for mullet and glass minnows. The most popular way to catch spanish is to troll spoons and Christmas tree rigs. A Christmas tree rig is a series of multiple hooks with colored plastic tubing over the shank of the hook. Normally, each rig will have 5-7 hooks including a spoon on the end. This forms a long strand of colored lures gliding through the water. Given the fact there are multiple hooks on each rig, multiple fish can be caught on one line at one time. It is common to have 2 or 3 spanish on at once. If your timing is right and you can troll multiple lines, bringing 20 or more back to the dock is possible. The larger ones are normally caught using live mullet. You can free line live baits or slow troll them. The key is to make them look as natural as possible and use the lightest line/wire as possible, due to their excellent eyesight. Most live bait fishing for spanish is done near the jetty mouth or at nearshore reefs. This style of fishing usually produces less fish but better quality fish. Spanish are usually best to eat when fresh. King mackerel will also make a near shore run in the fall, usually October and November, and can be caught right off the beach. The kings are caught trolling dead cigar minnows or slow trolling live bait. 

Sharks

Sharks are an apex predator of the ocean and can be caught near shore most summer and fall months. The most common species of shark in the Murrells Inlet area are sharpnose, tiger, blacktip and spinner. On occasion, a few bull sharks and great white sharks that patrol this area. When near shore fishing for sharks, there are three main methods: anchoring and casting out, drifting over reefs/wrecks and chasing bait schools. All three of these methods require using cut bait. Normally, the preferred bait is whatever fish or bait is most prominent that time of year. Heavier gear is required and using circle hooks will help with proper catch and release. When chasing bait schools, it is productive to throw a cast net on the school of bait and use the ones you catch. The fresher the bait, the better your chances are of catching a shark. Chasing bait schools can be very exciting. More times than not, you can see multiple sharks cutting in and out of the bait fish and feeding. With this style of shark fishing, you can catch blacktip, sharpnose, and spinner sharks. The tiger sharks are normally caught drifting the reefs. The reefs can hold numbers of other species of sharks too. Most sharks caught are in the 3-5ft ranges and put up a fight you won’t forget. The larger tiger sharks average 5ft and can be caught upwards of 9ft. Sharks provide anybody with a challenging, yet fun experience.