New reef a memorial to fishermen


Edward C. Fennell

Those who fish offshore share a special bond. There’s a love of solitude that’s coupled with friendship and fellowship that runs as deep and true as the blue water on which their boats sit bobbing, waiting for the next fish to strike.

Steve Leasure’s dad first took him offshore at age 16. He was hooked immediately, and his love of being disconnected from land and its troubles remains strong even 30 years later.

When Leasure’s best friend, Tony Smoak, died at 43 in 2008, he felt a little adrift. They were high school friends who did everything together. Their boats were tied up, side by side, at Ripley Light Marina. A short time later, another fishing friend, Robbie Johnson, lost a battle with cancer. He also was in his 40s.

Bit by bit, Leasure was losing friends much too early. They all shared that love of leaving the safety of the harbor for the open ocean. The spray of salt across the bow. The sense of anticipation as live bait was dropped into deep water.

Because of those losses, Leasure made a decision to get involved with something bigger than the next fishing trip.

That was five years ago, and it soon will culminate in the South Carolina Memorial Reef.

Two and a half hours from Charleston is a place that’s being groomed for something special. It’s a fishing spot that will be created for two purposes. One is to establish one of the nation’s deepest artificial reefs. The other is to provide a place to honor and memorialize all offshore fishermen.

Leasure thinks it is the perfect marriage. The new reef will attract fish, and it will be a spot where those who love this way of life can be reunited with others as their ashes are deposited near each other.

Leasure already has his own service laid out in his mind and has communicated those wishes to his wife, Denise. He’d like loved ones and friends to hold a brief service on the boat. After his ashes are tossed overboard, if the weather’s nice, he wants everybody to grab a pole and start fishing. (I suggested he might start fishing for a minister right now who doesn’t get seasick and wouldn’t mind the five- hour round trip.)

As for the reef itself? After five years of fundraising and planning, the project is about 80 percent complete.

A partner in the effort, Stevens Towing, will assist in delivering two 260-foot barges to the designated area in just a few weeks. Materials that will be off-loaded include containers, a truck chassis, a crane, a radio tower and dredge pipes. The massive pieces are all welded or connected together. It’s an immediate fish housing subdivision that will drop to the bottom in 350 feet of water.

A Blessing of the Reef is scheduled in July, and fishing will start above the reef in August.

Juvenile fish will begin to gather around the structure immediately. Within hours, new fish will find a new home. As the food chain starts to build, this new habitat will serve to spawn and repopulate an area that will make it an even more fertile fishing ground.

Leasure’s love of the ocean is shared by a vast number of other offshore brethren.

Creating one of the nation’s deepest artificial reefs is just part of the equation. Creating a place where they all can remain spiritually connected is equally important.

He just hopes that everybody who decides to come to his final service also is interested in dropping a line in the water.

Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or