While many anglers hate August’s heat, it brings periods of calm seas and good fishing along the beaches of South Carolina’s Grand Strand. For anglers aspiring to wrestle with a billfish — but lacking an offshore vessel — August is the time to target sailfish, often well within sight of land.
Unlike marlin and swordfish, sailfish are the only billfish that frequently travel into shallow water during the summer to feed and spawn. Anglers can expect to catch sailfish in places flooded with large schools of smaller baitfish like menhaden and cigar minnows.
Similar to their pelagic cousins, sailfish migrate from the tropical and subtropical waters to spend the summer season eating and spawning in ideal conditions along the Carolina coastlines. Tom Cushman of Captain Cush’s Calmwater Charters out of North Myrtle Beach, S.C., catches his fair share every year.
“We start catching sails in the middle of the summer and will catch them into the early fall, just before the water temps begin to fall,” said Cushman (843-997-5850). “We catch them routinely during the summer within 10 miles of the Little River Inlet.”
For most anglers, a nearshore tangle with a sailfish is strictly unintentional. Anglers will catch them slow-trolling live bait in nearshore waters, including areas along the beach, artificial reefs and livebottom areas that all hold baitfish during the summer. While Cushman has caught some incidentally while targeting king mackerel, he uses a slightly different technique to target sails with slow-trolled baits.
“You target sailfish by using big teasers with dozens of lures resembling ballyhoos or squids to attract them into the spread, and then you hook them with the trailing baits just outside of the teasers,” he said.
Traditionally, sailfish caught nearshore are juveniles, yet over the last few years, the size range has drastically increased.
“We have caught several full-grown sailfish over the last few years within 10 miles of the beach. I caught a 7-footer last August on a king rig; he ate a live menhaden,” he said.
The National Marine Fisheries Service requires all anglers, commercial and recreational, obtain a $20 NMFS Federal Highly Migratory Species Angling Permit to fish for sailfish and any other highly migratory species. All recreationally caught sailfish to be released may not be removed from the water and must be reported to NMFS within 24 hours of landing by calling 800-894-5528 or by visiting https://hmspermits.noaa.gov/. Recreationally caught billfish may not be sold. The minimum length in South Carolina is 63 inches from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail.