- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) - Franklin Cook’s annual relocation to Apache Pier isn’t quite a vacation. A pilgrimage, though, isn’t far off the mark. On Sundays, he’ll put his rod down to attend a church service on the pier, a few hundred yards away.

Between November and April, Cook spends his time at a campsite in Florence.

“It’s a long winter,” he said. “So what you do is take pictures in the summertime and pull them out in January. And then, start counting the days down.”

Come May, he’s at the beach. He’s been making the trip for about 10 years.

“I felt at home around salt water, around the docks,” he said. “Maybe I was a fisherman in another life. It’s just in your genes. And you’re drawn to it. I like the kinds of fish you catch, the thrashing of the waves, the birds.”

For Cook, who’s seen hard times in the past, the pier provides a community and a reason to get up at the crack of dawn. On one of the East Coast’s biggest wooden piers, where fishing areas are roped off, rented out and implicitly claimed, Cook found a space of his own.

He calls it time-sharing: after all, his extended pier pass gives him a right to be there during the hours it’s open.

The regular fishermen - and they’re mostly men - will share ice for fish and snack crumbs for the regular birds. Sunrises and fish photos, mostly of ones others have caught, fill Cook’s phone. He’ll lend a rod or a piece of advice to other fishermen, whether asked for or not.

“Some people like to golf; some people like to go bowling,” he said. “Out here, most everybody knows everybody. It’s a gathering. And it’s about the gathering. There’s not a lot of fish being caught, as far as the big king mackerels.”

Cook almost exclusively uses cut up straws as lures. Red-and-white coffee stirrers, party straws, or Christmas-themed candycane straws do the trick. Black straws are for good luck.

He carries most of his belongings in plastic storage boxes on the back of his bicycle. Fishing rods and tackle goes there, too.

“You just got to learn to be happy with less,” he said. “Once you do that, you’ll be happy with yourself.”

The consistency of the wooden pier, Cook said, suggests little about the ever-changing scene below.

“You could go to the same place every day, and it’s never the same,” he said. “The sky; the people. The color of the water, the shape of the water, the texture — every day is as different as a fingerprint. I couldn’t imagine living in Kansas.”

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Information from: Morning News, https://www.scnow.com

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