This story, written by Colt Harrison, was published in the March-April 2013 edition of Tideline magazine. On the cover: Charleston charter captains Patrick Crawford (from left), Champ Smith and Jamie Hough pose for a shot near Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor. Photograph by Matt Winter/Tideline magazine.
Editor’s note: To give you this look inside the world of Lowcountry charter fishing, we contacted dozens of local guides and included as many as space would allow. This list shouldn’t be seen as a “best-of” edition but rather as a cross-section of the for-hire fleet — from old salts to young bucks. These unpaid listings were researched and written by Colt Harrison, a frequent Tideline contributor.A number of accomplished and notable inshore and offshore charter captains were not included in the package, including such well-known figures as Mike Able Jr., Ben Alderman, Mark Brown, Peter Brown, Chris Chavis, Ben Floyd, Chuck Griffin, Rich Harris, Graham Hegamyer, Julian “Hoppy” Hopkins, Legare Leland, Fritz von Kolnitz, Michael Mattson, Joe Murphy, Ben Polk, John Ward, Chris Wilson, Jeff Yates and many others.
If you’re a charter captain and would like to be added to online versions of this story, contact editor Matt Winter at email@example.com to arrange an interview.
By Colt Harrison
If you’ve lived in or around Charleston for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly met someone who is, was or wants to be a charter fishing guide.
From Beaufort through Charleston and north to Georgetown, dozens of inshore and offshore captains operate a dizzying array of boats. And more guides earn their licenses every month.
The size of our local for-hire fleet is not surprising. Charleston sits atop many lists of world-class tourism destinations, and millions of people visit every year. For many, the temptation to slip away on a quick fishing trip is just too great.
Plenty of locals also hire fishing guides. Compared to the cost of owning, maintaining and fueling a boat, a charter fishing trip is a steal.
Luckily, the local fleet offers more choices than any one angler would need in a lifetime. Fly fishing for reds in the flats? Check. Sight-fishing for huge cobia? No problem. Live-baiting for king mackerel at nearshore reefs? Yup. Full-blown blue water expeditions for dolphin and billfish? You bet.
We have a guide for every type of fishing, and a guide for every type
of customer. The industry is filled with — how shall we say — intriguing personalities. Some captains are laid-back, others incredibly intense. Some do it full-time, while others guide as a pleasurable second job. Some have been guiding for decades, while others are young bucks trying to break into the industry.
Here’s a look at a few of the colorful characters in our for-hire fleet.
Tucker Blythe Grey Ghost Charters
An innovative captain, Capt. Tucker Blythe joined Charleston’s guide fleet only a few years ago. But he’s quickly proved that he has unusually good “fish sense.”
Most of Tucker’s guiding revolves around flats fishing with flies and artificials, but he’s also a regular on the nearshore shoals and reefs, toting light tackle and fly rods to target bull redfish, cobia, spadefish and false albacore.
Tucker fishes out of an 18-foot East Cape Vantage, a comfortable boat for any Charleston inshore fishing situation, and one of the prettiest flats boats you’ll see on our waters.
Tucker moved to town in 1998 to go to the College of Charleston after growing up fishing in Charlotte. He found Charleston’s saltwater fish agreeable, and was patterning and catching them in no time.
Besides fishing, Tucker is also an avid photographer, with many of his images gracing the pages of Tideline magazine over the years.
If you want to take a trip with Tucker, call him at 843-670-8629 or go to greyghostcharters.com
Patrick Crawford Allure Fishing Charters
Capt. Patrick Crawford (above, right) is yet another big-fish junkie in the Charleston guide fleet, and has been keeping the bull reds, black drum and sharks on their toes for years.
Crawford got into the guiding business five years ago and has gathered enough repeat clientele to make fishing his full time career. He aims to please: “If someone fishes with me, I want to show them the best time possible so they become a client for life.”
Patrick’s just as good with fish as he is with people, and his catch rates have served him well in his 10 years of tournament fishing. He’s put up big trout in the Lowcountry Red Trout Tournament, finished second in the Lowcountry Redfish Cup, and earned many more top-five finishes.
Like many fishermen, Patrick’s got a ton of superstitions and good luck charms, including his sea-faring grandfather’s necklace, a set of fish-attracting
wristbands on his arms and, of course, his lucky wedding band.
He even uses a special fish-attracting machine to further increase his odds. “It’s called a HydroWave. It emits the sound of panicking bait fish and brings fish right to your boat like a chum slick. It’s about to get a whole lot more popular around here!”
Patrick runs about 200 fishing trips per year, and another 100 ecotours, in his Ranger Ghost flats boat and Sea Pro bay boat.
When he’s not working, he’s fun-fishing.
Call Patrick at 843-225-FISH or go to allurefishingcharters.com.
Stephen Fields Fields Fishing Charters
Capt. Stephen Fields has been guiding professionally for just the past three years, but his roots in Charleston fishing extend much deeper.
Living in Charleston off-and-on since college, Stephen began patterning redfish all over the state and the rest of the southeast while fishing, and winning, tournaments.
If you’ve watched the IFA tour on TV, you’ve undoubtedly seen Stephen’s face. Today he is one of Charleston’s most feared competitors come weigh-in time.
Focusing primarily on the waters from Folly Beach to the Dawhoo River, Stephen has countless untouched redfish schools at his disposal. “Tournament fishing has given me a great sense of punctuality, and when I only have four hours to get as many fish in a client’s hands as possible, I can produce.”
Fields runs an 18-foot Ranger Ghost flats boat, giving him the option to pole when the fish are up skinny, or run the trolling motor to cover more water.
One of Fields’ many secret weapons is the crankbait. “It puts off a lot of noise and vibration, covers a lot of water fast, and it’s easy to use. I honestly don’t know why they’re not more popular down here.”
When not on the water, Stephen usually travels around the southern states representing sponsors such as Frogg Toggs, Z-Man plastics, Live Target lures, and Okuma. You can find Stephen online at redfishcharleston.com or by giving him a ring at 864-378-1198.
Rick Hiott Captain Rick Hiott’s Inshore Fishing Guide Service
Capt. Rick Hiott is as close as you’re likely to come to household name when it comes to Charleston fishing guides. A third-generation Charleston angler, Rick has been fishing around the Lowcountry since 1965 and guiding full-time since 2000.
A regular competitor in inshore and nearshore tournaments, his most recent and prominent victory came in the 2005 James Island Yacht Club King Mackerel Tournament, where his 21-foot bay boat won the big fish and lady angler prizes.
Rick specializes in live-bait fishing for big red drum. Whether in the creeks, harbor, or at the jetties, Rick consistently puts his clients on Charleston’s favorite spot-tailed fish.
“I think my Cherokee blood may have some persuasion over the fish,” Hiott said, jokingly. If the bite remains uncharacteristically slow despite this advantage, Rick uses a secret blend of menhaden chum to excite the fish.
Rick is also passionate about teaching kids how to cast a line, making him a great choice for parents looking to book a charter. Check out Rick at reelfishhead.com, or call him at 843-412-6776.
Jamie Hough Flat Spot Charters
If you’re familiar with the Charleston guiding scene, then you’ve most likely heard of Capt. Jamie Hough. His can usually be spotted whisking clients around the Wando River and Intracoastal Waterway north of Charleston Harbor in either his Scout 221 Winyah or his Sterling 22 Pro Flats boat.
Growing up in Pawley’s Island, Jamie has spent a lifetime nurturing a full-blown redfish addiction. These days, running more than 300 charters a year, Jamie has little time for anything but fishing.
He is a regular and fierce competitor in the redfishing tournament circuit, fishing about 20 tournaments per year and routinely placing in the top five. He’s also racked up awards like “guide to largest trout, guide to grand champion team, and guide to grand champion fly angler” in the Lowcountry Red Trout charity tournament.
What’s Jamie’s secret? He keeps a log detailing every nuance of what he sees out on the water, day in and day out.
“I treat each school of fish differently,” Hough said. “Each fish is like a different person.”
When asked if he could change one thing about the charter scene in town, he replied: “It’s better for everyone if we all lose the egos. The clients are the first priority period.”
The successful veteran guide also recommended that newbies stay humble, work hard and be savvy when it comes to using social media to promote their business. “Presentation is 90 percent of everything,” says Hough, “except in fishing, then it’s 95 percent!”
Check out Jamie at flatspotcharters.com or call him at 843-364-1759.
John Irwin Fly Right Charters
Capt. John Irwin has been poling around the Lowcountry for the past 18 years, earning much respect as one of Charleston’s most consistent and innovative fishing guides.
Originally from Charlotte, John grew up on the sport of fly-fishing, a passion that eventually led him to our coastal playground.
He runs more than 200 trips a year on his 18-foot Hells Bay and also spends a good bit of time either teaching fly casting clinics or traveling south to chase snook, tarpon, bonefish and permit.
Irwin fishes a wide range of the coast, from Bulls Bay to Edisto, but relocates to Beaufort during May to intercept cobia as they push into the Broad River.
When off the water, John plays upright bass in the local bluegrass band Flatt City and enjoys hitting the links when the weather’s too windy for fishing.
When asked if he would like to see any changes in Charleston charter fishing, John said he thought “everything seems to be going smoothly for the guiding industry around town.”
“More people are getting into fishing, and more customers are recognizing Charleston as a great destination to travel to fish.
“I would like to see more emphasis put on the proper release of adult redfish, particularly in the vicinity of the Charleston jetties,” he added. “ These are old fish and too many of them suffer unnecessary mortality due to poor handling and release.”
Check out John at flyrightcharters.com or call him at 843-860-4231 to book a trip.
Bobby Krivohlavek DayMaker Charters
Orangeburg native Bobby Krivohlavek has been running offshore fishing charters out of Charleston for the past six years, earning a reputation for dialing in the habits of pelagic gamefish.
Bobby’s 48-foot Ocean Yacht fishes the deep ocean from the Georgetown Hole down to the Edisto Banks. His target species include dolphin, tuna, wahoo and the hard-hitting sailfish and marlin that prowl our waters during warmer months.
Bobby averages about three dozen trips a year and fishes with friends or in tournaments about the same number of days.
Although Bobby is always on the trail of migratory species, he emphasizes interacting with clients when the bite is slow. “Days can be long when the fish aren’t cooperating, so I like to share all my experiences and knowledge with the clients.”
It’s a big ocean out there, so when Bobby finds a good bite, he like to capitalize by maneuvering his boat to keep lines running on one side while anglers are fighting fish on the other.
“I never pull lines out of the water when there’s the slightest possibility of fish being in the area.”
One of Bobby’s most memorable charter was finalized with a last-minute blue marlin bite. “We had been talking about the blue all day, and she finally hit as we were pulling the lines in to run home!”
Like most anglers, Bobby is disgusted with the state of offshore bottom fishing. “We need regulations based on science, not imagination,” he says.
If you’re itching to do some deep sea fishing, call Bobby at 843-452-8010.
Brandon Long Long Overdew Charters
Capt. Brandon Long may be a young buck in the charter community, fresh out of the College of Charleston, but his experience and fish-finding abilities resemble those of an old salt’s.
Hailing from Goose Creek, Brandon grew up fishing around Charleston, both inshore and offshore. He picked up the sport of competitive kingfishing at age 11, fishing with North-Charleston-based team “Four Suns.” The team fished tournaments in famed kingfishing destinations such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, regularly finishing in the top ten.
He earned his captains license shortly before attending college and has been guiding for the Kiawah Island resort since. Through half a decade’s worth of successful guiding, Long has proven that he can find and catch big fish.
Specializing in light tackle and flyfishing for redfish, cobia, tarpon, kingfish and monster sharks but willing to accommodate any facet of angling, Brandon offers entertaining and productive charters.
Brandon (above, left) runs trips out of a 21-foot Tidewater bay boat, which is at home in the shallows and nearshore waters and can fish up to five anglers.
Check out Long Overdew Charters on Facebook and at longoverdewcharters.com, or call 843-754-0086.
Robert Olsen Knot @ Work Charters
Capt. Robert Olsen specializes in big boats and big fish and has spent his fair share of time leading kingfish tournaments and dispensing valuable tips at popular local fishing seminars.
Growing up in West Ashley, Robert (above, right) has spent his life on the water fishing commercially, recreationally and as a charter captain. He runs about 150 trips a year, half inshore on his 22-foot bay boat, the other half offshore in his 31-foot center console.
Robert has been guiding professionally for the past 12 years, while also fishing (and winning) in the highly competitive world of king mackerel tournaments.
“I’ve been very lucky in my tournament fishing, most notably in 2003 when I won the Southern Kingfish National Championship Tournament’s 23-foot boat category.”
Don’t let Robert fool you — it’s not luck. He’s been featured in several nationally published magazines and television shows and is widely recognized as an expert in slow-trolling live baits. Over the years, this method has produced some incredible charter-trip catches, including a 34-pound blackfin tuna 3 miles past the jetties, a sailfish at Lowcountry Anglers reef and a 70-pound wahoo in 60 feet of water.
If you’d like to share some of these incredible catches with Robert, go to knotatworkfishing.com or call him at 843-442-7724.
Chris Margate Quality Time Outdoors
Capt. Chris Margate is jack-of-all-trades on Charleston’s waterways, targeting just about every species within range of his 24-foot Shearwater Bay Boat.
Chris is a Goose Creek native and has fished all over the Lowcountry.
After retiring from the Navy, Chris decided to pick up guiding as a full-time career.
Nowadays he targets redfish, trout, flounder and sheepshead around the Cooper, Stono and Kiawah rivers. Chris also frequently visits the many artificial reefs that lie just off the coast, putting clients on grouper, snapper, jacks and spadefish.
Chris runs about 150 trips a year, and says his most enjoyable experience guiding comes during the hot bull redfish bite around the mouth of Charleston Harbor.
“We’ve had 20-plus fish days with reds over 40 inches out there, and you never know when handful of 20- to 40-pound black drum might join the mix.”
Chris fishes many of the local redfish tournaments and earned three awards in the 2008 Redbone tourney, including “guide with most redfish releases.” Chris trailers his boat, allowing him to fish all over the greater Charleston area.
Visit his website, qualitytimeoutdoors.com, or call him at 843-425-7259.
Rawling Pratt-Thomas Charleston Saltwater Fishing Charters
Capt. Rawling Pratt-Thomas is the true embodiment of a Lowcountry guy. His passion for shallow water redfishing and hunting trophy bucks was the product of a childhood spent on his family’s farm on Wadmalaw Island.
The farm conveniently backed up to Leadenwah Creek, a gateway to some of the most pristine redfish flats in the state.
With years of experience to back him, he began guiding in 2003 shortly after graduating from College of Charleston.
While Rawling fishes all five of Charleston’s major rivers (Wando, Cooper, Ashley, Stono and North
Edisto), he knows the area from the Wadmalaw Sound out to Deveaux bank better than just about anyone.
It’s rare to see Rawling anywhere besides the water, or trailering his 18-foot Hells Bay Guide up and down Maybank Highway.
Over the next few months, he will be trading in the Hells Bay for a brand new 18-foot Chittum Skiff Performance, sure to be one of the baddest rides in town.
Visit Rawling’s website at charlestonsaltwaterfishing.com, or call him at 843-834-1061.
Champ Smith Nervous Water Charters
What Michael Jordan is to basketball, Capt. Champ Smith is to Charleston redfishing.
Champ started guiding in 1991 after he spent the 80s traveling the world chasing billfish and world records.
Champ (shown above with his daughter Ellery and a 30-pound red she caught without any help from dad) played a large part in pioneering the sport of shallow-water redfishing with fly rods and flats boats, specifically our unique and world-class fishery for tailing redfish in the high-tide grass.
No South Carolinian fish can hide from the Champ, whether he’s in his 18-foot Hells Bay guide or his 22-foot Sea Fox bay boat.
Champ doesn’t run the full-throttle, 300-plus-charter-trip years he used to, preferring instead to take about
50 sets of clients per year while also working as a real estate agent.
Champ’s slowed down a tad after battling and defeating skin cancer five years ago, but he’s never let the fish slip too far from his mind. Proving that he’s still tough on the fish, Champ won the Lowcountry Red Trout Tournament last year with a record-shattering number of redfish releases.
“The most important thing you can do when fishing is to be in tune with your surroundings,” he said. “Things are always changing on the water, and you have to be able to adapt and capitalize on an opportunity when it arises.
“You’ve got to have confidence in the bait you’re fishing with, too, so make it a DOA shrimp, jerkbait, or a Borski bonefish slider.”
When asked about his most memorable fishing trip, Champ replied: “My last one!”
“But I remember a charter where a client and his son landed five tarpon with me in Bulls Bay one day — hard to beat that for a day of fishing!”
If you’d like to spend a day fishing with the legend himself, email Champ at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843-224-1811.
J.R. Waits Fish Call Charters
Capt. J.R. Waits was raised around the same waters that he guides on today, and in his time on the water he’s introduced some of Charleston’s largest gamefish to the Fishcall, his 1720 Action Craft flats boat.
But J.R.’s true gift is targeting the migratory tarpon that show up on the shoals from Bull’s Bay to Georgetown in the summer months.
J.R. is one of only a few guides in South Carolina to consistently put anglers on these silver giants, which usually exceed 100 pounds.
His tarpon-catching expertise has earned him top honors at the Charleston Harbor Tarpon Release Tournament, twice.
Although J.R.’s business is booming, he worries that our waters are getting too crowded.
“Ten or 15 years ago, angling pressure was significantly less. Nowadays, especially in the waterway north of IOP, most schools of fish are disturbed day in, day out. They need time to rest in order for the fishing to be productive.”
Besides that, J.R. seemed pretty satisfied with the chartering gig in Charleston, though he’s got one item on his wish list.
“ I just wish the tarpon would realize that Charleston Harbor is a perfect habitat for them: few predators, plenty of bait, not to mention the Ravenel Bridge as potential tarpon holding structure.”
The Charleston Harbor tarpon explosion may never occur, but you can bet that if it ever does, J.R. will be hot on the hot on the trail of the silver king.
Check out J.R. at fishcall.com or call 843-509-7337.
Mike Waller Saltfisher Charters
Capt. Mike has been guiding full time for the past nine years and runs about as many trips as anyone around town.
The influx of anglers to the Kiawah area keeps Mike busy all summer, and he doesn’t limit his business to just fishing. Dolphin watching adventures, skeet-shooting charters, and shell collecting excursions are all part of Mike’s repertoire.
His real area of expertise, however, is sheepshead fishing. Mike’s 24-foot Shearwater has accounted for more sheepshead than just about any boat in Charleston, and he is well-versed in teaching anglers to master the subtle art of dangling fiddler crabs for the convict fish.
“I use an underwater camera to check underwater structure for sheeps. If I find them, they’ll usually hang around the same area for months, provided anglers don’t keep them.”
Mike participates in a few local fishing clubs and has racked up far too many tournament wins to name, mostly in the Trident, Lowcountry Anglers,and James Island Yacht Club tournaments.
Call him at 843-343-7538 or visit saltfisher.com.