Food | Nature
A Summertime Guide to Lowcountry Fish + a Savory Grilled Fish Recipe
Whether you’re cruising the miles of inland waterways by boat or heading out to a local pier with your reel in hand, the waters surrounding the Lowcountry are stocked full of a variety of unique (and tasty) fish no matter where you drop your line.
Throughout the summer months, inland fish are typically found in deeper waters during the mid- to late afternoon to beat the heat. However, when the sun goes down (or during early dawn), large game fish swim toward estuaries and inland coastal areas where the waters are filled with a variety of bait fishes to prey on.
From catch and release to tonight’s home-cooked dinner, below are some of the most notable fish species inhabiting local salt and brackish waters:
Redfish/Red Drum: Redfish, also known as red drum, are no strangers to the coastal South Carolina waters. Known best for the “tailing” effect made when their tail breaks the waterline, red drum can be found in shallow marsh flats and in estuaries during the warmer months. While fishing regulations allow catching redfish during the summer, the fish must measure less than the allowable minimum size in South Carolina of 15 inches or it must be released. Don’t worry though; redfish will reach the legal catch size by fall.
Summer Flounder/Southern Flounder: While a southern flounder has a distinct and recognizable appearance with its pancake-like flat body and both eyes on one side, its camouflage-brown scales can be difficult to spot in murky estuary waters. Fortunately, flounders are abundant in Lowcountry estuaries during July and August. The best time to spot them in the shallow waters is during the early morning when the water is calm and clear as the tide is coming in.
Spotted Seatrout/Speckled Trout: Spotted seatrout, or speckled trout, are most commonly encountered in lower parts of rivers and estuaries in August. Later in the fall, trout swim in larger schools near oyster beds and pilings. Pro tip: Spotted seatrout are suckers for live bait. Stop by Bohicket Ship Store on Johns Island for fresh shrimp or try catching minnows with a cast net before your first cast.
Crevalle Jack: When the inshore waters begin to warm up, crevalle jack fish, more casually referred to as jacks, swim into Charleston-area estuaries to feed on small mullets, menhaden and other bait fish. Jacks are known for being one of the toughest species encountered in inland waters. While they’ll put up a good and entertaining fight with your reel, the fish aren’t meant for eating and should be released.
Pompano: During the later summer months, pompano can be found right off the coast in the surf zone where the waves break in suds on the beach. Pompano generally weigh less than a pound but make for a great food fish. Head to the Folly Beach County Park Pier with a few mole crabs as bait and you’ll be in for a tasty dinner.
Whiting: Don’t let their size fool you. Whiting may be small, but they pack enough flavor to make for excellent table fare. During the summer, whiting can be caught in the surf around the groins and in the sloughs and cuts along open beaches.
Black Drum: Black drum are bottom-feeding cousins of the red drum and are similarly plentiful when the temperature begins rising. Most likely found around rocks, pilings and piers, black drum prefer meals of blue crab, shrimp, clams and mussels. Smaller black drum are delicious, but any weighing more than 15 pounds have coarse flesh and should be released.
Sheepshead: Sheepshead fish are typically identified by their teeth, which are strangely human-like. They also have broad, black vertical bars along their bodies. In the summer, sheepshead are often found swimming near jetties, pilings and piers in the warm waters off the Atlantic coast. Be mindful of your line though – sheepshead are notorious for stealing bait off hooks! Chef Clayton Rollison of Hilton Head’s Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar shares his must-try sheepshead recipe in Garden & Gun.
After you’ve cleaned and scored your fresh catch, try your hand at Rollison’s method:
First, gather your ingredients.
ONE. Place fish in a baking dish and cover with salt. Cure for five minutes, then rinse and pat the fish dry.
TWO. Blend the parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, bell pepper, red chili flakes and lemon zest in a food processor. Rub the fish with half the marinade and place in refrigerator for two hours.
THREE. Grill fish on 375 degrees for nine to 12 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for another eight to 10 minutes.
FOUR. Whisk remaining marinade with lemon juice and Dijon, then slowly whisk in olive oil and season to taste. Drizzle over fish just before serving.
Tip: If you’re new to grilling whole fish, Rollison recommends using a wire fish basket for easy flipping.