Once reserved for cold mountain trout streams, fly fishing has found a new home at the beach, on grassy lakeshores and virtually anywhere there are fish to be had. In South Carolina, the diversity and abundance of waterways makes it an inviting destination for anglers, no matter where in the state their travels take them.
Traditionalists will enjoy fly casting for brook, brown and rainbow trout in the serenity of remote Upstate rivers like the Chauga and Eastatoe. The Midlands offers its own trout fishery in downtown Columbia's Lower Saluda River, as well as a bountiful supply of trophy-sized stripers and catfish in Santee Cooper Country's lakes Marion and Moultrie.
But nowhere is fly fishing more exhilarating than in the flats and backwaters of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Here, against the breathtaking panorama of endless marsh grass and tidal rivers, the sport of fly fishing meets the art of fly casting.
In this saltwater environment, tidal currents increase the difficulty of the sport and with it the rewards of hooking one on the fly. Those who choose to fish with a fly rod do so for the very challenge of fooling a fish into biting an artificial lure made out of feathers, fur or thread. Adding to the challenge only sweetens the pot.
Beaufort County, with its 300 square miles of marshland waters, is prime fly fishing territory. As the tides ebb and flow through the spartina, along a shoreline of plankton-rich oyster beds and muddy riverbanks, the fishing experience is constantly changing.
At low tide, anglers can cast into schools of fish concentrated in the mud flats around oyster beds. High water levels offer the opportunity to float into the grass to sight cast for redfish feeding on fiddler crabs.
Along with the bountiful redfish, Beaufort's year-round saltwater fishery also includes speckled sea trout, sheephead, black drum, Spanish mackerel and jacks.
The months of April, May and June bring a special visitor-the big, brown cobia. The Broad River is one of only two places on the east coast where cobia come inshore to spawn. One of the most exciting ways to catch this hard-fighting fish is by sight casting-considered the ultimate hunt with a rod.
Whether you're chasing cobia or looking for redfish, an experienced guide can be the difference between a frustrating day of fishing and a successful one. More than 20 guide services are available in the state offering trips from Columbia to Hilton Head Island.
Among them is Bay Street Outfitters in Beaufort, one of only four South Carolina fly fishing outfitters and guide services to be endorsed by Orvis-the gold standard for world-class fishing.
The shop offers the services of four highly experienced guides, as well as private fly casting instruction, a one-day Redfish School and the Orvis South Carolina Fly Fishing School held nine weekends of the year at Oldfield Club in Okatie.
Bay Street Outfitters head guide Capt. Tuck Scott has been taking anglers fly fishing in Lowcountry estuaries since 2004. A lifelong fisherman, he's on the water some 200 days of the year, cruising his favorite haunts for "nervous water" or other visual signs of fish swimming in the shallows. Once he spots his target, Scott quietly poles the boat into position to offer the angler a perfect shot without scaring off the fish.
Standing on the 38-inch tower of his flat boat, he can direct the angler to cast at just the right distance and direction. The idea is to present the fly within the cone of vision of the fish and slowly slide it along the bottom, stripping the line in short erratic bursts to mimic the behavior of a shrimp or crab trying to skirt away to safety.
"Fly fishing is not about filling the cooler," Scott said. "It's about getting up to see the sunrise and observing nature. It's about getting a shot, hitting the target and tricking the fish into eating a fly that you've tied. It's the whole experience."