Pier fishing also keeps anglers out of the surf, where tourists crowd the beaches, making it tough to cast or land fish. From Cherry Grove to Hunting Island, 11 full-service piers have a lot to offer anglers.
Most fishermen who spend time on piers use a one- or two-hook bottom rig similar to those used when casting from the surf. A pyramid or egg weight attaches to a clip at the very end of the line, with one or two hooks located six to 12 inches above the weight. Anglers drop these rigs straight down or cast them away from the pier. Pompano, redfish, croaker, whiting, blues, spots, and trout readily bite these rigs. Cut shrimp, mullet, mud minnows, blood worms, sand fleas and artificials like Billy Bay shrimp are great baits.
In addition to the saltwater panfish that make up a large percentage of catches from piers, four species draw fishermen to the wooden structures because of the unique opportunities they present: king mackerel, sheepshead, flounder and Spanish mackerel.
Fishermen who target king mackerel are hard-core pier anglers who catch their share of these fish in July. Some piers provide an exclusive section at the end of their structures for king mackerel fishermen, who employ multiple rods and need space when a big king grabs a bait.
For kings, fishermen use a two-rod set-up. One serves as the anchor rod, typically a heavy, 10- to 12-foot spinning rod capable of casting a heavy surf weight with stiff protruding wires that will anchor in the sand. A shorter, heavy-duty rod, often referred to as a "boat rod" is the business end of the set-up. A live-bait rig with a nose hook and one or two trebles is baited with a live baitfish such as a bluefish or croaker. The line runs through a sliding clip, through which the line to the anchor rod also passes. The baitfish can swim freely - until something eats it.
Brian Batson, who regularly fishes for kings at Folly Beach Pier south of Charleston, likens the combination to fishing from a boat with a downrigger.
"When a fish bites, it yanks the line free of the clip, releasing it from the anchor line and leaving the fight to the angler on the boat rod," he said.
Tarpon, sharks, large rays and jack crevalle often hit these lines, giving anglers a good fight and drawing crowds of spectators, but nothing excites these anglers more than catching their intended prize: king mackerel.
Sheepshead are abundant around pier pilings in July, and it takes some special effort to hook them. Fiddler crabs or whole clams make great sheepshead bait; anglers dangle them close to the pilings to attract a bite from these bait-stealers. While anglers like Rich Aulner, a regular at the Mount Pleasant Pier, use heavy gear and one-ounce sinkers to keep their bait in the strike zone, others use lighter weights and fling the bait up current from the pilings after spotting a sheepshead. The bait drifts past the fish, enticing it to bite.
Fishermen targeting flounder employ a single-hook rig with a sliding egg sinker, followed by a barrel swivel, an 18- to 24-inch leader, and a 2/0 hook baited with a mud minnow. After casting, fishermen slowly retrieve their bait across the bottom. Experienced fishermen disregard the impulse to set the hook when the feel a fish pick up the bait, knowing it can take a flounder several seconds to work the bait into its mouth deep enough to allow a good hook set.
Spanish mackerel have their own requirements. Some anglers use plugs with two treble hooks, casting and retrieving it like a largemouth lure. Others jig vertically with a long rod and six to 10 jigs tied off the main like, much like the Sabiki rig used to catch live bait. Anglers attach rod holders to the pier with clamps, allowing them to rock the rod up and down, luring Spanish into hooking themselves.
"When they're running, you'll catch three or more at a time this way," said Bob Jorden, who regularly fishes from the Cherry Grove Pier on the northern end of the Grand Strand.
These tactics work on all of South Carolina's piers, but each pier has unique situations for anglers. The state's 11 full-service public fishing piers all sell bait, tackle and snacks, offer rental equipment and are handicap accessible. They also all have a two-rod per angler limit.
A. Cherry Grove PierThe 985-foot Cherry Grove Pier, South Carolina's northernmost pier, is one of the best-known on the east coast, thanks in part to a 1,780-pound tiger shark that Walter Maxwell caught in 1964. The beast still stands as the all-tackle world record; the Cherry Grove Pier (843-249-1625) is the only one along South Carolina's coastline to boast an all-tackle world record.
In July, fish like pompano join king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, croaker, whiting, flounder, redfish, blues and sea trout around the pier Spots also begin to make an appearance, and they keep the whole pier occupied when running. The ocean end of this pier is reserved for king fishermen.
Open from 6 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday, and 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Cherry Grove Pier - located at 3500 N. Ocean Blvd. in North Myrtle Beach - charges $2 for admission, and $6 a day per rod for most fishing. Daily king mackerel passes are $16. Prince Resort (866-827-1112) is on-site, offering lodging and a restaurant.
B. Apache Pier
The Apache Pier (800-553-1749) is open from 6 a.m. to midnight and charges $7.50 for fishing. King mackerel anglers have their own space on this pier, too. Sheepshead and whiting are the Apache Pier's star species in July.
C. Pier 14
In downtown Myrtle Beach, Pier 14 is a 906-foot long structure with daily fishing passes for $7. It does not reserve the end of the pier for king mackerel anglers, but king mackerel fishing is allowed. Whiting, croaker, Spanish mackerel and flounder are most active here this month. Open every day in July from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., Pier 14 (843-448-6500) is at 1306 Ocean Boulevard
D. 2nd Avenue PierThe 2nd Avenue Pier is 906 feet long. It does not allow king mackerel fishing, but fishermen catch plenty of Spanish mackerel during the 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily hours.
The daily fishing rate at 2nd Avenue Pier (843-445-7437) is $9. Located at 110 North Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach, no overnight accommodations are present, but the nearby Windsurfer Motel (800-789-3123), Holiday Sands North (800-448-1091), and Sandy Beach Resort (800-844-6534) offer good rates and are conveniently located.
E. Springmaid PierThe Springmaid Pier is a bit farther south at 3200 S. Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach. At 1,068 feet, it is home to the South Carolina state-record Spanish mackerel, an 11-pound fish caught 30 years ago.
Springmaid Pier (843-445-7437) is open for fishing from 6 a.m. to midnight daily. This pier is wider than most, at 36 feet, and it features a 110-foot "T" on the end. King mackerel anglers set up shop here, but it isn't reserved exclusively for king fishing, so other anglers also enjoy the use of this area.
This pier, while open to the public, is part of Springmaid Resort, which offers accommodations for single anglers, extended families, or large groups. A daily fishing pass is $6, with discounts for folks staying at the resort.
F. Myrtle Beach State Farm PierThe Myrtle Beach State Park Pier is just south of Springhaid Pier at 4401 S. Kings Highway. It offers daily fishing passes for $5, with discounts for seniors and children.
Stretching 750 feet into the Atlantic, the state park pier (843-238-5326) includes a small "T" at the ocean end where king mackerel fishermen gather. Blues, Spanish mackerel, whiting and sheepshead make up a good deal of July's catch here, and flounder are also plentiful. The pier's store closes at 5 p.m., but the pier is open for fishing 24 hours a day.
G. Surfside Pier
Heading south, the 850-foot long Surfside Pier is at 11 S. Ocean Blvd. in Surfside Beach. A daily fishing pass is $9 ($12.50 for king fishermen), and the pier (843-238-01121) is open from 6 a.m.-2 a.m. in July. The usual suspects bite here this month, but sheepshead and king mackerel seem to be the favorite targets of most anglers.
H. Pier at Garden City
The southernmost pier on the Grand Strand, the Pier at Garden City, is at 110 S. Waccamaw Dr., just a few miles south of Surfside. This 668-ft long pier (843-651-9700) has shaded seating at almost all fishing benches and has a huge shelter on the ocean end of the pier, offering more shade than any other Grand Strand pier. The store is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but pier fishing is open 24 hours a day. Daily fishing passes are $8.
I. Mount Pleasant PierThe next full-service pier is 76 miles south: the Mount Pleasant Pier on 71 Harry Hallman Blvd. in Charleston County. This is the newest of South Carolina's piers and is part of Memorial Waterfront Park. This 1,250-ft long pier is unique among Palmetto State piers, constructed of concrete rather than wood, and jutting into Charleston Harbor near the mouth of the Cooper River rather than in the surf of the ocean.
The Arthur Ravenel Bridge looms over this Mount Pleasant hotspot, and, along with the pier's 8,100-square foot pavilion, offers plenty of shade for anglers who stay busy catching redfish, flounder, and sea trout in July. Sheepshead anglers boast their share of success as well. Anglers here catch more of these four fish than any other, and the most among other South Carolina piers.
The Mount Pleasant Pier (843-762-9946) is operated by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) and is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. throughout July. The daily fishing fee is $8, $5 for Charleston County residents.
J. Folly Beach PierAlso operated by the CCPRC, the Folly Beach Pier (843-588-3474) is south of Charleston Harbor at 101 East Arctic Ave. in Folly Beach. It is 1,045 feet long, and the 24-foot wide pier features a 7,500-square foot diamond-shaped addition at the ocean end that houses a shaded, two-story pavilion.
Like the Cherry Grove Pier, the Folly Beach Pier caters to king mackerel fishermen, reserving the ocean end of the pier for their use. Flounder, blues, and Spanish mackerel are abundant in July, and aside from king mackerel, anglers often land tarpon and jack crevalle.
Open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., the pier charges $8 for a daily fishing pass - $5 for Charleston County residents - and $10 for king mackerel fishing.
K. Hunting Island Pier
Hunting Island Pier, which is part of Hunting Island State Park, is the southernmost full-service pier in South Carolina. This 1,120-foot pier is open 24 hours a day at 2555 Sea Island Parkway on Hunting Island.
The pier (843-838-7437) does not extend into the surf, but into Fripp Inlet between Fripp Island and Hunting Island. Fishing passes cost $5 but are free to anglers camping in the state park. Black drum, redfish, flounder and sheepshead are the most-willing participants here in July, with trout, whiting and croaker also holding their own.