Isle of Palms Pier
by John Kirkland
Sea Cabins condominiums, located next door to the Isle of Palms Beach Park, have access to a private pier. We stayed at Sea Cabins, and I took full advantage of that access. September fishing there can be exciting, and when shoals of finger mullet breeze past the pier, a variety of species can be caught in the shallow water. Trout, redfish, bluefish, and plenty of sharks pound the baitfish. Dolphin pods come close as well–concentrating the various species close to shore.
In the middle of the week I was there, I was out at around 5 PM. I caught a six inch whiting on shrimp, hooked him live, through the tail, and cast him out on a wire leader, one ounce weight, and 30 lb test on a 7 foot pole. This method had caught a decent bluefish and a very small shark the day before, but I was hunting for the redfish (spottail bass) that had been cruising the shallows recently.
Suddenly, the reel began moving. I picked up the rig, and began to reel a bit–then the line started screaming off the reel! 90 yards of line peeled off in a few seconds, while I held on tight, ready to start reeling at the first break. The fish stopped, and I tried to reel–might as well have been hooked to an anchor. The fish took of again briefly, then I figured out how to use the pier to my advantage.
By walking backwards, slowly, I was able to slowly pull the fish toward me. Then I would quickly reel in the slack as I walked back to the end of the pier. This slow, labored dance went on for about 15 minutes. I figured it was a shark, but I wasn’t sure, and I had become anxious to see what was on the line.
Finally, as I reeled the fish in close to the end of the pier, a long, narrow fin/tail/something appeared near the surface. I wasn’t sure what that thing was, but a moment later the body of a black tip shark, wrapped up in the line, came to the surface–before making another short run. The shark was clearly too big to land on the pier, so I began pulling him around the end, and down the side, slowly, trying to get him toward the beach.
By now, everyone who had been taking a leisurely stroll on the beach had stopped to see what the guy on the pier was battling. About fifty people waited a the water’s edge at the base of the pier, video cameras and cell phones snapping pictures. There was excitement, and exclamations about never swimming in the water again.
I wasn’t sure how I was actually going to land this shark; I figured I would tie off the pole on the pier, then run down to the beach and pull him in by hand. A guy standing below appeared ready to grab the fish and help. Just as I got the shark in ankle-deep water, he gave one last twist, threw the hook, an took off. I was kind of glad, in a way, that he got away. Because he got so close, we were able to get a good read on his length and girth–approximately 4 feet in body length, and close to 6 feet overall with the long tail. Later research on similar black tip catches suggest that he weighed between 60 and 70 pounds, and he felt every ounce of that to me.
This was clearly the largest fish I have ever battled, and I’ll never forget it. I caught other fish on the pier that week, and even chartered a boat to fish the salt marshes, but nothing came close to my shark experience on the pier.