The Folly Beach Fishing Pier is a mecca for a diverse group of Lowcountry pier fisherman. The pier is 1,045 feet long and, at the end during high tide, the water is 25 feet deep. Joey Crawford, the operations manager for the Folly Beach County Park, discusses what makes this pier unique: “One thing about this pier that sets it apart is that it’s free to walk on. You can fish all day after buying a five-dollar wristband and you don’t need a DNR license. We also provide drop nets to help get the fish up to the pier. We are all about customer service. You can rent rods for ten dollars and buy tubs of bait, ice cream and snow globes all in the same place!”
Among a litany of other tasks, Crawford puts on the fishing tournaments (one of which is coming up on August 31), keeps the fishing board updated and builds relationships with anglers and visitors. “Some of these regulars crush more hours than we do!” He laughs. “They are the biggest ambassadors for the pier. They talk to the tourists and show others how to catch fish. After all, they can’t hide their fishing spots!”
Crawford fishes the pier when he gets a chance and has also fished the waters of North Carolina, Florida and the Louisiana bayous. “A lot of the fish you catch are the same, but every island up and down the East Coast has its own personality,” he explains.
“You have two types of fishing on this pier. In the shallows or surf, they catch drum, trout and whiting. On the end, they catch tarpon, Spanish, kings, jacks and bluefish. Up and down the pier, you can catch pompano,” Crawford notes.
One day this year, fishermen caught 30 Spanish mackerel in the same day, all in the three-to-five pound range,” says Joey. This past fall, 12 kings were caught in the same day. “To keep it organized on the end,” he continues, “you have to use trolley rigs on the end. This allows us to maximize the most lines out there without getting tangled and causing a cluster.”
Tim Crosby of James Island grew up working for his family at Crosby’s Fish & Shrimp Company. For the past 11 years, he has been pier fishing regularly. “I started coming out here with Michael Johnson, a buddy of mine. Really for me, it’s about convenience — not having to put your boat in and out. When you’re in the boat, you’re trying to hide from people, so they don’t see what you’re doing. Out here, it’s all out in the open. “I’ve made a bunch of friends on this pier. You get to meet a lot of people out here.”
For Tim, the timing of his trips is mostly tide-based, though he often has fished from 6:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. “I like the incoming tide. But last night on the outgoing tide, I still caught decent fish: under-slot spottail bass, trout and black drum. Today, I caught a trout that’s a keeper and missed an 18-inch spottail.” Tim recently landed a 29-pound king mackerel, which has his name on the board; the pier record is a 44-pound king. Last fall, his girlfriend Ali caught a 38-inch spottail bass off the end of the pier.
Like many regulars, Crosby uses a pier rod holder that clamps to the rail and allows your rod to rest in a more horizontal-leaning position. “When you’re fishing by the pilings, you have to lay your rod down on the deck with the tip over the railing or lay it on a bench over the railing.” He finds the mounted rod holders to “put your line vertical with your rod tip; they work, but I’ve just seen too many people lose fish because of that — and I don’t like to lose fish.
On my trip to the pier, Sonny Bugarin landed a 17-inch sheepshead. Park employee Philip Waltz, who was fishing on his day off, helped work the drop net. “I swear he’s using crack cocaine for bait,” Philip laughed.
“I thought it was a black drum at first,” Sonny remarked. “Hey, I’m having a great day! That fish is worth at least four tacos!” Sonny retired after 32 years at Bosch and has been fishing the pier since it opened in 1995. He once fished the pier every day for six months. “I had a boat, but I got rid of it; this is cheaper! You can’t beat being at the beach and it’s a challenge,” he adds. “My sons fished here with me when they were little and my grandson Sawyer is on the board now for catching a two-pound, 10-ounce black drum. “
As an accomplished pier fisherman, Sonny feels an obligation to share his knowledge. “I come out here and teach kids how to fish. The park staff tells everybody to go find Sonny. I like to show them techniques so they’re better equipped next time. About five years ago, I helped a kid from Georgia and he caught a fish that got his name on the board. He and his family contact me when they’re coming down and we fish together,” he says.
“We want to do what we can to keep this hobby alive,” Philip adds.
Bugarin doesn’t just look out for fellow anglers, but also inexperienced swimmers who have gone too far out. “I have also saved a lot of lives out there — after the lifeguards have gone for the day. In the last couple of years, I have probably thrown the life ring four or five times. The pier creates a big eddy with a lot of suction,” he explains.
“When you’re up against the ocean, the ocean is usually going to win,” Waltz cautions.
“Even when you’re fishing, you keep an eye out; it’s just the right thing to do,” Sonny reflects. “We have shark sightings, too. You’ll see them idle at the edge of the rip current. We’ll notify the park staff and they’ll come out and confirm and then close the beach.”
Philip Waltz fishes the pier three or four times a week. “If I’m not targeting kingfish and Spanish on the end, I’m fishing in the surf where there’s more bait and oxygen. You want to get right behind the breakers,” he says.
Philip discusses tackle. “We fish with Carolina rigs. Two ounces is about as heavy as we go with a one-foot to 18-inch fluorocarbon leader, which is more abrasion-resistant and invisible. I fish mostly with fresh shrimp or live shrimp; that way, it’s more natural and you can eat what you don’t use for bait. We like to use 1/0 circle hooks.” Besides the popular species, Philip has landed rare fish such as the sand drum and stargazer.
“With the technology of the rods, lines and tackle, you can now catch bigger fish with smaller gear,” Bugarin explains.
The friendly competition among pier fishermen becomes more intense during the fun tournaments, Joey Crawford points out. “At 5:00 a.m. on the day of the tournament, the cars will be lined up. You’ll see a woman in full makeup with all of her gear and ready to fish. We might have 100 people. At our last tournament, a teenager caught a Spanish, the winning fish, with five minutes left.”
In the near future, the 25-year-old Folly Beach Fishing Pier will close so that it may be rebuilt. Crawford tells us that the new structure will be complete as soon as possible and work will be scheduled so as to minimize closure during peak seasons. The pilings will be concrete and the pier will include sun shelters. But above all, Joey reminds us, “the new pier will definitely have that Folly-feel!”
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.