Pluff Mud Chronicles

By David Farrow and Charles W. Waring III

David

The morning sun rising over Fort Sumter was shining like a red rubber ball as I stepped from my parents’ home on South Battery, surfboard in hand at 6:20 a.m. that early June morning. I was 15 years old going on 25 as I marched into the dawn. I turned left on Legare Street. I knew everyone in every house. The sun peeked over centuries-old brick walls, early rays spilled through tended lawns, then onto me as I walked past ancient live oaks that spread their roots and limbs and defined the street; I am secure that this day will be a fine one indeed.

 

I leaned the long surfboard against the wrought iron gate as I stood at the doorway of 21 Legare, waiting for my dear friend, Drew Drury. Luckily, he appeared on time, his board in hand and we strolled up Legare Street, took a right onto Tradd, then a left up Meeting to Chalmers Street to wait for the Folly Beach bus that left at 6:38 (or so it was said).

We were early, so we sat on the Fireproof Building’s steps and saw the dug up cobblestones sitting like a redoubt in front of Mr. Batson’s Esso. Up the street, the corner store on Meeting and Queen stirred, providing the needs of the people migrating south from the ramshackle tenement houses in Ansonborough off to work. Carrying our boards amid suspicious stares, we climbed on the 1950s SCE&G bus and began our hour and 15-minute sojourn to Folly Beach, chugging and winding through the rural lanes of James Island through the farm lands of Camp Road.

We got off the bus at the Rexall drug store on Center Street, having passed Morgan’s Red Barn and the bowling alley. We ambled down past the pavilion onto the beach and walked along the surf down to 10th Street. The sun was in full ascension and danced on the sea foam. We could see small crabs and the occasional starfish wash back into the sea. We could taste the tinge of salt as the sun began to fry the baby oil we had slathered all over. My friend, Andrew, would turn brown as a beetle nut. I got third-degree burns.

We reached 10th Street and were met by a group of boys from Saint Andrews (It would be years before it was called West Ashley) and James Island. We were downtown boys in boarding school. It didn’t matter; we were all just surfer dudes. The sand, the Doors blasting by WAPE through tinny transistor radios, girls in plaid two-piece bathing suits, surf boards flying far above the foam-filled waves and flocks of pelicans and sea gulls gliding across a cerulean blue sky afforded every one of us a taste of immortality, an instant where we were all far away from our lives and gliding off into that endless summer ... where we wish we could stay verily unto this day.

Charles

Thank you, David, for taking the surfer out from behind high brick walls South of Broad and pulling him into the glorious waves of Folly. I fear that I was a hopeless surfer boy. Champ Smith tried his best, but I had the kind of balance you would expect from Jackie Gleason tight on a tightrope. My father once surfed in the mid 50s on a heavy mahogany board at the Porcupine Club on Folly Beach and found it good sport, so I was sorry I could not get the whole balance deal. However, like Captain Smith, I liked fishing and ended up spending days and days near Fort Moultrie with a rod and reel in hand.

For the first days I fished during summer vacation, I rarely did much more than pull in crabs hanging to my dead shrimp. Since Dad was playing golf, my mother was in charge of these expeditions. She told me to be persistent. While my sisters made sand castles, I was persistent — whatever the hell that was to an impatient 12 year old. After a few days of visiting my aunt and uncle at the beach, I was thinking this fishing business was hopeless; I even gave a brief thought to giving surfing another try. Then, I met a guy who wore Richard Petty wraparounds and seemed to leave the beach with a few flounder every day.

This fellow explained that I had to use live minnows and drag them near the jetties that still extend up and down that section of the island. My new friend even showed me how to rig the line and told me he had plenty of live minnows I could use. Time after time, the bluefish left nothing but the head on the hook, but I eventually got an enormous strike. It was so big that I soon had a cheering section behind me as I battled something powerful that kept taking line from my Zebco reel. I eventually was able to bring the fish to the surface and we could see it was indeed an exceptional flounder of the doormat variety.

My friend said with a commanding voice to keep the fish out of the rocks. It was a good idea, but someone should have told the dern fish to fight fairly. The beast cut the line on the rocks deep under the water. I was devastated. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up. He told me I was now a real fisherman because I would never forget that one and would keep coming back. It all seemed logical and was good to hear, but I was emotionally raw. The audience had the fish weighed and winning the Trident Tournament; everyone agreed it was better than eight pounds. I was going to look great in the photo holding the fish.

I took my friend’s counsel and mentally bulled my way back into the game. I was skunked until a few days later when I hauled in a feisty two-pound flounder and proudly carried the live fish to the door near my aunt’s kitchen. I told my aunt that I was now persistent; she smiled and gave a nervous laugh as the live fish dripped slime on the doormat. She quickly called for my mother who gave me a hug and explained that I needed to put that fish in a plastic bag to wait for my father to fillet and cook it upon his return from the links. The cleaning and cooking worked out as planned, but it was just the start of my fishing education that summer.

The next day I met Carl McKenna, a retired gent — from what, I never knew — but I did learn that he was a former weightlifter who lived in Mt. Pleasant and like to grow plums. Carl was also a hypnotist and lifelong Lowcountry resident. We met because I saw him fishing on the rocks where I lost the monster flounder and I grabbed my rod and tackle box and ran to greet this large man and see what he was catching.

Carl was a friendly six-four chap with a tan the color of redwood stain that contrasted well with his well-coiffed dark hair and a tattoo from his Navy days. He gave me insight into the wonders of the grub. He fished a variety of colors, but he used that plastic creature more than anything else. He gave me one and we cast and talked for hours; I could not get enough of his tales delivered with a thick Charleston accent. He explained that I needed an open-face Garcia or Penn reel because the closed-face Zebco was problematic. I filed that away for a trip to the sporting goods store the next day. I don’t think we caught anything that first meeting — other than losing tails to the bluefish bite. However, we hit it off, and my angling education was filled with promise. Carl said he would teach me more so that I could one day play a large fish to the net.

Respectable flounder became regular catches, but they never matched that one that got away. I learned a lot more than fishing from my new friend. He told about magnificent sunsets with pretty girls in Florida and how he would walk on the beach and see the sun fall into the same water where he would fish for snook and tarpon and redfish. Carl explained that a real sportsmen used light tackle and he explained why. He told me about a 45-minute fight with a tarpon he landed on six-pound test. He became my angling hero and held a place in the same mental trophy case near Cousin Sonny Waring who killed 25 doves with a box of shells and even missed once.

Boys need heroes and wholesome hobbies that have nothing to do with computers; they should read Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy and all the Archibald Rutledge adventure stories. Our post-modern anti-blood-sport culture turns us against those outdoor pursuits that form our character. We are rightfully concerned about the adults our children meet, but I trust parents will give their lads the opportunities to meet and appreciate the Carl or Sonny or any trusted friend who takes the time to show them the ways of the water and woods. Perhaps, there is something to becoming an angler with listening ears — several of them were the first members of a team that changed the world some 2,000 years ago. There is always hope for a fisherman.

 

If you have a legend for us to uncover or a historical quirky point you wish for us to address, please send same to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, please email David Farrow at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.