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The Jet(ties) Set: A Lowcountry fishing experience like no other

For those not personally familiar with the sport of fishing, numerous stereotypes tend to pop to mind. There is, of course, the vision of Jethro and Bubba, bored and napping beneath a mountain of empty PBR cans, their bobbers floating uselessly alongside their cramped boat. Next, there’s the glittery bass boat with the oversized engine, ready to launch Team Red Man Chewing Tobacco from a placid lake into orbit around the sun. Finally, there’s Captain Quint from the movie Jaws, sliding down the deck into the waiting, well, jaws of the famed Great White.

Rest assured, if a Charlestonian invites you fishing, it will be none of the above.

Fishing is an activity available at any point during the year and success may be found if you know the right places to look. At the same time, fishing is so much more than just an “activity.” It’s way of life for many Charlestonians and something we hope to pass down to our children as our parents did before us. It’s beloved because it’s a great way to escape the stress of everyday life.

Name a better way to spend a day than relaxing with good friends and basking in the Lowcountry sunshine with a cooler full of ice-cold beer, soft drinks and sandwiches made with John’s Island tomatoes and Vidalia onions.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

That’s fishing. Add a boat, some tackle and a skipper who knows what he’s doing and you have something exciting to do while you work on your tan.

For newcomers to the sport, fishing is much more enjoyable when the summer rolls around and the weather starts to get warm. The rising temperatures not only help to shake away the cold from the retreating winter, but also cause fish to become more active, thus creating a larger chance of success.

It’s worth noting as well that when it’s hot enough to melt slate sidewalks, the temperature on the water is about 20 degrees cooler.

The success of a fisherman depends on many external factors that are out of the angler’s control and unfortunately one of these factors happens to be boat traffic. Once the summer arrives, the harbor is packed with kids and parents alike, trying to escape the weight of the real world through some aquatic fun — thus clarifying the importance of your being with a careful and skilled captain.

All the wakes and commotion caused by boats can scare away the fish and send you home empty handed. If you’re with an accomplished angler, however, he’ll know how to navigate the waterway and get to the secret spots others don’t know. With proper encouragement, he may be willing to take you to the one spot where the fish have a bigger attitude and won’t be frightened away by the wake of a boat: The Jetties.

If you are looking for excitement, this is where you will find it. With about six miles of rocks that travel above and below the water, there’s a lot of available real estate to drop your anchor … and even more places for big fish to loiter. With sites like Sullivan’s Island and Fort Sumter in view, the setting is perfect no matter which spot you choose.

With lines in the water and the boat rocking gently in the current, this is a special kind of atmosphere that can only be found at the Jetties. Displaying classic Charleston hospitality, people will wave at passing boats or as fellow anglers come and go. Boats will often be anchored in a similar area, all knowing what each other is in search of.

The prize?

A big ol’ fish, just below the surface, waiting to make its way to your dining room table.

There are a variety of fish that can be caught at the jetties, the most famous being redfish. (For some reason, redfish are also called spot-tailed bass, channel bass and red drum. If you want to be some super-local, call them “reds.”). Schools of these hearty redfish make their way into this artificial reef formed by the rocks around the jetties and their numbers only increase when the summer months arrive.

Although reds are usually the most frequently caught fish at the jetties, there’s other delicious denizens of deep hoping to join you for dinner — trout, sheepshead and flounder. At the top of the prized catch pyramid, however, is another fish altogether — tarpon.

Nothing gets an angler’s heart pumping like the site of a tarpon jumping. Tarpons present a great challenge, as they are both scarce and very strong. These fish may be rare to catch, but keep an eye out. The water may be murky, but tarpon are out there. If you’re lucky enough to hook one, prepare for a workout and don’t be heartbroken if it opens that wide mouth and spits the hook right out. That’s one of the many reasons a tarpon is considered a trophy.

However, the reality of fishing is that you won’t always reel in a fish, but that’s why they call it fishing and not catching. (It also explains the importance of good friends, cold beverages and worthy food). Sometimes there’s a fish, sometimes you’ll think every fish in Charleston is vacationing down in Florida for the week. But that need not ruin your day. The beauty of the Jetties is that you are rewarded with much more than just a chance to catch a fish. You’ll see the stunning sites of Charleston, you’ll make memories with the people you love to be around and, even just for a little bit, the water helps you to forget about life for a while.

If you have the good fortune to receive an invitation to fish the Jetties, don’t let it pass you by. Not only have I caught some of my best fish out at the Jetties, but I have also made some of my best memories there. I remember the many summer days my friends and I would take out the boat and spend the day fishing ... and as I grow older, I’m starting to recognize the true significance this place has played on my life. It is a time to be in the moment — when worries not only seem far away, but actually are far away.

If you don’t have a friend with a boat — or your friend with a boat is cruiser not an angler — despair not. Charleston offers dozens of exceptional charter captains offering every variety of fishing, from inland creeks, to the Jetties, to the Gulf Stream 90 miles out to sea. You can rest fairly assured they are all good, as lousy captains don’t stay in business very long.

So go to sea, Gentle Reader! At worst you’ll have a wonderful day... at best you’ll have fresh fish for days to come!

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