- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

EMERALD ISLE, N.C. — Pick a pier, any pier: Each of the more than 20 fishing structures that extend hundreds of feet from the North Carolina coast from Kill Devil Hills to Sunset Beach shows the diversity of anglers and their prey.

“You can see the different classes of fishermen as you look along the pier,” says Emerald Isle fishing guide Richard Ehrenkaufer, who publishes a Web guide to pier fishing under the pseudonym “Dr. Bogus” at www.drbogus.com.

“The spot and flounder fishermen are in close. A little farther out, you get the bluefish and Spanish mackerel, and at the end, you get the big-game fishermen,” Mr. Ehrenkaufer says. “I’ve seen a 150-pound tarpon caught off the end of a fishing pier.”

For many, a trip to the pier stirs memories of a first fishing trip with Dad or other relatives, when they gazed through the boards at the ocean below or held the rod as a struggling fish was hauled up. To Mr. Ehrenkaufer’s way of thinking, the piers offer an “average Joe” experience for everyone — from game-fish anglers to wheelchair-bound fishermen.

On a recent day at 1,000-foot-long Bogue Inlet Pier, equipment ranged from discount-store rod-and-reel sets to specialized surf gear hauled in special carts with cooler racks and bait-cutting boards.

Mike Stanley, whose family has owned the pier since 1971, says an average summer day draws about 200 paying customers, while the busy fall season can bring crowds of 500 or more.

For folks who love to fish but lack the resources to buy or charter a boat, piers are the way to go, he says. “Everybody gets access to be able to walk over the water. Boats are good because you can go to the fish if you know where they’re at. The pier is like a conveyor belt, and you try to pick what’s on the belt.”

For many beachgoers, a day on the pier is the best kind of vacation.

“Everybody talks about coming to the fishing pier,” says Clara Flowers of Kingston, N.C., as she sits on a bench at Bogue Inlet Pier, her rod propped on the railing as she waits for a bite. “It’s worth the drive to get away and relax.”

Miss Flowers gets nostalgic as she remembers a day at Bogue Inlet that was so good, she was “pulling them in two at a time.”

Regular Dale Collins says he enjoys the camaraderie among the pier anglers and that he turned down a chance to go out in a boat this day. “When the fishing’s good inshore (within three miles of shore), you stand as good a chance as fellows on a boat,” Mr. Collins says.

Many piers charge a modest permit fee for anglers but are free to those who just want to take a stroll or snap a family picture. Nearly all sell food, drinks, fishing gear and bait, and there’s almost always someone willing to help a novice looking for advice on technique. For those family members not interested in landing fish, the beach is close.

Piers are “popular culture in North Carolina because they’ve been around for decades,” Mr. Ehrenkaufer says. “You can fish for anything from pan fish right in the surf all the way to game fish at the end of the pier.”

Mr. Ehrenkaufer says he worries that the days of fishing piers are numbered, as coastal development makes the land they occupy so valuable that owners have little choice but to sell. Before 1996, there were as many as 31 piers along the North Carolina coast, he says. Storm damage and developers’ high-dollar offers have shrunk the number; along Bogue Banks alone, at least three piers have come down in the past decade.

Mr. Stanley says he is concerned that a new saltwater fishing license being created by the state will require anyone who wants to fish from a pier to pay a license fee, driving down business. He says the only way he sees the new system working is if pier owners are allowed to pay a one-time license fee that will cover all their customers and that they can recover through admission fees.

At the end of the pier, Mr. Collins rinses a bait bucket attached to a long rope and laments that his only catch of the day so far is a flounder too small to keep. He brightens, though, recalling the day he paid an extra charge to go to the special section of the pier where fishermen get more room to battle game fish and landed a 43-pound cobia.

Asked how often he comes to the pier, he has an easy response: Any day “that my wife doesn’t have anything planned for me.”

• • •

• For a state-by-state list of fishing piers, go to www.fishingpiers.com.

North Carolina fishing guides: Visit www.nccoastalfishing.com and www.outerbanksfishing.com for tips, weather information, charters and more.

Some North Carolina fishing piers:

• Oceanana Fishing Pier, Fort Maken Road, Atlantic Beach; 252/726-0863.

• Carolina Beach Fishing Pier, 1810 Canal Drive, Carolina Beach; 910/458-5518.

• Bogue Inlet Pier, Bogue Inlet Drive, Emerald Isle; 252/354-2919.

• Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier, 54221 Cape Hatteras Pier Drive, Frisco; 252/986-2533.

• Surf City Ocean Pier, 114 S. Shore Drive, Holly Ridge; 910/328-3521.

• Avalon Fishing Pier, 2111 Beach Road, Kill Devil Hills; 252/441-7494.

• Kitty Hawk Pier, Kitty Hawk; 252/261-2772.

• Kure Pier, K and Fourth avenues, Kure Beach; 910/458-5524.

• Jennette’s Fishing Pier, 7223 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head; 252/441-7245.

• Outer Banks Pier & Fishing Center, 8901 S. Old Oregon Inlet Road, Nags Head; 252/441-5740.

• Nags Head Fishing Pier, 3335 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head; 252/441-5141.

• Long Beach Pier, 2729 W. Beach Drive, Oak Island; 910/278-5962.

• Ocean Crest Fishing Pier, 1409 E. Beach Drive, Oak Island; 910/278-6674.

• Hatteras Island Fishing Pier, Rodanthe; 252/987-2323.

• Holden Beach Fishing Pier, 441 Ocean Boulevard West, Supply; 910/842-6483.

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