Not so long ago, it was rare to see anyone fly fishing in the creeks and rivers of the Lowcountry. Today, the thrill of targeting red drum — also known as rockfish, channel bass, and spottedtail bass — draws anglers of all ages with fly rods to the region’s abundant salt marshes.
The popularity of fly fishing has mirrored population growth along the South Carolina coast, which has exploded in recent years.
“Fly fishing is a different way to experience fishing,” said Dani Billings, Orvis Charleston store manager and Lowcountry native. “It’s tranquility and being alone with nature, a fun and relaxing sport.”
David Hance, the fishing manager of local store Orvis, said he learned fly fishing when he was young, watching and listening to his father, who made annual trips to the Bahamas to fish for bonefish.
“I got a youth fly rod when I was 10 or 11 and started learning how to fly fish in ponds, fish for bream or bass. That was the introduction for me,” said Hance, who will lead fly casting demonstrations for Orvis. at Brittlebank Park during the 2022 Southeast Wildlife Expo.
Hance said as a teenager, he and his buddies cast rockfish during summer tides. He also began fly fishing for trout in the mountains during his college years at Clemson.
“The fact that Orvis has a store (in Charleston) is a testament to the growth of the sport here. I can tell you from personal experience that 10 years ago you could go up the Wando River or the Intracoastal Waterway and you wouldn’t I’ve got other boats around. Now when I get up there, unless I leave work early, there’s already boats on all those apartments.
Hance said while hunting redfish during the summer is unbeatable, winter fly fishing for rockfish is often overlooked. Reds accumulate during the winter months and you can often find large schools in shallow coves or flats.
“It’s a totally different type of fishing. You change tactics and really focus your efforts around low tide. That’s the most productive time to fish in the winter,” Hance said.
Spotted sea trout, which can be caught on the fly year-round, is second only to rockfish in popularity in the Lowcountry. It’s not the classic sight casting where you see the fish and cast it, Hance said, but trout are fun to catch during the fall and winter months when they’re receptive to surface bait.
“We have a pretty diverse fishery here in the Lowcountry. While rockfish occupy our brains most of the time, other species you can get on a fly rod that are great fun include plaice, black drum and sheep’s head. It’s not as classic as the sight toss, but it’s great,” Hance said.
Other opportunities during the summer months are crevalle jack and Spanish mackerel in the harbour. Some Lowcountry anglers target tarpon when the big fish make their late summer visit to local waters.
Hance said fly fishermen can also target largemouth bass and bream in neighborhood or farm ponds, and there is excellent freshwater fishing at various lakes in the Francis Marion National Forest.
Hance said one of the barriers to entering the sport of fly fishing is mystique, something he and the staff at Orvis are trying to overcome with free Fly Fishing 101 classes. an abbreviated version that will be exhibited at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.
“That’s the impression a lot of people have, that it’s super expensive and very hard to do. Our Fly Fishing 101 course is a crash course in introductory fundamentals. We try to make it fun and We boil it down to the basics, how casting works and how does it compare to a conventional rod and reel,” Hance said.
“It’s a common misconception that it’s very difficult and very expensive. You can do it in an economical way. You don’t have to cast a perfect 90-foot cast to catch fish. Although this be nice and pretty, fly casting is something you never perfect.
“Your whole life you’ve been working on your shot. I compare it to a golf swing. Golfers are always working on their swing, never satisfied. We’re trying to get more people on the water. The more people care about this sport that we love, the more people will protect the environment in which we do it.”