LITTLE RIVER, SC (WMBF) – Little River is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise - whether you want to enjoy deep sea fishing, casting your rod along the intracoastal, water sports or fresh seafood, the docks in Little River are a stop on the Grand Strand you don't want to miss.
"I remember the first shark I caught growing up, I was probably 3 years old," said Captain Patrick Kelly, who has been on the water in the Grand Strand for most of his life. "I can come out here and relax. It's hard not to relax when you're surrounded by nature at its finest: beautiful blue skies and soaring birds, while waiting for something to bite your line."
This tranquility is why Kelly decided 13 years ago to make a profession out of it. He traveled around the world but said there was only one place he thought of when he started Captain Smiley Fishing Charters: home.
"The Grand Strand is awesome, I love it here," he said. "It's seasonal, which I really like. I love to travel, so I have time off in the wintertime to pursue other things, but there's good people, that's the main thing."
Kelly takes passengers on inshore charters, fishing along the river, intracoastal and many different inlets that make up this area of the Grand Strand. He caters to a lot of tourists, but also locals who want to get out on the water.
"A lot of people who move down here, retirees interested in fishing, not familiar with the area, I teach them techniques to catch fish here, also show them the water, show them the ropes," Kelly said.
WMBF News' Paula Caruso tried her hand at fishing under Kelly's instruction.
"That was great for your first cast, that was awesome!" he said to WMBF News' latest natural-born fisher.
There are certain fish Kelly targets: red fish, flounder, speckled trout, but he says you can keep whatever you catch as long as it meets DNR regulations.
You can also have the fish cleaned and filleted right on the dock, and if you don't feel like cooking, there's no better place to bring your catch than one of the best seafood restaurants on the grand strand: Captain Juel's.
"It is the oldest restaurant on the Grand Strand, opened in 1945 by Frank and Mary Juel, Chef Robertson and myself has it now," said owner Deanna Robertson.
More than 60 years after it first opened, part of the original building still stands in the same spot today.
Not much on the menu's changed food-wise over the years – the restaurant serves "still mainly seafood then chicken, steak and pasta," Robertson said. "Stuffed flounder, seafood au gratin & fish stew has been on menu since he took over in 1974."
You can also bring in whatever you catch during a fishing charter and the chef will broil, grill, fry or blacken it. During the busy season, you can enjoy lunch in the front of the restaurant while watching those fishing charters make their daily trips.
Fresh seafood and southern hospitality are two of the reasons why so many hungry patrons have returned to Captain Juel's year after year.
"It's a family tradition sort of thing, they bring their kids and grandkids, been coming for years," Robertson said.