Monday, July 14, 2014

Salty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years

If you haven't had a chance to read Salty Memories Part 1 - The Beginnings, please take the time to click the link and read it. This post picks up where I left off in Part 1.

At the end of Salty Memories Part 1, I made mention of a chance encounter on a pier at Oak Island that changed the way I would saltwater fish. This encounter happened at the Long Beach Pier, named for the town of Long Beach that merged with Yaupon Beach in 1999 to form the Town of Oak Island. Dad and I took a walk on the pier early one morning while we were at the island on vacation, and happened to see several people catching some nice fish which we found out were spotted seatrout, or speckled trout as they were sometimes known. These fish were  bigger than anything I had managed to catch in the surf with shrimp and bloodworms, and I wanted to find out more about these fish and how to catch them.

Oak Island Pier
My previous experiences pier fishing had led me to believe that I was just as well off surf fishing, because I caught the same small spot and whiting from the pier that I did in the surf, and didn't have to pay anything to do it. What I didn't know at the time was that the true value of a pier ticket was access to fish that I couldn't catch from the surf as easily, and that it was my choice of tactics and bait that had limited my success on the pier in the past. The fishermen I saw that morning were mainly catching trout, but I also saw the occasional bluefish and Spanish mackerel brought onto the pier. All of these fish were species that I hadn't caught before, and so I began talking to some of the fishermen and asking a few questions to find out what I needed to do to have the kind of success they were having. One gentleman was nice enough to show me that the fish were being caught on live shrimp, and also showed me how to tie a basic rig to fish the shrimp for trout. Armed with this new knowledge, I decided to buy a pier ticket the next morning and try my luck.

Yaupon/Oak Island Pier
I don't remember catching any trout on that first attempt, but some of the local pier fishermen helped me out tremendously by showing me how to hook the shrimp, how to tie my own bottom rigs, and other tips about tackle that would help me out in the future. I was also shocked to learn just how expensive live shrimp were to purchase. If my memory is correct, live shrimp at the time were somewhere around $8 - $10 a dozen, depending on where you bought them, and this was 14 or 15 years ago! I knew that if I did very much trout fishing, I was going to have to find out where to catch my own shrimp like most of the regular fishermen did. Once again, the friendly fishermen that I met on the pier came to my rescue, and shared a few publicly accessible spots on the island where shrimp could be caught with a cast net.

The Crew at Oak Island - 2008
The next summer marked my graduation from high school, and a good friend and I decided that we were going to take a trip down to the coast to do some fishing after graduation. I was fortunate enough to have some relatives that had a mobile home on Oak Island that they used for a vacation home, and they graciously allowed two broke kids to stay there for a week and do some fishing. This was the first time that I had any real success pier fishing, and we caught trout on live shrimp, and bluefish and Spanish mackerel on Gotcha plugs. We ate bologna sandwiches if we couldn't catch enough fish for dinner, and even one day cleaned a bunch of shrimp that we caught in the cast net and made fried shrimp for lunch. All things considered, we lived like kings for the week.

The Homemade Pier Cart
This marked the beginning of a series of trips that would last for several years, and that grew in the number of participants. It started out the first few years just being two of us, but as some of our close friends heard about the success we were having they asked to join in, and the last few years we all made the trip there were five of us that went down to Oak Island for a week to fish. By this time we all were out of college and working, so we started renting a house for the week and were able to afford to eat more than just bologna sandwiches. The trip took on some traditions of its own, such as not buying ice for the fish cooler until the first keeper was landed, and a certain Hardee's restaurant that was the only place on the way down that we would stop for a biscuit for breakfast. We even used a little bit of redneck engineering to turn a lawn cart into a pier cart complete with rod holders for ten rods, thanks to some hose clamps and PVC pipe. It seemed like it weighed a ton, but it did the job for us for several years.

Our first few years, we fished off of the Long Beach Pier, but when the pier was closed due to being sold we moved up the island and spent the last few years of the trip fishing on the former Yaupon Pier, now named the Oak Island Pier after its purchase by the town of Oak Island. There was a year in between the closing of Long Beach Pier and the opening of Oak Island pier where we fished from the other pier on the island, Ocean Crest Pier. We had good luck at all three piers, but wound up at Oak Island because that's where most of the fishermen we had come to know on Long Beach Pier wound up going after it closed. Over the years we got to know several of the locals, not the least of whom was Henry, the unofficial mascot of the Yaupon/Oak Island Pier. Henry was a snowy egret who made the pier home, and was the only egret I've ever seen on the island who didn't seem the slightest bit afraid of people. He would fly over to the pier in the morning, and spend time making the rounds and getting fed by the fishermen. Henry wasn't above helping himself if you happened to leave the lid open on your bait bucket either. We always made sure to give Henry a shrimp or two for good luck.

Trout, Pompano, and Spanish Mackerel
These trips lasted for several summers, and were always the highlight of the summer for us. The last trip we all made together was in 2010, and after that marriages and children and life in general seemed to prevent everyone from being able to get together for a week. We all still keep in close touch and even occasionally fish together, but we've not been to the beach together since. Some of my friends still make it down to the island every year, and I will occasionally get a call or a picture message on my phone of some nice trout or flounder. I'm glad that I was able to share a place that I enjoyed with some good friends, and now some of them take their own families to the island. For several years I was lucky enough to make two trips to the island every summer, once with the fishing crew and usually again in late summer with my family. I hadn't been down to the coast since a family trip in 2010, so when my wife and I got the opportunity to go over the July 4th holiday with my Dad I was looking forward to seeing how things might have changed in four year's time.

To be continued.....

- Joseph


  1. Joseph - thanks for sharing, brought back some good childhood memories of mine fishing the piers in the Virginia Beach area of VA! I can still smell the shrimp and cutbait that have baked in the sun.

    1. Thank you LQN! I think that piers must smell about the same no matter where you go. That smell sticks with you doesn't it?

  2. I like the way that pier fishing serves as a hub of a small community here, of family, friends and strangers having fun. Nice photo of the snowy, too! Your writing also brings back memories for me of fishing and exploring the Cape Fear region of your state.

    1. Thank you Walt! One of the things I always loved about pier fishing was the sense of community among the regular fishermen, and their willingness to help out someone who didn't have a clue about what was going on.

  3. I have fished ocean piers and remember flat fish schools could be seen flashing through. Sometimes people caught Sting-Rays. I remember people fishing with clam meats. I have seen a lot of the small porpoises too.

    1. I have seen sea turtles, stingrays, sharks, and porpoises along with all kinds of other sea creatures from the piers. One thing I always enjoyed about pier fishing was getting to see all the wildlife.


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