20 miles off the coast of Hilton Head Island is an artificial reef called the Betsy Ross Reef which holds many species of gamefish.
Black Sea Bass, Grouper and Red Snapper hang around, along with Barracuda, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Sharks — and everyone’s favorite fish Cobia. After the spring spawning season many species retreat from inshore waters, they make pit stops at many nearshore reefs and wrecks, including the Betsy Ross, before continuing their migration.
A 440-foot liberty ship named The Betsy Ross is the largest single piece of the artificial-reef structure off the South Carolina coast — the reef has been expanded recently by the additions of the McAllister a New York Harbor tugboat built in 1968. The McAllister was built in 1968 and laid to rest next to the Betsy Ross in 2019. In addition, there are subway cars, armored personal carriers (APC’s) another 175-foot ship and numerous sections of the old Paris Island bridge.
But more than just mammoth size contributes to the reef’s fish-holding power, positioned on a ledge known as the “Tybee Trough,” the depth varies from 45 to 90 feet, combining both a natural fish draw and an artificial one.
You can do anything from anchoring and bottom-fishing with heavy lead weights to trolling with downriggers and/or outriggers. But according to Capt. Joe Smith of Hilton Head Fishing Charters Tale Hunter in Hilton Head, SC, it’s not too difficult to catch multiple species at the Betsy Ross. Three basic rigs are a must: heavy conventional gear with 6- to 8-ounce sinkers, spinning gear rigged with jigs tipped with artificials or live bait, and conventional gear rigged to float baits.
Fishing on the bottom with 80-pound braid, a 6-ounce barrel weight, 5-foot leader of 80-pound mono, and a 6/0 to 8/0 circle hook,” “When fishing on the bottom, use a heavy boat rod because you never know when something big is going to hit, and you need to be able to power it off the bottom before it breaks you off in whatever structure it is holding to.
Circle hooks allow you to keep rods in rod holders, where they will self-set. The heavy lead is necessary because of the strong currents; it takes some lead to fish vertically around the structure.
Heavy bottom rigs also can be deadly when used in combination with your sonar when either anchored or slow trolling at two mph or less. Watching the sonar, waiting for a fish to be marked, the man at the controls yells out the fish’s depth, and the man on the rods drops or raises the baits accordingly in an effort to offer an easy meal to whatever is passing under. This can be a day-saver when the fishing is slow. The only change in the rig is when kin mackerel are around; you should switch to a wire leader and J-hook.
Whenever cobia are present, rig a couple of floating lines in combination with a chum slick. The gear of choice is again a heavy combo. Live greenies, thread herring, and menhaden whenever possible. They are an abundant food source during the warm months and very hearty bait fish.