For many Columbia residents, fishing isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life. A beautiful pastime carried over from generation to generation. For some, it’s the love of the sport, the competition, and reeling in “the big one.” For others, it’s meditative, peaceful, an escape. But for all, it’s a way to create memories — and maybe a tall tale or two. Regardless of the reason, one tug of the line sends a rush and excitement that can’t be explained and can only be experienced.
Saltwater fishing in South Carolina remains a popular sport, with speckled (also called spotted) trout and flounder being two of the most sought-after catches. Trout and flounder are both migratory fish that can be found in droves off the South Carolina coast, with exceptional fishing running from Murrells Inlet to Pawleys to Charleston, and every stop in between. The best season for trout is May to December, while flounder is best caught from April to November.
Preparation is key before hitting the waters. Whether on the hunt for trout or the elusive flounder, having the right bait and tackle — along with some patience — will provide more opportunity for success.
Claude Prevost, a Columbia resident and longtime fisherman, recommends doing some homework before heading out. “Call your local bait shop and ask what speckled trout and flounder are currently biting,” he says. “The bait shop wants a return customer, so they will do their best to make a good recommendation.” Tackle is equally important. New, sharp, circle hooks are critical. Old hooks won’t snag the mouth. Six to 7 foot light to medium action rods, with a spinning reel, work well for both trout and flounder.
When heading out on the water, the action plans differ based on the type of fish the angler is hoping to catch. Trout can often be found swimming near the surface of the water. Look for moving water, typically on an outgoing tide with the rising sun. A floating cork with live shrimp is often the best bet for wrangling this oftentimes easy target. “Fall is a great time to catch trout,” says Claude. “If you cast in an eddy or near an oyster bed, make sure your bait drifts with the current. You can enjoy trout fishing at night underneath a dock light or the lights of your boat. Trout fishing is also really great action for kids.” The more enjoyable the experience in the beginning, the more likely children will stick with it.
Matt Mungo, also an avid fisherman from Columbia, recommends a Zara Spook, or similar topwater bait that darts back and forth, to catch trout faster. “I love an early morning topwater bite with an outgoing tide,” he says. “They’ll come up top and just smash the bait, but when the sun gets higher in the sky, it’s time to change tactics.”
Flounder aren’t quite as accommodating. “A flounder is my favorite critter in the ocean. It’s hard to explain because it’s as ugly a fish as you could draw up,” says Matt with a laugh. Fishing for flounder takes a more skilled hand, one that can recognize the subtle bite, the slight pull of the fish. “The flounder bite is a small series of quick taps. It’s almost like something slapping the line. That’s when you have to give the fish as much slack as possible and not let them feel any resistance. They will spit out the bait the second they feel resistance.”
The flounder bite can be impacted by the salinity of the water, the temperature, and the bottom. Is it sandy, an oyster bed, muddy? Flounder prefer sandy bottoms. “With flounder, you have to spend more time scouting and searching,” says Claude. “Probing and testing takes time, which is why flounder is harder to catch. You have to be in the right spot at the right time, and you have to respect the bait, making sure it stays fresh and in clean water.”
Claude recommends using a finger mullet around 4 to 5 inches, or fresh, large mud minnows. “You have to troll the bait at the bottom,” he says. “The sinker will bump on the bottom and, based on the vibrations of the bumping, you can tell if the bottom is sandy, shelly, or muddy.”
One thing is for certain. Flounder fishing takes some experience. “It takes a while to get a feel for the flounder’s unique bite,” says Matt. “And when you do, you have to give them as much time to chew on the bait as is possible. They will turn the bait around in their mouths and take their time eating. The longer they can sit and chew, the better. Then you set the hook, come tight, and game on.”
While hopping out of the car and fishing from the shore might be easier and more convenient for some, odds of catching a flounder or trout are much better when fishing by boat. “Getting out in a boat and away from the public greatly increases your chances,” says Claude. “Trolling in a boat is optimal. You need to be in the right location. If you don’t have a boat, look to your friends who travel to the coast often or, better yet, friends who live on the coast, for locations to fish from a bank. Respectfully ask friends who are willing to share their coveted secrets with you. If you are taking your child, fellow fishermen may be more willing to share their tales and tips.”
Claude and Matt also have some helpful tips for the budding angler. “Never kill or keep a fish that you don’t plan on eating or that is under the size limit,” says Claude. “If it’s under the size limit, gently return the fish to the water, so it is not stressed, can swim freely, and reproduce. It’s wasteful to harm a fish that’s under the size limit or not heading straight to the dinner table. I’m also opposed to flounder gigging. It’s a method that yields overharvesting of flounder and no option for catch and release.”
When fishing for flounder specifically, Matt recommends having a Colorado blade on the rig, which produces a great deal of thumping and vibration. “The fish feel the vibration of the blade spinning long before they see the bait. The vibration perks them up, which is helpful, as the flounder is a very opportunistic predator,” Matt says. “Also, when using an artificial lure, color is important for different water clarities. If the water is dingy, I have found a lot of success when using chartreuse or white curly tail grubs on jig heads. If the water is clear, you can get away with other, less vibrant colors. If all else fails, there’s always the faithful mud minnow.”
One more important piece of advice from Matt: “A 15-inch minimum flounder these days is bigger than most frying pans, so properly taking the four fillets off a flounder is very important,” he says. “Be careful because there will inevitably be some bloodletting along the way.”
Once the fish is caught and cleaned, preparing the dish is where the creativity comes in. Countless ways are available to cook trout and flounder, with some of the most popular being blackened, fried, or sauteed. Light vegetables are the ideal accoutrement, as a heavier side dish can weigh down the light fish. Corn, coleslaw, spinach, and tomatoes are a few favorites, but in South Carolina, fresh vegetables are plentiful so the choices are endless for creating a delicious side. Add a nice, crisp glass of white wine or an ice-cold beer, and dinner is done!
A Tasty Few
Matt likes to fry his fish with a simple beurre blanc, a delicate butter sauce that originated in France. For Claude, it’s blackened, with butter and seasoning salt, but these two dishes are also a few of his family favorites.
Sauteed Creek Fish
Flounder or trout fillets
Wash the flounder or trout fillets and blot dry with a paper towel. Season the fillets to taste with a seasoning salt, such as Tony Chachere’s Creole or Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning.
Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Once the butter is hot, place the fish into the pan. Ladle butter over the fish. Continue to saute while basting the fish for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully flip the fish. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Per Claude, “Nothing is sadder than an overcooked fish.”
Move fillets to individual plates. Serve with roasted okra and caprese salad.
Granddaddy’s Fried Flounder
Flounder or trout fillets
Cooking oil (vegetable or olive)
Wash the flounder or trout fillets and blot dry with a paper towel. Crush fine a sleeve of Ritz Crackers in a plastic bag. Add seasoning salt to taste.
Wisk 2 to 3 eggs in a bowl. Dip fillets into eggs, then place into bag of crushed Ritz Crackers for an even coating.
Cover entire surface of frying pan with oil (enough to partially cover fillets). Bring to high heat. Once the oil is hot, place fish into the pan. Allow fish to turn golden on bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully flip the fillets. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until golden.
Move fillets to individual plates. Serve with fresh coleslaw and fresh summer corn.