Like many of us, I grew up making an annual trek to the beach with my family.
Of course, to “transplants,” that doesn’t exactly pinpoint the vacation destination, but to all of us old-time “sandlappers,” that can mean only one place: South Carolina’s Grand Strand.
During the days of my youth, I knew this trip meant a night or two on the amusement-park rides of Myrtle Beach’s Pavilion, a foot-long hot dog at Peach’s Corner across from Ripley’s, crabbing with chicken necks for bait, fishing every afternoon on the Garden City pier, and a new heat-transfer T-shirt of whatever movie was the big blockbuster of that summer or the latest slogan or fad.
I vividly recall my bright yellow “Keep on truckin’ ” shirt from 1974, my sea-blue “Jaws” shirt in ’75 and my black Darth Vader one in ’77. Still, it was the magical days that I spent on the pier with rod and reel in hand that stand out in my mind the most.
At home, I knew that if I were fortunate enough to catch a fish in the lake behind our house, it was more than likely going to be a large-smouth bass.
But fishing at the beach?
That opened the door to dreams of catching species of fish I had never seen outside an encyclopedia, a copy of “Saltwater Sportsman” or a television program.
Like most boys, I was fascinated with sharks, and that almost got me in a bit of trouble back then. You see, specifically targeting sharks was illegal on the pier.
In those days, most kids had their first run-in with the law over a six-pack of beer or speeding. Mine involved large, stainless hooks with wire leaders and bloody chum tossed from the far end of the pier.
After a good scolding and a little help from a former Clover police officer that just happened on the scene, I escaped that little run-in with the boys in blue.
I’m very much a traditionalist. I’ve never been one to embrace change, but as we all know, it’s inevitable.
During my 46 years, I know that our state has seen its share of it, and at no place is this more obvious than our beaches.
Maybe it’s because I just can’t accept the fact that I’m getting older, but I find that today’s version of a beach vacation is downright offensive to me.
Those rides at the Pavilion are gone. Some of the great crabbing locations are now condominiums, and I can’t remember the last time I saw someone selling those shirts we loved so much.
Tents that provide a little protection from the harsh summer sun have been outlawed on most of the Grand Strand, and even those that choose the route of surf fishing are finding out that they can be charged if they get in the way of a few Canadians looking to take a dip in the cool waters of the surf.
At least one can still find great joy in trying their luck on one of the many piers that dot the coast, and I highly recommend it.
The angler that I am today is a far cry from the one I was back in those early days of my life, when I spent so much of my beach vacations pier fishing. As a youngster, I was convinced that the farthest point on that pier had to be the most productive spot.
Even today, I get a chuckle out of just how many people crowd that area with their rods going every direction as they’re flailing about in an attempt to make a cast that will go even further into the Atlantic. Not one of them understands that 90 percent of the fish, such as redfish, croaker, flounder and whiting, are behind them, all the way back at the breakers.
Here’s how that works.
As the surf breaks and rolls along the shoreline, crabs, sandfleas, shrimp and other natural bait are pulled outward along the sandy ocean floor. This makes that point where the waves start to turn over the perfect spot for your hook-impaled offering, as these fish lie in wait for an ambush.
Now that I’ve given up that great secret to pier-fishing success, I hope you’ll give it a try if you find yourself vacationing along the coast this summer.
The truth is, whether you catch a lot of fish or not, the memories to be made along those old wooden planks are priceless.
I know I wouldn’t take a million bucks for mine, and as I’m hanging out down here this week, I may just have to slip out there and make a few more.
Grand Strand fishing• Apache Campground Pier: Lake Arrowhead Road, Myrtle Beach. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Walking fee, $1. Fishing pass, $7.50 for two rods. 843-497-6486.
• Cherry Grove Beach Pier: 3500 N. Ocean Blvd., North Myrtle Beach. Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Walking fee, $1, and fishing pass, $8 per rod. 843-249-1625.
• Myrtle Beach State Park Pier: Three miles south of Myrtle Beach on U.S. 17. Pier open during park hours, 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tackle shop open 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Pier pass, $4.50. Free to walk on pier with $4 park admission (16 or older), free for ages 5 and younger; $1.50 for ages 6 to 15; S.C. residents 65 and older, $2.60. 843-238-5326.
• 14 Ave. Pier: 1304 N. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach. Open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Free to walk. Fishing pass, $6, or $3 for locals with identification. 843-448-4314.
• The Pier at Garden City: 110 Waccamaw Drive, Garden City Beach. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Free to walk. Fishing, $7.50 ages 13 and older, and $3.75 for ages 12 and younger. 843-651-9700.
• Second Avenue Pier: 110 N. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; may stay open a little later on the weekends. Walking fee, 50 cents; fishing pass, $7. 843-626-8480.
• Springmaid Pier: 3200 Springmaid Blvd., Myrtle Beach. Open 6 a.m. to midnight. Tackle shop open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Walking fee, $1, and free to walk if staying at Springmaid; $7 per day to fish. Discount on fishing for staying at Springmaid. 843-315-7156.
• Surfside Pier: Surfside Drive, Surfside Beach. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tackle shop, arcade ice cream shop open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Walking fee, $1; $7.50 to fish. 834-238-0121.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer from Clover. Follow him on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.