A week later, the Murrells Inlet fishing community is still trying to come to grips with the loss of Jessica Hill. For over a decade, Hill was the face of Perry’s Bait and Tackle, a Murrells Inlet landmark that has been in operation since the mid 1950s and at its current waterfront location on the north end of the Marshwalk since 1971.
Hill left this life on Sept. 29 in a manner that was unfathomable and heinous, and absolutely devastating to her family, including her three children, and many friends, near and far. With her departure, a part of the personality and charm of the little fishing village is gone too.
For much of her time at Perry’s, I called to get her thoughts on the saltwater-fishing scene to include in the fishing report I have written weekly for The Sun News since 2003. Her observations from that particular week would come in rapid succession as she went over what was happening inside the inlet, at the jetties, in the surf and at the near-shore reefs.
Many a time I would say, “Slow down, Jessica, I can’t type that fast!” And we would laugh, and she would go over it again, but a little slower.
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Customers, from the most experienced local old salt to the tourist fishing in saltwater for the first time, were drawn to Perry’s for Jessica’s welcoming personality, local fishing knowledge and of course her beautiful smile.
Hill was a natural at rig-tying, and was well known for her expertise at the craft that is of the utmost importance to a serious angler. More than a few local charter captains have credited Hill with teaching them the intricacies of tying various successful rigs.
It can be difficult for visitors to find local fishing knowledge, but Hill made many an inexperienced tourist feel right at home in the little inlet, helping them catch fish with her expertise.
“When she tied (a rig or knot), she explained why it worked and she was teaching valuable knowledge for anybody, from a 9- to an 80-year-old,” said Capt. Jason Burton of Murrells Inlet Fishing Center. “She made a lot of people who weren’t very good at fishing experts overnight.”
The Murrells Inlet fishing community showed its support and love for Hill and her family Monday evening, an event Burton helped organize.
“She loved boats and fishing, so we thought why don’t we ride around the inlet and throw some flowers into the water for her?” said Burton.
In just over a day after the tribute was planned, over 30 boats with approximately 200 of her family and closest friends aboard cruised from the Marshwalk to Marlin Quay Marina and back before anchoring up adjacent to the Marshwalk. After tributes to Hill were given over VHF radio, flowers were tossed into the water and a last cast was given in her honor.
Hill was instrumental in having an artificial reef established in memory of her father-in-law, Winston Perry, the founder of Perry’s Bait and Tackle who passed away in January, 2010. Just five months later, in June, 2010, she had accomplished that feat when the Winston Perry Memorial Reef was placed on the ocean floor at the Paradise Reef site located three miles east of the Murrells Inlet jetties.
The idea of establishing an artificial reef in Hill’s honor is being discussed by local residents, along with supporting her three children, but details aren’t complete. Details will be provided in this column as they become available.
Rest in peace, Jessica. You will be greatly missed.
Gregg Holshouser: email@example.com