After casting a whole, live shrimp from her spot on the pier rail, Jenny Desrosiers of Beaufort closed the bail on her 3500 series spinning reel, cranked the handle just enough to reel in the slack, then looked startled as line began singing off the reel. She cranked the handle, but line kept going out. 

Her husband tightened the drag. Line kept going out. He tightened the drag a little more. Still, line ran out with such force that reeling did no good. He tightened the drag again, but by now the bare spool was showing, and before Desrosiers turned the handle again, the line snapped as loudly as a .22 rifle shot.

“Big shark. Or ray. Or redfish. Could’ve been anything,” Desrosiers sighed. 

South Carolina has numerous fishing piers that stretch out into its salty waters, and they offer a unique opportunity for anglers. It’s a happy medium between surf fishing and taking a boat out, but pier fishing has a number of other virtues as well. 

While they can look down and see surf fishermen heaving their baits, attempting to reach past the breakers, pier anglers don’t have to worry about that. They’re already past the breakers. Fishing from the piers gives anglers the opportunity to catch fish that would otherwise be out of reach without a boat, but they can also catch the same species that their shore-bound counterparts can. It’s the best of both worlds, but to many anglers, it’s even better than that.

Marshall French has spent a lot of time fishing the Pawleys Island Pier over the years, and he’s caught everything from sheepshead to king mackerel and plenty of other species in between. He’s also helped his son and daughter catch fish from the time they could walk.

While French, who holds the pier record for the biggest redfish, loves catching flounder, drum, king and Spanish mackerel, sharks, sheepshead, redfish and very large stingrays, fishing from these structures is about much more than getting a tug on his line. The social aspect of pier fishing also appeals to him, his family and other families they’ve gotten to know over the years while fishing on the pier.

One of the more social aspects includes king mackerel fishing, which can be done off most of South Carolina’s piers. This involves casting out an anchor rod, which has a heavy anchor with prongs to dig into the sand, and another rod that has the bait connected to the line of the anchor rod with a clothes pin. With the anchor holding firm, the bait can swim about freely, but it can also be quickly released from the anchor line once a fish bites.

This type of fishing has a good bit of downtime between bites, so anglers often share stories of the big one that got away, how their son is trying out for the football team or their daughter is taking piano lessons. Plenty of talk centers around fishing too, and catching baitfish — king mackerel love bluefish, which can also be caught from the pier on smaller rods — is another good way to pass the time and keep kids entertained and helping.

Sheepshead are plentiful around most piers and offer challenges that are as big as the rewards. Dangling a fiddler crab or shrimp down beside a pier piling, then hooking and landing one of these toothy critters will have other anglers and sightseers alike coming over to take photos, and hear the story of how the fish was landed.

Redfish, flounder, spots, croaker, black drum and Spanish mackerel are some other species commonly caught from South Carolina’s piers, but jack crevalle, tripletail and even tarpon are other fish that show up around piers.

Catch a tarpon from a boat, and it’s a big deal to you and the other two or three people on the boat. Catch a tarpon on a crowded pier in August, and you might as well score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. 

Another appealing factor to pier angling is the lack of cost or time investment associated with taking a boat out for a fishing trip. And it’s far less messy than fishing from the beach, wading in the surf to cast your bait, and most piers even have snack bars or small stores, so you’ll never run out of snacks.