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AHQ INSIDER Hilton Head Island (SC) Spring 2020 Fishing Report - Updated March 13

  • by Jay

March 13

Inshore surface water temperatures around Hilton Head have gotten into the low 60s, and even though recent big tides reduced the clarity each day this week visibility has been rising. 

Spring saltwater fishing is always a mixed bag, but this year Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that so far the fishing has been crazy good for redfish. Fish are being caught at all stages of the tide, and they have not been very skittish.

On higher stages of the tide fish have been caught in the grass with mud minnows, and Kai’s boat is targeting holes in the grass, sparse pockets and generally areas that do not have a lot of current. Big swimbaits have also been working well. There has also been some good fishing at low tide when the dolphin are not pounding the fish. 

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

There has been some good trout fishing with live shrimp, and the best fishing has been in holes in the creek where there is some structure such as a fallen tree or rock wall. 10 feet has been the target depth.

Nearshore sheepshead and black drum are still all over the reefs in 30-50 feet of water. Use fiddler crabs.

In the next few weeks migratory species should start to arrive.

February 27

Inshore surface water temperatures around Hilton Head range from about 56-59, and on days when there has been no recent wind or rain clarity is very good. 

Weather conditions have been inconsistent for inshore fishing, but Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reports that when the tide is up he is having the best luck fishing for redfish around grass edges and oyster beds. At times the fish can be a little finicky, especially since the dolphins really don’t have mullet to feed on yet. However, the grass edges seem to give them some security and the schools will eat better that at low tide.  Gulp! fished on a ¼ ounce jighead is still working. 

On lower stages of the tide redfish are very finicky on the flats but are still biting pretty well back in the creeks in deep bends with some good structure such as docks, downed trees or rock. Fish are holding near the bottom in 12-18 feet of water, and on moving stages of the lower part of the tide cycle a slip cork and mud minnow is working well. 

Captain Kai with some happy clients this week
Captain Kai with some happy clients this week

Trout continue to be feeding a little on grass edges at high tide, and Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that white shell bars in the main rivers where there is 6-7 feet of water are holding fish. With some clarity issues the incoming tide when there is clear water coming in has been fishing the best. Jigheads with Zman PaddlerZ and Jerk Shadz, as well as live mud minnows, shrimp and small finger mullet, have all been working well. 

However, the best action for trout this week has been in deeper holes where there is 12-15 feet of water at the intersections of creeks or at the mouths. Some large fish have been caught in holes.

In 30-50 feet of water Kai continues to have success for sheepshead and black drum at the wrecks, and the fish should stay out there spawning through April. Fiddler crabs and clams have been working very well.

There are tons of small black sea bass in the same areas, but to get the bigger fish you need to go 30-35 miles offshore to the Hump – or the Betsy Ross a little closer in. The fish at the Tire Reef are already pretty picked over.

February 17

Inshore surface water temperatures around Hilton Head range from about 56-62, and with recent rains and big tides visibility is only fair. 

Conditions continue to be a little tough for sight-fishing, but Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reports that redfish have been biting pretty well back in the creeks in deep bends with some good structure such as docks, downed trees or rock. Fish are holding near the bottom in 12-18 feet of water, and on moving stages of the lower part of the tide cycle a slip cork and mud minnow is working well. At low tide Gulp! shrimp on a 3/8 ounce jighead have been good.

At low tide on the flats fish can be seen but they are extremely finicky, but on higher water you can locate the same schools along the edges of the grass over oysters. Gulp! fished on a ¼ ounce jighead should catch these fish. 

A nice redfish caught this week with Captain Kai
A nice redfish caught this week with Captain Kai

There have been some really good trout caught at high tide, and Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that the best action has been around white shell bars in the main rivers where there is 6-7 feet of water. With some clarity issues the incoming tide when there is clear water coming in has been fishing the best. Jigheads with Zman PaddlerZ and Jerk Shadz, as well as live mud minnows, shrimp and small finger mullet, have all been working well. 

About 5 miles offshore in 30 feet of water Kai continues to have success for sheepshead at the wrecks, and the fish should stay out there spawning through April. Fiddler crabs have been working very well and also picking up some black drum as well as redfish. 

There are tons of small black sea bass in the same areas, but to get the bigger fish you need to go out to 50 plus feet of water.

January 29

Inshore surface water temperatures around Hilton Head have fallen into the mid-50s, and with rains last week and then a lot of wind clarity is below average for this time of year. 

Even though there has been tough weather for sight-fishing, Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reports that redfish are schooled up well and there has been good fishing. Coach has been doing most of his catching on higher stages of the tide, and he has found that on low tides the fish are spooky because of dolphin predation. He advises locating the schools on low water when they can be easier to find, and then on higher water finding places where fish will follow creeks that run up into the marsh. The fish are particularly likely to be over oyster beds up in the marsh, and they are looking for a little deeper areas with 3-4 feet of water that does not have a sandy bottom. Gulp! on ¼ ounce jigheads is working well, and Coach notes that sometimes he is sight-casting and sometimes he is fishing familiar spots that have been productive in the past.

Coach with a good one caught up in the grass
Coach with a good one caught up in the grass

Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) notes that redfish can also be caught on the lower half of the tide cycle, when he is fishing for them with mud minnows or artificial lures. 

Trout reports have been very slow, and Coach reports that spots that typically hold trout at this time of year have not been producing. Kai advises that to locate trout in this colder water you may need to fish very slowly in deep holes. 

About 5 miles offshore Kai has had good success for sheepshead at nearshore reefs, where the fish should be around through April. Fiddler crabs have been working very well.

January 15

Inshore surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are up to the low 60s, and even though clarity has not been great because of winds and high tides the water is starting to clear again. 

The warming months of March and April are typically two of the toughest months of the year for catching redfish around Hilton Head, but Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that with recent weather patterns feeling more like the spring than January the bad fishing is here right now. The forecast for cooler weather ahead means that things will probably improve soon, but right now the fishing is nothing like it was a couple of weeks ago. On a recent trip a guide found five good schools of fish on four different flats, and not a single one was willing to eat. 

Despite tough conditions some fish can usually be picked up here and there, and the best bet is to fish the lower half of the tide cycle with artificial lures or mud minnows.

A nice redfish caught last with Captain Kai Williams
A nice redfish caught last with Captain Kai Williams

Even though the redfish action has slowed trout actually prefer water temperatures in the 60s, and so the fishing for this species has picked up. There is good fishing around the tide cycle as long as you target the right spots for the particular tide, and generally fish are in 5-10 feet of water around creek bends and structure such as rip rap banks, trees or other rocks. Clear, moving water is important. 

There have been some black drum and sheepshead caught at nearshore reefs like the Savannah Reef, but the spawning cycle should mean that the next few months are the best for this pattern. 

There are tons of black sea bass about ten miles offshore, but for every 50 fish there will only be a few keepers.  The better fish are 30 miles out.

December 24

Inshore surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are about 57 degrees. The water has been extremely clear although recent wind and rains have dirtied it a bit.

It continues to be an excellent time to catch redfish in Hilton Head, and Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reports that he expects fish to continue to bite very well through at least early January. The water is clear, they are bunched up on the flats, and fish are hungry. Coach is pretty much exclusively throwing Gulp! baits at the schools, and if he does not get a reaction strike then he dead sticks it until a fish picks it up.

However, if and when water temperatures get very cold fish that have also become wary of boats and dolphins can be harder to catch at low tide. At that time Coach often switches over to fishing at higher water in and around the grass. He will employ a weedless set-up with Gulp! on a plain kahle hook or a plain mud minnow. 

For now Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) is also fishing for reds on the bottom half of the tide cycle.  Sight-fishing with Zman StreakZ with Pro-Cure gel or free-lined mud minnows on a light action rod is working well. He has also caught some a little higher in the tide cycle on grass edges. 

A nice redfish caught recently with Fishin' Coach
A nice redfish caught recently with Fishin' Coach

 

On the top half of the tide cycle Kai is focusing more on trout, and he finds that they have gotten deeper into ten feet of water or more. Deeper water is less affected by rapid cooling, and the fish are set up around bends in creeks with downed trees, other structure, or deep holes. While artificial lures will work he is fishing with mud minnows the most because of the ability to fish them really slowly, while artificials needs to be worked a little. 

There have also been some sheepshead caught around trees and bridge pilings. If you can not get fiddler crabs they will eat clams or oysters.

December 11

Inshore surface water temperatures around Hilton Head range from about 56 to 59, and clarity is very good when there are not extreme tides or strong winds.

This is the best time of the year to catch redfishin Hilton Head, and Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reports that they have been biting so well he really hasn’t fooled with anything else (although they have picked up some troutwhile targeting reds). The best stage of the tide is mid-tide when water is coming in and out, and recently the fish have been concentrated along grass edges or pockets in the grass. Casting Gulp! Shrimp on a ¼ ounce jighead and letting it sit on the bottom has been the best technique.

You can also catch fish sight-fishing on low tide, and they are still very aggressive since the water has not gotten super cold.  At the same time they spook easily right now.

On high tide it can be difficult to locate fish, although when the water is very clear sometimes you can spot them. Another technique is to find areas where the fish can’t go that far back into the grass because of a hard bank, or relatively open pockets in the grass. It is important when fishing in the grass to use enough weight to get to the bottom. 

A nice redfish caught this week with Coach

While redfish are generally in 2-5 feet of water, Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that trout are more likely to be in 5-10 feet. Especially considering the trout kill just a couple of years ago this has been a phenomenal season for trout, with both big fish and excellent numbers. On a recent trip Kai’s boat caught 15-16 inch fish on almost every cast for a while after they found clean water.

The best pattern has been fishing at higher stages of the tide along deeper grass banks and around creek mouths when water is moving. Mud minnows are working, but they are mainly using artificial lures and particularly the Zman StreakZ. Brown, white, and white with purple have been the best colors. 

On lower stages of the tide trout can still be caught, although there still needs to be some moving water and dead low is not really worth fishing for trout.  Deep creeks that have some drop offs and deep bends are the most productive locations.

November 25

Inshore morning surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are in the upper 50s and the water is clear. 

It’s all about the trout and redfish right now, and Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that the bite for both species has been really strong. Trout have been in a wide range from about 4-15 feet of water, and they have been biting well on all stages of the tide. They are around grass banks, creek bends, and drops. Mud minnows and shrimp are both working very well, and they are also eating up artificials. Zman PaddlerZ in “opening night” color have been really good fished on jigheads. 

In the clear conditions Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) has also found a good trout bite, and he emphasizes that right now the fish are not hard to find. Some areas have 12-13 inch fish, but there are also a ton of 16-20 trout around. He has been having the best success on moving tides around various types of structure – oyster beds, points, dock pilings, etc. Both live bait and soft plastics are working, and Coach points out that overall fish are a little deeper. He is fishing jigs close to the bottom and putting shrimp 5 feet under a cork. 

The redfish action is also very strong, and the fish are starting to group up in some bigger schools. Kai saw one school with upwards of 100 fish, which makes for some good low tide sight-casting conditions. He is mainly targeting them on the lower half of the tide cycle around oysters, but if you have to fish the higher stages they can be caught soaking baits in the grass or along the edges. ZMan minnows have been all that Kai has used. 

Coach is also fishing around low tide structure for redfish, but on higher tides he has been able to catch them dead-sticking Gulp baits in the grass in places that have historically produced. Fish will also eat live shrimp under a float throughout the tide cycle. 

A few flounder are still around. 

A nice redfish caught this week with Coach

October 29

Inshore morning surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are still in the mid-70s, approaching 10 degrees warmer than is typical for this time of year. Mullet are still abundant in the creeks but it can take a little work to find bait-sized shrimp.  At times they have actually been easier to catch on high water than low. 

Typically at this time of year Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that he would be expecting to wear jeans and a light jacket and jacking the trout, but yesterday he was covered in sunscreen and sweating in 85-86 degree temperatures! As a result the trout are holding a little deeper than would be expected and are biting more sporadically, and the only time they get really shallow is early when there is still a strong topwater bite. After the next cold front they should get into a mid-fall pattern and you should be able to catch them with mud minnows under a popping cork on every drift in 3-4 feet, but they just have not gotten there yet. 

Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) adds that things have been exacerbated by the king tides, and when he has caught trout it has usually been when you can find clear water. The high outgoing on large flats has produced his best action, and Vudu shrimp under a popping cork have been working the best in moving water.

Coach has been having success with the redfish, but outside of tailing fish the higher stages of the grass have fished tough. Fish are basically in a late summer pattern still and they have not really gotten along the grass edges at higher tides. The few high tide spots he is having success on have good oyster beds, and the best action overall has been when the water is out of the grass around shell rakes a little out from the bank. 

Kai reports that for redfish he is having the best luck with mud minnows and has not had to fish cut mullet recently. Zman PaddlerZ in “sexy mullet” have also been working, and the DieZel MinnowZ in “purple death” have also been outstanding. 

Bull red drum are moving towards the ocean and getting in their usual late fall places around hard bottom. There are fish in the rock piles submerged in the shipping channel at the mouth of the Calibogue Sound, and there are also fish in hard bottom in the Port Royal Sound. Sandbars have not really been producing. The best bite has been in 25-40 feet of water with mullet and menhaden. 

While fish are generally moving towards the ocean, with temperatures still warm there continue to be some outstanding catches up the rivers around deep structure and bridges. 

 

October 18

Inshore morning surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are down to the mid-70s. Finger mullet, menhaden and shrimp are still prolific. 

The trout bite has finally turned on in Hilton Head, and Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that on both the incoming and outgoing tide they have been catching some good fish in the marshes. Fish are around oysters in moving water 4-5 feet deep, and they can be caught on shrimp, mud minnows or Zman baits. It has been an impressive comeback since the very cold winter knocked the fish back recently.   

Inshore the redfishhave also been doing well, particularly around low tide in about two feet of water. Fish can be found around oysters and white shell bars. 

Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) adds that fishing the right tide matters, and the best tide for him has been the outgoing when water is just out of the grass. On higher tides the fish can be hard to find. 

Year old reds are very plentiful right now, and they will all eat shrimp, mullet or mud minnows.

Black drumcan be caught on shrimp around rocks and docks in the creeks.

Coach reports that the bull red drum fishing has still been a little spotty, although when water temperatures drop below about 70 it should get really good. The areas he fishes in 25-35 feet, such as hard bottoms or the Broad River Bridge, have some fish but they have not arrived in huge numbers. Keep your eyes open for gannets diving on bait off the shipping channel as that will signal that the bull drum are feeding. 

Kai has been finding some fish in the Calibogue Sound and Port Royal Sound, and for him live menhaden, cut menhaden and cut mullet have been fishing the best. He is also concentrating on about 35 feet of water. 

 

October 3

Inshore morning surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are still in the mid-80s. There are lots of shrimp in the creeks and surf, and off the beaches the mullet run is still going strong. 

The most exciting change in Hilton Head fishing is that Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that action for bull red drum is heating up in the rivers and off the beaches. In the Calibogue Sound, at the Broad River Bridge, around structure off the beach, and on the Savannah side of Hilton Head fish are being caught in 5-50 feet of water on mullet or menhaden. Depths in the 20s have been the most productive right now. 

There have also been some smaller reds caught inshore on shrimp, but the bite for slot-sized fish has not really turned on.

While Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reported that there had been some trout caught in very deep water recently, the shallow inshore trout bite is also picking up in the marshes fishing shrimp under popping corks at both high and low tides as long as there is some clean water. Most of the fish are small but there are some better ones mixed in, and as soon as water temperatures drop the big fish should show up.

 

 

September 19

Inshore morning surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are about 85 degrees. There are lots of shrimp in the creeks and surf, and off the beaches the mullet run is underway. After the last full moon lots of menhaden pushed up the rivers. 

There are still some troutbeing caught in about four feet of water in areas with better visibility with live shrimp under a popping cork, but Captain Dan “Fishin’ Coach” Utley (843-368-2126) reports that the best trout bite this week has been in deep water. There have been fish caught on live shrimp fished as deep as 30 feet in deep river channels out front of docks. 

If water temperatures drop a few more degrees Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) expects that inshore redfishwill start to bite better, and more bigger fish will join the little ones that are already biting. The best place to look right now is around creek mouths on lower, moving tides, and live shrimp are the best bait. 

Tarponare still all over the place, up the rivers and in the ocean. They will be around until water temperatures dip below 75 degrees. Big live baits are the best bait.

Additionally, bull red drum have showed up at the Broad River Bridge where they are migrating from further up the rivers back towards the ocean. Tarpon are in the same areas. 

 

September 13

Inshore morning surface water temperatures around Hilton Head are about 86 degrees. There are lots of shrimp in the creeks and surf, and off the beaches the mullet run is underway. 

With water temperatures still very warm it’s no surprise that Captain Kai Williams (843-816-7475) reports that inshore redfishhave still not fully turned on. You can still catch good numbers of little fish, but the better ones will bite more once its gets cooler. The best place to look right now is around creek mouths on lower, moving tides, and live shrimp are the best bait. 

It’s a similar story with the trout, and Kai reports that they are starting to bite better but the action will not get really good until water temperatures enter the 70s. However, some bigger fish are already starting to be caught, and the fish are generally in about four feet of water in areas with better visibility. Live shrimp under a popping cork are the best bait. 

Tarponare still all over the place, up the rivers and in the ocean. They will be around until water temperatures dip below 75 degrees. Big live baits are working the best, and they are still picking up some smaller cobia, jacks up to 36-pounds, and even bull reds while targeting tarpon. The Broad River has been producing.

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