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AHQ INSIDER Hilton Head Island (SC) Fall 2020 Fishing Report - Updated November 25

  • by Jay

November 25

Surface water temperatures are around 66 at Hilton Head and clarity is pretty decent.

Unless you want to count a random lizard fish, it’s a tale of two species for Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) right now. The trout and redfish bites have been spectacular for the past couple of weeks, and today his boat is catching a trout on every other cast.   Vudu shrimp under a popping cork have been working, and this morning they are concentrating on feeder creeks on the outgoing tide in an area with good visibility and about four feet of water. 

On the incoming tide they have been catching trout along the grass lines, and while sometimes the two species are grouped together in general right now they are catching trout in clear, moving water while reds are more likely to be found in calmer water regardless of clarity.   Yesterday they caught a lot of redfish on the incoming tide around docks. This week there has not been a stage of the tide where something is not feeding. 

Mud minnows are also working and shrimp will of course catch both species.

A good trout caught moments ago with Captain Kai Williams 
A good trout caught moments ago with Captain Kai Williams

It’s been really tough to get offshore with recent winds, but when you can get out there are bull redfish on the rocky bottoms 3-4 miles offshore.  They will take cut mullet and cut menhaden.

November 11

Surface water temperatures are down to the high 60s around Hilton Head. 

With water temperatures finally out of the 70s, Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that things are just where he likes them for fall fishing. The trout fishing has gotten phenomenal, and they have been catching 40 or 50 fish on recent trips.  Meanwhile the redfish action has also gotten really good with strong fall numbers.

There are some grass points where you catch one species on one cast and the other on the next, but in general the best trout fishing is at high tide around grass lines and oyster bars.  Feeder creeks that empty into bigger water are particularly good, and mud minnows and Vudu shrimp under a popping cork have been working very well. 

A healthy trout caught this week with Captain Kai Williams
A healthy trout caught this week with Captain Kai Williams

The reds are more likely to be caught on lower tides, and they are around creek bends, eroded banks, oyster beds and feeder creeks on the outgoing tide. Mud minnows are also working for the reds, but Zman scented shrimp on a jighead with a spot of Pro-Cure are also good.  

There are also plenty of small black drum around docks and fallen trees that can be caught on live or dead shrimp.

Bull red drum are slowing down in the Port Royal Sound, and it appears that they are moving more onto the beach side.  It won’t be long until the best way to catch them is chasing the diving gannets that are gorging on schools of mullet and menhaden and casting bucktails at the schools.

October 7

Surface water temperatures are down to about 74 degrees around Hilton Head. 

The most exciting action around Hilton Head Island continues to be the bull red drum fishing, and Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that just yesterday they caught 10 bulls on a half-day charter!  Generally the fish are on the bottom in 15-40 feet of water in the rivers and sounds, and they can be caught around rips, sandbars, bridges or other structure including live bottom. Last week they were around the Broad River Bridge, but this week they haven’t been there while the Port Royal Sound and Calibogue Sound are fishing well overall. 

Cut or live mullet and menhaden will both work. 

Smaller reds in the 14-16 inch range are easy to catch in the creeks, and they will eat shrimp or cut mullet fished around docks or oyster bars. 

A nice red drum caught this week with Captain Kai Williams
A nice red drum caught this week with Captain Kai Williams

The trout fishing has been decent, but so far they have mainly been catching smaller fish on shrimp. Soon the bigger ones should show up. 

At the rips in the Port Royal Sound there have been some nice Spanish mackerel caught on live menhaden. 

A tarpon was caught Friday in Hilton Head when the water temperatures were still around 77, and so no one is saying they have left. But the season is definitely drawing to an end. 

There have not been a lot of flounder caught inside the creeksrecently, but some large fish have been caught out at the wrecks. Bluefish, weakfish, Spanish mackerel and small black sea bass can also be caught out there. 

September 17

Surface water temperatures are around 83 degrees around Hilton Head and the wind and rain today have likely dirtied the water up some. Even before today some areas that are customarily clear were dirty as well as vice versa, and so right now it’s all about the wind direction. 

No one is saying that the tarpon have left Hilton Head, and in fact Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) has hooked a couple this past week on big mullet and menhaden fished on a 7/0 circle hook. However, the fishing in the rivers and off the beach is a lot slower than when the water temperatures were pushing up against 90 degrees.

The new game in town, however, is the bull red drum fishing and there are a ton of 15-30 pound fish to be caught. It makes for some easy charter fishing if you know where to look. Generally the fish are on the bottom in 15-40 feet of water in all the rivers and sounds, and they can be caught around rips, sandbars, bridges or other structure including live bottom. They could also be in the surf even though Kai hasn’t been looking there. Cut or live mullet and menhaden will both work. 

 This week Captain Kai Williams guided Dee and Zoey of Fort Mill to this nice drum
This weekCaptain Kai Williams guided Dee and Zoey of Fort Mill to this nice drum

The deep holes are full of shrimp, and the best plan is to eat the big ones and then use the little ones for trout and redfish. The best action for trout is coming on the incoming tide along grass lines, and in addition to live shrimp Kai’s boat has caught some really nice ones on live finger mullet.  Live shrimp and cut mullet have also been working very well for redfish on the dropping tide when water is draining out of the grass. 

There have been some flounder caught inside the creek mouths on live shrimp on the outgoing tide.

August 28

Morning surface water temperatures are still in the upper 80s around Hilton Head and bait is prolific. 

While there is no shortage of different species to target in Hilton Head right now, Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that he finds it hard to focus on anything besides silver kings at the moment. From the rivers to the beaches the tarpon fishing is as good as he has seen it in a while. Off the beaches fish are in 20 feet of water or less, while in the rivers they are usually in 20-40 feet of water. The Port Royal Sound is holding a lot of fish. 

Kai has mainly been targeting fish on top this summer using mullet or menhaden on a 7/0 circle hook, but when the bite slows down at times he will put baits on the bottom. When they have to do that they pick up more sting rays, sharks and bull redfish. 

Captain Kai Williams prepares to release a tarpon yesterday
Captain Kai Williams prepares to release a tarpon yesterday

When he’s not chasing tarpon the redfish bite inshore is pretty good, but as often happens this time of year all the fish right now are oversized. The fish are cruising in super shallow water and fishing cut mullet at low tide on oyster flats is working very well.

Bull reds are getting closer in, and they can already be found in the Port Royal Sound (including at the Broad River Bridge) as well as at offshore structure around five miles out.

While there are not a lot of people fishing for trout right now, the deep hole shrimping has really come on and so soon they will be floating live shrimp and catching trout and reds.

While the tarpon are keeping Kai too busy to head offshore, at the General Gordon 5 or 6 miles offshore there are some excellent Spanish mackerel reports from anglers trolling spoons.

July 30

Morning surface water temperatures are roughly 89 degrees around Hilton Head.  Bait is prolific. 

There are certainly some redfish and trout that can be caught on shrimp, mullet or menhaden inshore around Hilton Head, but overall Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that inshore fishing is a little lackluster right now. Fortunately there is a fantastic bite off the beaches and in the rivers to make up for it as the tarpon season is in full swing.

Off the beaches tarpon can be found in 5-15 feet of water, while in the rivers some are as shallow as 10 feet and some are as deep as 50 feet. Typically in the rivers Kai is fishing live or cut menhaden or mullet on a bottom rig, while off the beach he is fishing the baits under floats. Blacktip and bonnethead sharks are prolific, and so on the bottom rig he will fish 130-pound fluorocarbon leaders while on the top he will use a 60 or 80-pound leader. If the water is muddy on the surface he can get away with the heavier. 

The other really exciting bite is that bull redfish are starting to show up on the offshore sand bars in a mere 3-15 feet of water. The turbulence and bait must be attracting them because the water is still very hot at those depths. He is anchoring baits very shallow, generally live and cut menhaden although mullet will also work. 

For right now the Spanish mackerel bite has tapered off, and the jacks are coming but have not quite arrived.

At the nearshore reefs there are a lot of sharks around so it is very hard to fish live baits for king mackerel.  Vertical jigging is also picking up some nice flounder.  Spadefish seem to have moved way out.

A hungry bull red caught this week with Captain Kai Williams
A hungry bull red caught this week with Captain Kai Williams

July 1

Morning surface water temperatures are roughly 83 degrees around Hilton Head, but in the afternoons in skinny water they can reach 90. The water is not very clear mainly due to tides and wind. 

As it gets hot some inshore species have gotten a little sluggish around Hilton Head, but Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reports that they have been able to pick up some redfish fishing in the deep bends in the creeks where there is some structure such as rocks, docks or trees. While sometimes a low tide pattern the fishing has actually been better at mid-tides, and when it gets very low only croaker and occasional black drum are biting. Cut shrimp have been working. 

There have also been some reds caught on the mud flats, where Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that on low tide he has been successful with cut mullet around oyster bars. There should also be some good tailing tides on the upcoming full moon.  Kai has also seen some flounder on the low tide mud flats – including jumping out of the water chasing mullet!

Coach has found a tough trout bite, and Kai has only picked up a few on cut mullet as a by-catch. It seems that the fish are bit deeper and if you want to target them live shrimp under a slip cork could be the best option.

One of the more exciting bites right now is for tripletail, and Kai’s boat has been fishing for them around crab pots off the beach. They will take mud minnows, shrimp, and even artificial lures like Savage Gear shrimp.  While they can be caught blind-fishing if you know where they hang out, sight-fishing is the best way for most people to target them. 

A nice tripletail caught this week with Captain Kai Williams
A nice tripletail caught this week with Captain Kai Williams

In the Broad River the menhaden were in the river one day but then disappeared the next, but at nearshore reefs and wrecks like the General Gordon and Whitewater the fishing for bluefish and Spanish mackerel has been wide open. Kai’s boat has caught tons of both species vertical jigging with diamond jigs, and there are also small jacks around. While the last of the cobia are still being caught, the king mackerel have showed up and should get more and more prolific all the time. You can catch them on live bait or trolling big plugs.

One final note is that tarpon should arrive inshore any day now.

June 11

Water temperatures are about 83 around Hilton Head. 

Big redfish have been keeping charter clients happy the last week or two, and Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that inshore they are catching lots of big fish well over the slot – but not quite big enough to qualify as bulls. Fish are eating around the tide cycle, with cut mullet fished on the bottom producing the best. Oyster bars and creek mouths have been the best spots. 

There are also plenty of reds tailing at high tide on the grass flats. 

While they are not targeting them very much, it seems like there is a good population of trout right now as they have also caught some specks on cut mullet as well as Zman baits. If you want to target them early in the morning with topwater lures they will eat until the sun gets up. 

While Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) has not been targeting them much he is also catching some big trout, but the most surprising bite this week has been flounder. At a spot where Coach traditionally catches flounder they caught five including three 18 inchers on the last trip. Floating mud minnows over dead shell rakes with some current flow has been effective on high tide, but they are certainly feeding at other places on low tide. Apparently it’s a good flounder population this year in Hilton Head. 

Kai reports that sharks are everywhere, and there are also still plenty of cobia in the Broad River.  The tarpon and big jacks have not really showed up yet.  Spanish mackerel are thick in the Port Royal Sound, while you have to go further out to the nearshore reefs to find the king mackerel and spadefish.   There are also abundant cobia at the Betsy Ross but only about 1 in 10 is over 36 inches.

A nice inshore Spanish mackerel caught this week with Captain Kai Williams
A nice inshore Spanish mackerel caught this week with Captain Kai Williams

  

 

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