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Fishing in the summer heat? No sweat!

By Collins Doughtie

When asked to say a word or two about fishing during the steamy period from, say June through September, when it can get brutally hot, I thought to myself, “now that is something I have tons of experience with!” Without betraying my age, oh how things have changed since I was a studly young buck growing up.

Hot fishing essentials

1. Large brim hat to keep ears, bald head and face from getting scorched

2.  A good pair of polarized sunglasses

3. Sunshield neck gaiter

4. Jug of ice-cold sweet tea 

5. Chilled watermelon for further hydration

6. Quick drying long-sleeved shirt

7. Fingerless fishing gloves

8. Nose-SPF 60 or above sunscreen

9. Old trusty fishing rod

Remembering ‘The Greaseman’ 

These days all you hear is “protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun.” Back in the day, that statement would have been considered blasphemy! Before FM radio came along, there were only two AM stations that played rock & roll. One definitely captured the entire market. It was 690 WAPE in Jacksonville, and the hilarious and risqué DJ went by the name “The Greaseman.” Man, did he push the boundaries of what was allowed to be said over airwaves by the FCC. If I remember correctly, he went on to become one of the top DJs in America. Regarding the sun and sunbathing, it was all about getting tan, tan, and mo’ tan. Smear on that tanning oil, squirt lemon juice on your hair for that beach-boy look, never wear a shirt and when they broadcast a “tan tone,” it was time to flip over for that even, all-over tan. Oh, how I am paying for all that sun now. My forehead looks like a leopard’s spotted coat, my neck like that of a turkey and brown blotches everywhere else. 

Surviving the heat

Nowadays, I do things way differently. I accept the fact that these changes won’t undo the damage already done but hopefully will guide you through day after day with temps in the mid 90s. Having lived here most of my life, it was actually during a period when I lived and worked in a development started by Sea Pines called Palmas Del Mar in Puerto Rico that I saw the light about surviving those hot summer days. It was my first week there and I was working with several locals; and around 11:30 a.m. they all simply walked off, leaving this young, dumb gringo to cook in the blazing sun. Fairly fluent in Spanish, I learned that this was the norm there, and we picked up where we left off around 3 p.m. Smart, very smart. Giving credit where credit is due, our southern neighbors’ “siesta time” is brilliant, and to this day I adhere to this custom. Always an extremely early riser (unless I am heading way offshore), I choose to fish from the crack of dawn until noonish, take a three-hour siesta and hit it again from 3ish until sunset. From years of observing when fish bite or don’t bite, I have come to the conclusion that most species of fish lay low during the hottest part of the day. One of my favorite sayings is, “It’s so hot the trees are chasing the dogs.” That is when I reel my line in and head for the AC, wherever I might find it. 

Hot fishing tips

No longer much of a beach sunbather, I have found the water is the ticket for beating the heat. Before I suggest spots to fish, here are a couple of suggestions about summertime fishing. Tides are the key to successful days catching and not simply flailing the water. For redfish, use live shrimp or strips of fresh mullet. I find the last hour of the outgoing tide through the second hour of the incoming tide best. Once the tide comes in past that point, I switch to live shrimp under a cork for trout. Both of these species will always, and I stress always, be up tight to the grass or oyster beds, as will flounder. Just like freshwater bass fishing, look for points, structure or anything slightly different. Many think sheepshead are only here during the cooler months, but they are here year-round. The plus about fishing for sheepies with live fiddler crabs on super-hot days is fishing for them in the glorious shade under docks or bridges. 

Where to go

Ranging a bit further offshore to one of the artificial reefs like the Whitewater Reef, Tire Reef, Eagle’s Nest or Betsy Ross, I find the incoming tide’s clean water best. By far the best bait are live menhaden (or pogies), some rigged under a cork on the surface and using various size egg sinkers, staggered at various depths all the way to the bottom. The Whitewater and Eagle’s Nest have huge Spanish mackerel and occasional flurry of king mackerel, while the Tire Reef and Betsy Ross are loaded with kings, blackfin tuna, cobia, barracuda, and believe it or not, sailfish and wahoo are possible during the summer. Using #4 extra strong treble hooks and a foot or so of 60 lb. test wire leader so a mackerel’s razor-sharp teeth don’t bust you off, a big king can absolutely smoke a reel as well as a visual thrill like no tomorrow. Another hot spot for kings, especially during the week before the full moon, is the Savannah Ship Channel from buoys 5 & 6 on out to the #1 buoy. Either anchor off to one side of the channel and chum or bump troll at snail’s pace and it’s a hoot. The same goes for the Port Royal Sound ship channel. 

If this type of fishing is your game plan, you’ll need to be up at first light to easily catch menhaden using a menhaden cast net (7’ or 8’). On the island’s south end look for pelicans diving over near the Daufuskie lighthouse in Calibogue Sound or in close along the beach on Hilton Head. 

On the north end, look for the pelicans diving near Dolphin Head on down to the rock jetties near the mouth of Port Royal Sound. To keep pogies alive, a good live well that pumps in lots of fresh seawater is a must. For whatever reason, once the sun gets high in the sky, catching menhaden is very often a lesson in frustration. When it comes to catching pogies, the early bird most definitely catches the worm!