by Donna Byrd
There’s something magical about a fishing pier. One of my first memories of the beach was standing on a pier with my grandparents. I believe we stayed in a small motel next to the pier. It was a place that mostly fishermen stayed and it wasn’t at all fancy.
I remember we arrived as the sun was setting and after we were settled in the room and had dinner, Grandmother and I walked out onto the pier with Granddaddy. His plan was to find a lucky spot and fish there all night while Grandmother’s and mine was to take a walk to the end of the pier and go back to the air conditioned room to sleep and dream the night away.
Walking to the end of the pier, I recall us looking out into the dark, starry night and staring into the black ocean. I was almost dizzy with the thought that only a railing and a walkway of planked boards came between me and the deep sea. The cracks between the boards seemed like huge crevices and I wondered suddenly if I might be too skinny (people were always saying I was nothing but “skin and bones”) and slip though, right into the ocean’s depths. What sea monsters were circling about under the dark swells waiting for me to join them? I held tightly onto my grandmother’s hand as we headed back down the “planked walkway.”
As I got older, I can remember actually fishing on piers with my dad and brothers. The nearest pier would be one of the first places we’d head to after we had settled into our hotel or beach cottage. As children, we’d put on our shoes to keep from stepping on dreaded fishing hooks and walk with reverence onto the pier. The adults told us to be quiet so we wouldn’t disturb the other fishermen and scare away the fish. I was still fascinated by the cracks between the boards. We would drop small shells through them to see how long they took to hit the water and sometimes, we’d just spit. As kids, the thought of our spit mingling in with the salty water of the ocean made our imaginations go wild as we wondered if our spit would travel across the sea to a foreign shore. To me, it wasn’t about the fishing, it was about being on boards jutting out over the mystical ocean.
It’s been ages since I’ve visited a fishing pier but this week, I thought I’d visit the one that is closest to me. This is the summer, after all, that I’m being a tourist in my own “backyard” so I decided that I’d visit the SeaView Fishing Pier on North Topsail Beach. This is the pier that is near my cousin Linda’s beach house and I walk under it every time I walk on the beach. Each time I do, I stop and stare at it’s wooden pilings and “pier” architecture. It’s absolutely stunning to stand underneath it and look out towards the waves breaking on it. Bill and I call it our “Cathedral by the Sea.” It looks like the wooden beams that frame the inside of an old church and we always stop and thank God for allowing us to live near something so beautiful.
I had seen the underside of the pier and decided it was high time to visit the top and walk down its planks. When Bill and I pulled up into its parking lot, I realized it was much more than that. There was a two storied building that looked looked like it belonged on the set of a movie based on an iconic east coast fishing village. Plus, there was a two storied little motel next to the pier that was named “The SeaView Fishing Pier Motel.” Why hadn’t I seen it before? It was much like the pier and motel that I had stayed in as a child with my grandparents. Perfect!
I looked back over to the pier building.The bottom floor was a bait and tackle shop. We stepped into it first and met Earl, the guy behind the counter. He proudly told us that they sold everything to meet your beach and fishing needs. (You can pay to park there in the summer if you’d like to use their beach access.) As far as fishing needs go, Earl said, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” I looked around and saw that there were many coolers with fresh bait inside (I couldn’t bear looking inside them) and a wall full of lures and tackle. I was impressed with the sign on the wall that boasted of having the largest bloodworms in the state. Who knew?
I love employees who take pride in their place of work. Earl was like that. He gave us a bit of the SeaView pier’s history and even showed us pictures from a well-worn book about North Carolina’s fishing piers. The pier was built in 1984 but destroyed in March of 1993 during the “Storm of the Century.” It was rebuilt and opened again in 1999. Greg Ludlum bought it in 2000 and has since been the owner. According to the materials I’ve read, Mr. Ludlum has a passion for piers and it was a life-long dream of his to own one. He knows that many piers are being destroyed because the land associated with them is worth more money without the pier and can be used for ocean front housing. He hopes to preserve the joy of what it means to fish on a pier. Most people don’t have their own docks or oceanfront places to fish.
SeaView Fishing Pier is known for its excellent King Mackerel and bottom fishing. It’s open 24/7 and people seem to be fishing there all the time. We asked Earl if the fish were biting much that week and he said, “Ain’t nothing much biting in this heat. Ever so often people are catching whatever’s out there that will bite. Nighttime’s better.” We appreciated his truth and with smiles on our faces, decided to go upstairs to the restaurant for lunch.
Now, I have to say, the restaurant wasn’t fancy. After all, it IS a pier restaurant with a slightly “hole in the wall” feel, which to me, is what it should feel like. Sort of like a greasy spoon. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it’s said that they have the best cheeseburgers and hot dogs at the beach. Somebody said “the chili is what makes them good.” We couldn’t believe we’d been in the area for almost five years and had never been there.
We ordered cheeseburgers and fries and while we waited, chatted a bit with the cook. He told us that they would fry or cook to your liking any fish you caught and cleaned there. “You catch and clean ‘em and we’ll cook ‘em.” I thought that was a great idea. It made me wish that I was a fisherwoman. I made a mental note: “Buy fishing rods and begin fishing in the fall.” That would give me enough time to read up on fishing skills.
The cheeseburgers and fries were absolutely wonderful. They were right. The best on the beach! Next time we wanted a good burger and a beach vibe, we knew where to go! Bill paid for the meal and asked how much it would cost to walk out on the pier. It was $1.00 each and we thought it would be a cheap adventure for two non-fishermen.
The pier boasts of being over 1,000 feet long, which is a status that any pier owner or pier aficionado would be proud of. Over 875 feet of planks are actually over the water, making it the longest pier on the North Carolina coast.
The afternoon was hot and muggy and I figured the fish were out away from the shore in the deeper water keeping cool. Most of the die-hards on the pier seemed half asleep under their umbrellas. Stopping several times to stare out over the water, I looked for sharks, but all I saw were a dozen or so jellyfish bobbing in the sea green waters and one rather large crab, swimming his sideways crabby swim as if he were trying to get away from something bigger than he was.
The end of the pier widened into a large deck-like area. There was a round tank there to store live bait and I thought of how every parent with a child on the pier would have to keep them away from its cool luring water. I looked down and noticed that there were still cracks between the planks, some of them big enough to drop small objects through and yes, wide enough to spit through. I looked around and made sure no one was looking and squatted down to spit through the slat, just like a child would do. My spit got carried a little off center by the breeze but it landed a few seconds later into the endless sea. My DNA was mixed with the DNA and makeup of the present and the ancient past in that water and somehow, that made me feel happy. I also realized then, that piers were really for the child in all of us. We were walking the planks to get that special feeling of being out over the ocean without having to fear the deep waters and the sea monsters that lived in it. We could look down from our high perch and wonder at the sea’s vastness and our little spot above it. It was a delicious feeling and one that seemed to put me and my world in perspective.
We walked back slowly down the planks and I decided that the night view would be fabulous and we’d have to take a midnight stroll down the pier one night before it got too cool. I mentioned to Bill that we should take up fishing. I liked the feeling of being on the pier and the owner Mr. Ludlum’s, sentiment was right. There’s just something special about a pier. Maybe Earl could show us some of the rods and reels in the Bait and Tackle Shop.
Find SeaView Fishing Pier on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/SeaViewFishingPier
Address: 124 Fishing Pier Lane
North Topsail Beach,
North Carolina 28460