For sure, fishing from a boat has many advantages, but there are downsides as well. Boats are not a cheap purchase; even an outing in a small skiff comes with costs, and boat maintenance and preparation is time-consuming. Also, with a boat comes a limit on the number of anglers; this is especially true with any boat you can trailer. But a boat does allow anglers to get out to where the big ones are and away from sun worshipers laying out and playing on the beach.
There is another way, however, to enjoy a day of saltwater fishing a little further from shore without having to boat it. A number of fishing piers call South Carolina's coastline home, and they're just perfect for a day or night of fishing without all of the hassles of a crowded beach or boat ownership.
Judy Tackett of Beaufort has been fishing the Hunting Island State Park pier on Fripp Inlet for several years. "I have fished in different areas around here, but the pier is by far my favorite place to fish," she said.
Piers operated by the state park system offer some of the best values. The pier at Myrtle Beach State Park stretches 750 feet into the Atlantic. During the summer, fishermen catch a multitude of species, including whiting, spots, bluefish, flounder, drums, pompano, cobia and king mackerel. The pier at Hunting Island State Park is near the ocean, but its 1,120-foot length lies inside the protected waters of Fripp Inlet. Many of the same species are caught, except for kings, but the big sharks that inhabit Fripp Inlet are definitely a draw, especially at night. Earlier this year, a 300-pound bull shark was caught from the pier.
The fall run of bull redfish is another big event at the Hunting Island Pier. "We have an artificial reef along the right side of the pier for the last 300 feet, and the big red drum like to hang around it in the fall," said Mark Adams, who works on the pier. "It is one of my favorite times to fish off (the pier)."
Adding to the convenience of fishing the state park piers is that no fishing license is required, and you don't even have to own a rod and reel, for that matter. In Myrtle Beach a rod can be rented for $7.50 per day, and Hunting Island will loan you a rod through the SCDNR's rod-loaner program.
Of course, there are more ways to enjoy a pier than just fishing. Viewing nature is always an option, and sometimes it is just nice to catch an ocean breeze on a hot summer's day.
"You get to see a lot of different things when out here fishing, like dolphins, bald eagles and other birds, and animals on the land near the pier as well like deer and raccoons," Tackett said.
When it comes to rigs and bait, the universal theme is bottom rigs and shrimp. Mullet, fiddler crabs and minnows are also used for bait, especially when targeting a particular species, but a cup of frozen shrimp is by far the most popular. Tackett has tried several different types of bait but feels that she has the most success with shrimp.
"There are time when the fishing is so good with shrimp that as soon as my bait hits the water, I've got a fish on, and it goes on like that all day," she said.
The Myrtle Beach pier has a store that is open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. for visitors to buy bait, tackle, souvenirs and snacks. The Hunting Island Pier has an interactive nature center where visitors can view live snakes and other reptiles, and staff is on hand from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fishermen need to bring their own bait, drinks, and food.
Both parks have restrooms and fish cleaning stations. A $5 daily park pass is required to fish from the state park piers, but for those camping at the state park or with annual passes, there is no charge for pier fishing. In Myrtle Beach, campers have access to the pier 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while day users have to leave the pier at night when the park closes for day use. Hunting Island is open 24/7 for anyone with a park pass.
No doubt about it, pier fishing is an effective way to bridge the gap between the confinements of fishing from shore and the costs of fishing from a boat. Also, pier fishing is great family fun and a good way to learn more about saltwater fishing without breaking the bank; the state park staff members are more than eager to help all newcomers.
More information on all of South Carolina State parks and their amenities, including piers, can be found online at www.southcarolinaparks.com.