By Guest Blogger Andrea Ropko
My oldest has always been an outdoor enthusiast. When he was days old, and a colicky mess of a baby, all I had to do was step outside and the bloody murder of a scream would cease to exist. Rain, sun, sleet, flurries, we were outside. So it’s no surprise that he gravitates toward sportsman activities that are out of doors. From the months of September through December, if he isn’t on a football field, he’s in a deer stand in Wilkes County. In most warmer months, you can find him on any local pier, at the edge of the surf, or knee deep in a canal, reeling, casting, or meditatively waiting for the subtle tug of the elusive fish bite.
Last summer we were scheduled to try a new experience: a fishing charter with a local boat captain in Oak Island. Hurricane Isaias blew those plans away. The day we were scheduled to head out on the boat, we were among the group of folks being escorted off the island by the National Guard.
When our summer trip rolled around this year, I was determined to try again. We were staying in a house in the Crescent Beach section of North Myrtle Beach. About a month before our arrival, I Googled “fishing charters in North Myrtle Beach” and found Captain Steve’s Ocean Tied Fishing Charters. He had a variety of charters to choose from including: inshore, nearshore, offshore, and deep sea. For our first experience as a family, I knew we were looking for something that would keep us in the calmer waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, while giving us access to opportunities to catch fish that we could take home and eat. Inshore offers exactly what we were looking for as it is described as the “light-tackle” experience fishing in the Intracoastal Waterway, backwater creeks, and estuaries. This was also a four hour adventure, as opposed to a five-hour trip. My teacher-trained bladder felt certain five-hours would be pushing the limits. So I reserved the family-friendly, four hour inshore fishing charter with Captain Steve.
As our fishing excursion approached, my 12 year old asked what time we would have to get up. When I told her we would have a 6am wake-up time, she paused and said, “I guess I’ll just go, if you really need me to go,” which is her polite way of saying, I do NOT want to do that. I gave her an out. My nine year old was less deterred by the morning reveille time, but the inability to leave the boat for four hours gave him pause. I know him pretty well. This was not the year to talk him into the trip. They stayed at the beach house with grandparents, while my husband and I set off with our 14 year old for a four hour tour. (If you’re hearing The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle in your head now, you are not alone.)
Captain Steve met us at the Cherry Grove Marina at 6:50am. For July in South Carolina, it was a perfectly mild morning. Sunny and 65. I almost wished I had a sweatshirt. We were asked to bring bottled water, snacks, and Ziploc gallon bags to bring home the fish we caught. We were also asked to NOT bring bananas–apparently these are bad luck. Captain positioned himself in the middle console of the boat, while we stationed ourselves on the back benches.
Our ride was smooth along the Intracoastal Waterway. Fellow boats, ICW front homes, and the Little River Marina peppered our view as we made our way north. We passed the Big “M” Casino ships docked at Little River marina. These ships offer day and evening gambling cruises. The ships were empty at 7am. (Not at all empty on our way back in at 11am.) We stopped a couple of times to catch live bait, crept through an eerie abandoned marina that, according to Captain Steve and the number of dock slips and standing wooden pylons, must’ve been thriving at some point.
The first spot to fish was a rock jetty somewhere between Cherry Grove Beach and Sunset Beach. We were instructed to cast our lines toward the rocks and promised that trout can frequently be in abundance in that spot. It seemed quite a few charter boats had the same idea, because we were not alone. Captain Steve was helpful when we needed casting assistance or more bait. We caught a few trout for keeping and a number of smaller fish that were released back to the water.
When the nibbles slowed, Captain Steve took us to another spot where he said he had some success the day before: under the Sunset Beach bridge. He suggested to our son that we switch from live shrimp to dead shrimp. Captain Steve definitely knew what he was talking about, because I swear, before the hook hit the water, my son was reeling in the biggest fish he’d caught to date. Red Drum (or red fish).
My concerns that four hours would be too much were relieved. I could not believe it when Captain Steve announced that it was 10:45 and time to head back in. We all agreed we could’ve stayed on that boat the entire day. It was quiet, meditative, and exhilarating when someone caught something. My favorite part, though, was the ride back to Cherry Grove Marina. Captain Steve, of course, obeys the no wake zones, but when he was able to put the pedal to the metal, he did. And I loved it. Now I understand why my dog likes to stick his head out of the car window when we are driving. Breathing in a full, no break, incessant whoosh of salty air was an unexpected and delightful bonus.
When we arrived back at the marina, Captain Steve expertly filleted our fish, which we were able to take home and cook. We all tried to watch closely to pick up some filleting tips. It was the best fish we have ever eaten.
We always look forward to our week at the beach every summer. Looks like a fishing charter is our new must-do activity while we are there.
Thanks, Captain Steve!