Looking for a good place to kayak in Beaufort County and the surrounding area?
Just throw a rock and you’ll hit one, Beaufort’s Doyle Clifton says, half-jokingly.
Clifton’s been kayaking — and, more recently, kayak-fishing, which we’ll come back to — in the area for 15 years. So has Bluffton’s Matt Richardson, who’s written columns about the activity for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
Those two men, along with S.C. Department of Natural Resources water safety and wildlife guru Lt. Michael Paul Thomas, helped us put together a list of places to go and things to see.
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Whether you’re new to the area, a novice kayaker or a local who’s been paddling the Lowcountry’s waterways for years, you’ll find something useful in this tips list from the pros.
3 fun float trips
▪ May River, at Bluffton Oyster Company
Ever seen dolphins strand feeding? That’s where they work as a unit to corral and herd fish, shrimp and crabs toward the shore and then sort of beach themselves to feed.
“If you’ve never seen it, it’ll blow your mind,” Richardson said, adding that this spot in the May River is, in his opinion, the best place to witness it. You’re most likely to see it during the warmer months, he said, and at mid- to low tide.
There are a couple of sandbars in the river where you can beach your boat, and you can look for Indian pottery along the shoreline.
If you want a shorter, more relaxing trip, paddle out a mile or so to “The Little Sandbar,” play around then come back to Bluffton Oyster Company. Want a more challenging route? Paddle south down the river around Myrtle Island and get out at the Alljoy Boat Landing.
▪ Hunting Island Lagoon, at Hunting Island State Park
Richardson saw an osprey carrying a small shark it had captured here one time.
The lagoon is easy an easy place to put your boat in the water, he said, and there’s a nearby picnic area. And while the water is affected by the tides, the lagoon remains a pretty easy place to paddle.
It’s a great place to fish and spot egrets and herons and other birds.
Paddle about a half mile down to Fripp Inlet, do your thing, then head back.
▪ New River, at New River Boat Ramp off of S.C. 46 in Jasper County
“The best thing about the New River is it’s one of the best places to see the American alligator,” Richardson said.
It’s a tidal river, he said, but it’s not usually difficult to paddle.
There’s a swamp and old rice fields to explore, and there are very few houses along the river — “It’s pretty remote,” he said.
You can put in and get out at the New River Boat Ramp, or you can head south and get out at the Cooks Landing ramp.
▪ Cumbahee River, at Sugar Hill Landing off of U.S. 17 in Colleton County
Both Richardson and Thomas like this river for its low boat traffic and natural beauty. A great place to see old rice trunks, plantations and bald eagles.
▪ Pinckney Island, at C.C. Haigh, Jr. Boat Landing off of U.S. 278
In addition to its access to MacKay and Skull Creeks and proximity to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, it also has a big boat ramp with plenty of parking, Thomas said.
▪ Brickyard Creek, at Brickyard Creek Boat Landing, and The Sands at Port Royal
Get up close and personal with the U.S. Marine Corps in these two locations. At Brickyard Creek, the Corps’ F-35 Lightning II fighters perform maneuvers overhead and approach Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort with their landing gear down.
At The Sands, paddle closer to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island early on a quiet morning and you might hear the sounds of the Corps’ band as the American flag is raised.
What’s just as fun as kayaking? Rigging up your kayak for fishing, that’s what, says Clifton.
For kayak fishing, Clifton prefers a sit-on-top boat (rather than a sit-in model).
He’s outfitted his boats over the years with various anchors, depth finders, rod holders, nets and on and on.
He’s even made a “live well” — a place to store his fish — out of an old cooler.
“I rarely keep a fish,” he said. “I do what’s called CPR — catch, photograph and release.”
If you’re going to take up kayak fishing, start out with a used, cheaper boat, he said. Don’t be afraid to drill holes in it — you have to so you can place your rod holders and other gear.
And remember: you can run out of room on a kayak real quick, so find a setup that works for you.
Things to consider
▪ Know the tides: Don’t get stuck in the pluff mud, and don’t end up paddling against the tide. Reliable forecasts be found on The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Saltwatertides.com and the smart phone app Tides Near Me.
▪ Bring the following with you: life jacket, whistle, sunscreen, water, flashlight, cell phone. Consider taking a portable, waterproof VHF radio that floats.
▪ Know who to call: For emergencies, dial 911. In less pressing situations, call SCNDR’s 24-hotline at 1-800-922-5431. And if you’ve got that VHF radio, you can call the U.S. Coast Guard on Channel 16 in an emergency.
▪ Beaufort County boat landings can be found at www.bcgov.net.
▪ Watch out for boaters: Thomas recommends kayaking in areas with lower boat traffic. Remember: you might have to signal boats with your paddle so they can see you.
▪ File a float trip plan: SCNDR has a template you can use on its website. Fill it out and leave it with a friend who knows where you’re going, Thomas said, and who can call for help if you got missing.