On Hilton Head Island you can fish in fresh and brackish water lagoons, tidal lagoons, estuaries (tidal creeks), inshore on the Calibogue Sound and offshore in the Atlantic ocean.

Ocean Fishing

The State regulates fishing up to three mile offshore.  Beyond that, Federal regulations apply. The state regulations are here.

For salt water fishing you need a State license if over 16 years old to fish from a boat.  Commercial fishing boats already have a license that covers all fisher people, and you can get a State license to fish from a private boat for $11.00 for a three day non-resident (SC) license (see below for locations that offer licenses).

To fish from the beach or the banks of estuaries (tidal creeks) or a dock or pier you now need a license.  The fee is $11 for a 14 day non-resident license ($5 for residents). You cannot fish in designated swimming areas (DUH!) and you are not supposed to fish for sharks.  The sharks break this rule all the time, so you might hook a Sting Ray or Atlantic Sharp Nosed or Black Tipped shark.  You are expected to release them - if you get a Sting Ray or a good size shark, just cut the line and let it go rather than take a chance of getting hurt.

Inshore and offshore charter fishing boats are readily available. You can go fishing on a party boat with a dozen or (many) more people, which will drift fish (fishing with the boat not moving). Usually these operate inshore or not far offshore, though some will go to the reefs.  Some specialize in shark fishing, usually late in the day and into evening.

An unusual way to fish is by kayak. Outside Hilton Head offers kayak fishing tours from Shelter Cove Marina or from Hudson's restaurant docks.

You can also charter an offshore (or inshore) boat that carries up to six passengers and will fish by trolling the bait (dragging it behind a moving boat).  This is usually called deep sea fishing. The trips offered are typically either half-day  or full-day excursions.

For serious deep sea fishing, anglers will go to the Gulf Stream, which is about 70 miles from shore. The fishing is great, but so is the round trip. Obviously a very full day of fishing.  The best time to go to the Gulf Stream is June through September.

There are a number of artificial reefs and natural banks offshore that offer fine fishing.  The charter captains know where to go at various times of year and can predict the types of fish that may be caught.

My recommendation for charter fishing is to go to the docks or call and talk to the charter boat captains to see what is a good fit for you.  Charters are available from almost all commercial marinas.

Fresh Water Fishing

While it might seem that the creeks on Hilton Head are fresh water, they are not.  They are actually estuaries with no significant source of fresh water. Estuaries are tidal and the water in them is ocean water.  There are some lakes and lagoons that hold fresh water - or brackish water.  Most of these are part of the storm water drainage system and therefore hold rain water runoff.  Some lagoons are likewise fresh water, but some are tidal and so contain salt water.  Observe a lagoon you would like to fish - if the water level changes significantly over a period of a few hours, it's tidal.

To go fresh water fishing outside of the plantations or other private property any one over 16 years old needs a State fishing license.  A seven day non-resident (SC)  license can be purchased for $11.00 (see below for locations that offer licenses). There are not many such places on Hilton Head - Jarvis Creek Park comes to mind.

In the plantations, which the State classifies as private property, you need no State license but are subject to the rules of the plantation.
Sea Pines: You must be a resident or guest and you need a permit  from CSA, available at the security office.  They will ask you to prove you are a resident or guest.
Shipyard:  For residents or guests there is no license requirement and there are no restrictions.
Palmetto Dunes: Fishing is restricted to owners and guests and to the banks of the lagoon crossed by the Queen's Folly bridge (the first bridge you come to, before the security gate), but you may not fish from the bridge. There is a guided charter, Palmetto Lagoon Charters, that conducts fishing trips on the eleven mile lagoon system(843-301-4634).

Oysters, Clams Shrimp and Crabs

The rules for licenses to harvest oysters and clams are the same as for ocean fishing from a boat.  There are designated areas for harvesting oysters and areas that are off limits from time to time. Oyster beds may be closed after a heavy rain due to the possibility of contamination (oysters filter the water and are the first to pick up any contaminant).
Shrimp may be taken with a cast net for personal use without a license, but traps are prohibited. You might hear about "shrimp baiting",  but this is not an activity appropriate for tourists due to the expense and specialized knowledge required.
Likewise, crabs may be taken by various methods,  but crab pots are limited to two without a license. Crabs must be 5 inches across and females must not be pregnant to be kept.  To see if a crab is carrying eggs, flip it over and if you see a spongy mass on it's underside, put it back.  More about crabbing here.

Licenses, Bait and Tackle

Commercial fishing boats will provide everything you need except food and drink. Many marinas have bait available. Fishing tackle can be rented and bait purchased from True Value Hardware in Coligny Plaza and from Shelter Cove Marina Ships Store at Shelter Cove marina. Blue Water Marine at the South Beach Marina offers frozen bait,
South Carolina fishing licenses can be purchased at True Value Hardware in Coligny Plaza and from Wal Mart at Festival Center, where you can also buy rods, reels, etc They sell frozen bait also..

With thanks to Brian for the suggestion

This page  Updated 03/25/2020



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