MOUNT PLEASANT - "Jiggin" Jerry is the Pied Piper of the Mount Pleasant pier.
Jerry, whose real name is Gerald Granier, has become the unofficial fishing guide at the area's hottest new spot for catching fish. Regulars and newbies gravitate to him for the inside scoop on fishing the lengthy structure tucked beneath the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
The Mount Pleasant pier has become a major attraction for local anglers since opening in 2009, primarily because of the great fishing, views and atmosphere. But pier employees and visitors say Granier has something to do with its success.
"He doesn't work here, but he might as well some days with all he's doing out here. He's been a great ambassador for us," pier manager Chris Pounder said.
"He started out keeping to himself, but people noticed him catching fish and started talking to him. Now he's volunteering his time. He's worked with senior groups and special needs kids. It's what he really likes doing."
Granier, who has a series of fishing videos on YouTube, jumps at every opportunity to help people on the pier. From making sure they are using the proper bait and rig to identifying the fish they've hooked, Granier is there to help. "It's what I like to do," said Granier, 45, who averages three days a week fishing the pier. "I get just as excited seeing you catch a fish as me catching a fish."
The idea of a fishing pier was born when construction began to replace the Grace and Pearman bridges connecting Charleston and Mount Pleasant. Mount Pleasant town administrator Eric DeMoura said an appeal was made to the S.C. Department of Transportation to obtain use of the land where the old bridges were located on the East Cooper side of the river.
"We had visions of a park and DOT said they would be happy to work with us. The only real restriction was that we couldn't build anything that would in any way endanger or infringe on the maintenance of the new bridge," DeMoura said.
The 14-acre Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park includes the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Center, a visitor center, a war memorial, a playground and a 1,250-foot pier that extends into Charleston Harbor near the confluence of the Cooper and Wando rivers. The pier is managed by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.
Pilings that supported the Grace Bridge are the foundation for the Mount Pleasant Pier. Water and electricity were run to the end where there is a 90-foot by 90-foot section often used for special events.
The total cost of the pier was about $2.5 million, DeMoura said, which included $1.6 million to help with deconstruction of the old bridge. DeMoura said there have been requests to use the pier for docking boats or as a kayak launch, but because of strong currents those aren't feasible.
The pier was envisioned as a passive recreational site, a place where residents and visitors could walk, jog or bike and enjoy the views that include downtown Charleston, Patriots Point, the large ships passing nearby and nature. There are three shelters with swings.
Almost 700,000 people, including 45,716 fishermen, have visited the pier since it opened.
"If fishing didn't work out, it wouldn't have mattered," DeMoura said.
Any doubts about the pier being a successful fishing spot have been erased with anglers hauling in plenty of trophy catches. Pier records include a 13-pound sheepshead; a 4-pound, 9-ounce spotted seatrout; and a flounder weighing 7 pounds, 6 ounces.
Pier fishermen also catch their share of red drum, whiting, croaker, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, black drum and cobia. Granier has hooked two tarpon, but both managed to get away.
He said it's unlikely anyone will land a tarpon because of the tight confines between the pier and bridge and the broken concrete and rebar in the water.
Rubble left behind from the demolition of the old bridge helps to attract fish but also results in lots of rigs getting hung up and cut off, something pier regulars caution visitors about. Fish can be caught year-round, but spring and fall are the optimum seasons.
Granier said he had no doubt the pier would be a good spot for fishing.
"I fished right around here, all of this, in a canoe or little john boat," said Granier, a former Mount Pleasant resident who now lives in Round O. "This is a flat, what I call true inshore fishing. You have your flounder, your trout, your reds, your whiting, most all of the inshore gamefish. This is where they come in chasing food going into the marshes."
Mount Pleasant resident Steve Gaddy, a father of five children, is a regular on the pier. His three younger boys - Tyler and Brandon, both 11, and 7-year-old Logan - usually accompany him. Father and sons have won several fishing tournaments at the pier.
"I grew up in Missouri freshwater fishing and moved to Charleston 15 years ago," Gaddy said. "I didn't saltwater fish until the pier opened. We went out a few times to some other places but it wasn't a good, wholesome environment for kids to be around."
Eileen Urrutia, a West Ashley resident, said she tries to fish three or four days a week on the pier. She loads up her pier cart with five fishing rods each time.
"First of all, you can't have a bad day here," Urrutia said. "Everybody is so friendly, so nice, so willing to help.
"The first time I came here, my rod was actually a pink Barbie rod."
She said pier employees, along with helpful people like Granier, have helped her learn the nuances of fishing the pier. Her largest red drum measured 36 inches and she has landed a 17-inch flounder. Her experiences have inspired her to write a poem about the pier, which ends with the line:
"You'll find your own reasons to come to the pier; you'll find your own reasons to love it here."