One would assume that nothing would surprise me after thousands of hours of fishing.
I’ve not found this to be true with the ocean. Part of why I love my job so much is that I never know on any given day what I might see. The first whale I ever saw off Hilton Head was at the Beaufort 45 Reef about ten years ago, and nothing quite prepares you for it. Earlier this year, I saw a mother whale with her calf off Tybee Island. Spottings are more common on St. Simons Island.
This year alone has witnessed quite a few surprising sightings: the thresher shark with a six-foot tail my crew reported swimming alongside the boat, the huge makos that have been seen and now, a local fisherman regularly sporting and catching great whites — until a few years ago no one had ever seen one here!
Some forty miles off the coast in ninety feet of water are a series of live bottom habitats.
They consist of corals, rocky ledges and outcrops holds some of the best fishing available. Huge American red snapper, grouper, amberjack, triggerfish and a myriad of other smaller snapper and grunts await the fisherman with the means to make the journey.
“Chicken” rigs, two-hook bottom rigs, baited with cut squid, entice the vermillion snapper, porgies, grunts and triggers to bite, all excellent table fare. Larger live baits like pinfish, menhaden or scad usually produce the big American reds, grouper or amberjack. Stout rods and reels with heavy drag settings are a must for these larger fish.
The water is much clearer out there, a transparent green with a hint of blue, unlike our nearshore waters.
This middle zone that lies between the beach and the Gulf Stream often holds many surprises for the angler. Here I’ve caught redfish (normally an inshore denizen) and sailfish (typically a blue water fish). Cobia and flying fish are often seen, along with huge sharks. On one of my more memorable trips, I even saw an oceanic sunfish!
I’ve spent the majority of my last fifty years fishing the Big Pond. Forty plus years ago when I started fishing these waters, it was rare to see a few boats. Now, hundreds go out on the water on any given day. Probably the best thing of all about offshore fishing is a chance to escape the crowds.
Enjoy the winter, get offshore and do some bottom fishing…the solitude is worth it and you never know what you might find!
Article and photo by Captain Miles Altman, Bay Runner Fishing Charters