Driving into West Ashley on Highway 17, it finally began to look like the “Charleston” I’ve seen photographed in my Instagram feed. The kind of backdrop where a plaid-shirted angler drips a redfish over the side of a custom Gheenoe. Or poles a creek from atop a platform, scouting for morning prospects.
Spartina grass grows up to the roadside where old men sit with their lines in the water. Narrow creeks meander through the marsh, leaving muddy flats as they take their tide downstream. I stared at the water hoping to see a tailing redfish, his little tail aggressively waving around as he feeds on fiddler crabs.
We spent three days exploring the Holy City guided by our friends Adam and Kristen. We quickly learned that three days is not nearly enough time to explore all that this charming town has to offer.
Fishing was at the top of our must-do list. The local fly shop experts forewarned that we wouldn’t have the best luck until the grass turns green. Although it was still brown at the tips from the cold winter months, there was no compromise. We were going.
Off we shoved, yakking our way through shallow creeks and casting plastics into the distance. Adam and Kristen cruised along in their NuCanoe fishing kayak with remote-control trolling motor and lumbar-support seats; a vision straight outta Coastal Angler magazine.
Mike and I gracelessly paddled around in our rental kayak with wet butts and a couple near-miss lures to the face. We'll let your imagination decide who was on the casting end.
It was on this day that I realized a newfound appreciation for the avid yak-fishers out there.
Little space to maneuver and store things, low vantage point, requires physical labor to propel, no room for a Yeti Tundra, no 200 HP Yamaha... (cue the dramatics).
The ol' fish-catching game requires a bit more gumption from the cold, wet seat of a kayak. Yet, they are stealthy vessels that can get you where the fish are in the skinny water of a low tide, which is kind of important.
For a couple of Florida kids, this was an interesting change of scenery from our usual fishing grounds. Instead of mangroves, we were casting around mud banks piled high with oyster shells and waving spartina grass.
Beautiful, lowcountry-style homes dotted the coastline. The docks stretched across the salt marsh, longer than football fields and the boat lifts towered high out of the water to accommodate the dramatic tide swings.
Spring is considered a transitional period in the marsh and the fishing is usually weather-dependent, as we can now confirm. The weather was a touch too cool, the wind was whipping and the elements just weren't in our favor.
Well played, fly shop experts.
Skunked and short on provisions, we headed to the laid-back Lost Dog Cafe on Folly Beach for a morale boost. Mason jar bloodies, gravy-smothered biscuits, oversized pancakes and la huevos rancheros. I would also recommend their warm, gooey cinnamon rolls to start.
EATS, DRINKS & TOURIST-Y THINGS
Where we live in Southwest Florida, our dining selection is a bit on the narrow side. "Waffle House" is on the first page of the Yelp search results for "brunch." If you don't see a problem with that, we simply cannot be friends.
Charleston is a food lover's paradise with a myriad of eateries, gastropubs, taco emporiums, breweries, BBQ joints, fish camps, seafood aficionados, dive bars, beach bruncheries, auto body oyster shops… okay, maybe Leon’s is the only one of that kind.
Lewis Barbecue was a heavenly highlight of our trip. Texas-style smoked meat heaven.
The line to order was out the door, leading up to a steel-front meat cutting station where one places their order. Anything on the menu can be ordered by the pound and is artfully arranged on a lunch tray, prepared for debauchery.
Prime beef brisket, pulled pork and Texas hot guts (a most legendary sausage), served with starch white bread, pickled red onion and pickles. And green chile corn pudding. It's the stuff dreams are made of.
We barely scratched the brewery-laden surface, sampling an array of fine brews at Palmetto and rooftopping at Revelry with a pint of Gullah Cream Ale.
On our final day, sightseeing was the perfect activity to walk off the BBQ and beer calories we’d been consuming for 48 hours.
Battery Park is a prominent landmark in Charleston history, playing a role in several wars and hosting tales of pirates hanged from gallows in the 1700's.
The beautiful oak-shaded park (yes, the same beautiful oaks from which they hanged pirates) features cannons, statues and views of Fort Sumter and Castle Pickney across the water.
The waterfront park takes you along some of the most beautiful, historic homes in Charleston. Colonial style with towering columns, iron gates, exquisite gardens and cobblestone streets.
You may notice that many homes have a blue porch ceiling. A long-standing Southern tradition, there are many theories as to why, but most say it is to scare away evil spirits called "haints" and protect the home.
The color is called “Haint Blue” as haints are restless spirits of the dead who have not moved on from their physical world.
From Folly Beach to Sullivan’s Island. Downtown Charleston to West Ashley. This South Carolina experience blended all the best things in life - coastal culture, local flavors, historic charm, Southern spirit and outdoor adventures.
As for the tailing redfish that I never saw, he will continue to haunt my dreams until we return.
What is the best time of year to visit Charleston? What other recommendations can you throw my way? Food, brews and fishing expertise welcomed here.