If you’re new to South Carolina like I was or new to the sport of bowfishing, you may be looking for some good places to go bowfishing and the laws and regulations around it. The bowfishermen in South Carolina have many places where they can go bowfishing, but the advice they give will usually be general since they don’t want to lose their spots. Most times, you have to learn this stuff by trial and error, but we will point out the most popular bowfishing spots in South Carolina and the places where you can go to shoot some fish.
SC Bowfishing Regulations
South Carolina puts you in the unique position where you can choose saltwater bowfishing or freshwater. You will need to buy a fishing license for where you will bowfish. For example, if you will bowfish on the freshwater lakes, you need a freshwater fishing license. If you plan to bowfish on saltwater, you will need a saltwater fishing license.
You can bowfish in South Carolina all year round, and they don’t have a strict policy of where you can’t bowfish with freshwater lakes. However, they don’t allow bowfishing on SCDNR Managed State Lakes. Luckily, this only cuts 18 lakes from your list. Meanwhile, the state has 12 major lakes and over 51 lakes in total. You will do fine even without the 18 lakes on that list. Just check in advance to see if the lake that you want to bowfish on is on the list.
What Freshwater Fish Can You Shoot in South Carolina?
You can shoot all the carp with the exception of the grass carp. We don’t know exactly why they have this curious law protecting them, but along with the grass carp, you cannot shoot any of the gamefish. Outside of that, they have made all the non-game species fair targets, which includes:
- Common Carp
- Bighead carp
- Silver carp
- Longnose gar
- Spotted gar
- Freshwater drum
- Asian snakehead
Before you target a fish, check ahead of time to see that the bowfishing laws in South Carolina haven’t changed recently since laws are subject to change.
What Saltwater Fish Can You Shoot in South Carolina?
Under South Carolina law, they treat bowfishing the same as gigging. Bowfishing laws in South Carolina let you target several saltwater fish as well, such as:
- Speckled trout
- Black drum
If you target the flounder, be aware of how you can only shoot them at night. You can’t shoot sharks, spotted seatrout, tarpon, striped bass or sea crabs here. Only recently have they opened up the saltwater market to bowfishermen.
For anyone who would like to learn more about the bowfishing laws around the country, I wrote about the bowfishing laws in all 50 states here.
Where to Go Bowfishing in South Carolina
You can choose from several lakes in the region, but some of the highlights for bowfishing in the state include:
- Lake Greenwood
- Lake Murray
- Santee Cooper
This highlights a couple of the biggest lakes in South Carolina, but a lot of people love to go saltwater bowfishing here. Let’s have a look at the top lakes.
They do, in fact, have grass carp in Lake Greenwood that you need to watch out for. You can tell them apart because of the lighter color, and you have a short tail fin on a grass carp compared to a common carp. Please obey the law and don’t shoot the grass carp—bowfishing suffers a bad reputation already because people shoot them anyway. We want this sport to be seen as an asset rather than a liability to the state.
Grass carp aren’t real common in many of the lakes with Greenwood being one of the few exceptions where you would need to watch out for them. When not sure, don’t shoot.
We don’t know if they still do this but the South Carolina Upstate Bowfishing Club used to hold a tournament on Lake Greenwood.
You want to bowfish on Lake Murray closer to the warmer months because it becomes a muddy mess to where you can’t see much. Bowfishing Lake Murray in South Carolina is one of the best spots in the state for monstrous common carp. You will take out some of the biggest common carp here that you have ever seen.
The lake holds gar worth shooting, too. One thing to remember about Lake Murray—you must do it at the right time, or you will waste your time bowfishing.
In fact, this is a set of lakes, and one of the best spots for bowfishing in the state. The lake system suffers from muddiness, which can make bowfishing more difficult, but they have bowfin here and carp worth shooting. Check out the nearby Cooper River worth shooting on. One thing to be aware of on Santee Cooper is the number of dangers in the water, and it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Santee Cooper is a huge lake to further complicate it.
Again, this lake system has grass carp, but you can’t shoot them here. Some of them get to be in the 20 to 50-pound range and a couple in the 80-pound range, which makes it mighty tempting at times, but again, we need to follow the South Carolina bowfishing rules so that we don’t see our rights taken away.
For this lake, we would recommend going near Hills Landing, which sits right in the heart of the bowfishing action. You will find some bowfishing opportunities here easily enough. Beware of the weather here because it can strike without warning and send 6-foot waves or even 8-foot swales at you. It can be intimidating without someone to guide you on it. Many bowfishermen know of multiple people who have drowned here.
Bowfishing in Charleston: Where to Go
One of the popular locations in South Carolina for bowfishing, we figured we would cover it real quick. The area where you can bowfish in Charleston would be the Cooper River. Santee is about one hour away from Charleston. One thing that we want to highlight about bowfishing in Charleston is that some areas may not allow generators. Read up on that information before heading out to keep from running afoul of the law.
In this area, saltwater bowfishing doesn’t pick up in action until about the end of March. The freshwater bowfishing here can be done even earlier than that, however.
South Carolina Bowfishing Tournaments
You have a couple of good bowfishing tournaments in South Carolina that you may want to be aware of that include:
- SC State Bowfishing Championship
- Castle Rock Petenwell Bowfishing Tournament
- Upstate Bowfishing Club (look for tournaments from them)
- Bowfishing Association of South Carolina (look for tournaments from them)
South Carolina Bowfishing Records: How Big Do the Fish Get?
You have freshwater fish bowfishing records and saltwater fish bowfishing records in South Carolina. The state record common carp was 58 pounds shot on Lake Murray in 2000 by Kenneth O. Shealy. The state record bowfin was shot on Santee Cooper and weighed 15 pounds, 7 ounces and shot by Jimmie Wright in 1994. Hunter O. Neeley shot the longnose gar state record at 28 pounds, 8 ounces, in 2015.
In 2019, James Carroll shot the red drum record at 4 pounds, 1.6 ounces. The barracuda state record in South Carolina was 22 pounds, 8 ounces, and shot by James T. Robertson Jr. on July 19, 2020. We highlight these bowfishing records so that you might have something to strive for in breaking a state record.
South Carolina Bowfishing Guides
Especially if you plan on coming from out of state like I did, hiring a bowfishing guide may make more sense since you won’t have to bowfish from shore. You also won’t have to haul a huge boat from out of state, which can guzzle down your gas. Some of the awesome bowfishing charters that you might try include:
- Taylor Outdoors
- Rizzs Outdoors
- Tail and Scale Outfitters
Before you book a charter, check to see that they have all the equipment you need and they know how to target the fish that you want. Some bowfishing guides will be more for saltwater and others more for freshwater. Their expertise lies in these areas, and they can take you to spots where you can go bowfishing.
Putting the Bowfishing Gear Together
Before you head out, you may want to buy a bowfishing bow. You can see examples of the best bowfishing bows, which I wrote about here. Along with needing a bowfishing bow, you will need bowfishing arrows to go with it. That’s another topic that I just recently covered here on how to buy bowfishing arrows.
Unless the charter provides you with the gear, you will need gear to go bowfishing, but you can make this sport as expensive or as affordable as you’d like.
South Carolina has some great bowfishing spots worth checking out, especially if in the area. I like to bowfish in different states because it feels good to explore the world of bowfishing and the beauties of each state. I feel like every state has something to offer people with beautiful scenery that makes it even more enjoyable. However, even getting to know your own state and its bowfishing spots better can make for better bowfishing.