No boat? What's a Lowcountry fisherman to do?

843-816-6608September 1, 2013 

Just about every week I receive a number of emails, all asking the same question: "I don't have a boat so where can I go fishing?"

Before I answer this, wouldn't it be neat if the money were there to build some fishing piers like they have all along the coast of Florida? I realize structures like this are expensive, but if the state were to charge for fishing on the piers it seems that in the long run this would pay off.

Not to put down this state that I love so much, but South Carolina always seems to be behind many of our surrounding states. Though I don't have the dollar figures for money spent annually on fishing in our fair state, I know that amount has to be pretty darn impressive. Between fishing tackle sales, gas sales, boat purchases and license fees it surely must add up. I think about how much I spend on one day's outing, especially if its offshore, and I can tell you isn't cheap. Even when I trailer my boat to a gas station to fill it up, I end up buying more than just gas. Twizzlers, ice, Powerade, crackers and a host of other goodies sure do add up when I go to pay that final bill. Then there is that stop at the bait shop to get live shrimp or fiddlers, and almost without fail I end up buying some new fishing gadget that catches my eye, plus hooks, fishing line, sinkers and other necessities.

Jumping up on my soapbox, what South Carolina charges for a saltwater license is a joke. Ten dollars for an entire year is ridiculous. If you compare that fee with what Georgia, North Carolina and Florida charges, it's something out of the 1950s. Having served four years as the Beaufort County representative on the South Carolina Recreational Marine Advisory Board, it took all that time just to get license fees increased to their current rate. Even if they increased the fee to $20 a year, you would be hard pressed to find a deal that good -- even at the Golden Corral. But that extra $10 a person would solve so many problems, such as the lack of funding that has plagued our very Waddell Mariculture Center -- plus it might help fund more places for land-based fishermen to go. Imagine if they were to build some long fishing piers that stretch out to deep water. Those piers would be lined up with anglers 24/7.

So, getting back to where to fish if you don't have a boat or access to a boat. For the first 25 years of my life all I did was explore the many brackish water lagoons that dot Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. The biggest obstacle is that many of these are behind security gates in developments. It used to be that most of the plantations and developments were "fishermen friendly," but this attitude has changed over the years. It's really a shame because some of the biggest fish I have ever caught came from these lagoons. I am pretty much a catch-and-release kind of guy when I fish these lagoons -- as are many of the people who enjoy lagoon fishing -- but more and more I am running into little men with badges who treat me like the character in the Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant."

It does seem that some developments have "seen the light" about fishermen and the popularity of fishing and actually manage their waters for fishing. Palmetto Dunes Resort, Spring Island, Bray's Island, The Ford Plantation and a few others have gone to great lengths to ensure healthy waters and stocking programs to enhance their fisheries. I grew up in Sea Pines, and though they now regard their lagoons as a means of flood control, when I was growing up there they did a much better job of flushing these interlocking lagoons -- allowing everything from shrimp to redfish to come in with the flushing process and with all the food available to them, growing to mammoth proportions.

Right here in Bluffton, Moss Creek has a number of brackish lagoons but sadly over the past few years I have been harassed to the point that I rarely enter their gates. On the other hand, Palmetto Dunes has worked hard to make their lagoons fishing friendly by managing their waters and now that fishery is big business.

Want proof when lagoons are managed properly? My largest lagoon redfish to date was 54 inches long. My largest flounder was 14.5 pounds. My largest sea trout weighed just over 12 pounds, plus I have caught exotics like a 40-pound tarpon, mangrove snapper and even a number of snook.

The point of all this is simple: By having lagoons that connect to our marshes, developers should accept the responsibility of being a steward of the waters they control. Think of all the golf course runoff and other pollutants that drain into our waters.

Who best could help keep these waters healthy and productive? If you guessed fishermen, then you are right on target.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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