The fishing village of Murrells Inlet recently lost a true pioneer with the death of Phil Conklin, a fisherman extraordinaire and longtime owner of Seven Seas Seafood, located right on U.S. 17 Business in the inlet.
Conklin passed away unexpectedly from natural causes on June 13 at the age of 71. Five days later a crowd of about 300 family and friends, including a who's who in the Murrells Inlet fishing and restaurant industries, celebrated his life at Creek Ratz on the inlet's Marshwalk.
The Celebration of Life was indeed a party, complete with an open bar for attendees, per Phil Conklin's request. His son, Chris Conklin, found a note hand-written by his dad among his closing documents that read “Don’t grieve, have a party. Bye.”
"Anybody that knew my dad knew it was his way or the highway," said Chris Conklin, now the owner-operator of Seven Seas Seafood.
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In fact, the Frank Sinatra classic, My Way," was played at the celebration before family friend Benjamin Pratt read "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, both requests of Conklin.
Conklin was born in Louisville, Ky., but his family moved to Hollywood, Fla., when he was a small child in 1950. After doing plenty of fishing in the Miami area as a teenager working on charter boats, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, and was stationed in Key West.
During a Navy-related visit to Charleston, he had a little free time on his hands with his Navy buddies.
"My dad and a few sailors came through Murrells Inlet on the way to Myrtle Beach," said Chris Conklin. "He decided right then he wanted to be here one day."
But first, after finishing his stint in the Navy, Conklin fully immersed himself in the Miami fishing scene, becoming fishing buddies with well-known anglers such as Capt. Bouncer Smith. After several years of bouncing around South Florida and the Bahamas and adding to his fishing knowledge, Conklin made his way to Murrells Inlet.
After his arrival in 1976, Conklin dabbled in all sorts of fishing in the area, working on a boat for the late Wallace Pate, a South Carolina billfishing pioneer in Georgetown, and the late Nelson Jackson, founder of Ocean Lakes Campground.
Soon, Conklin turned to commercial fishing, opening a seafood cooperative in the early 1990s in the inlet near the present day location of Inlet Affairs, a catering business.
The co-op provided fresh fish to inlet restaurants and also shipped it to areas in the northeast. In 1997, Conklin took over Seven Seas Seafood at its present location in the inlet.
"Dad's dream in his life was to have a seafood market, and he sure did that," said Conklin. "When it burned down in 2008, he had always been like a rock and didn't show much emotion, but that devastated him right there. I had just gotten out of college and the same week I graduated it burned. He didn’t ask me if I wanted to help, I knew that’s what I needed to do."
The Conklins rolled up their sleeves, got to work rebuilding the Seven Seas facility and soon were back in the fishing business.
Conklin had some memorable fishing escapades.
In October 1991, Conklin and one crew member were caught offshore during the renowned storm that was the impetus for the book/movie, "Perfect Storm," causing the boat and crew of the Andrea Gail out of Gloucester, Mass., to be lost at sea.
Conklin and his cohort made it safely back in to port but only after a harrowing 26-hour experience with 20-plus-foot seas.
Conklin stepped out of the commercial fishing realm to fish in the 2002 Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament, and he was among the crew that won the tournament aboard Overspray.
Chris Conklin recently perused his dad's numbers books, detailing bottom spots where he caught reef fish such as black sea bass and various snapper and grouper, along with pelagic species such as king mackerel, cobia, dolphin, wahoo and tuna over the years.
"I got all his old numbers books - they look like treasure maps," said Chris Conklin. "Hundreds of pages of numbers. It's cool to look at the notes of where he caught what."
From the early 1990s to 2015, Conklin served on the mackerel advisory panel and the snapper-grouper advisory panel for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Commission.
Conklin worked hard, then played hard. By the time 5 p.m. rolled around, if he was on the hill, he could be found enjoying happy hour at marinas and restaurants/bars along the Murrells Inlet waterfront. Inlet Port Marina, which transformed into Voyagers View Marina (both on the present site of Marshview Seafood Kitchen & Bar), the Side Porch Bar at Sunnyside Restaurant (the present site of Prosser's BBQ), and Creek Ratz, were some of his favorite hangouts over the years.
"(At 5 p.m.), it was time to go be social," said Chris Conklin. "He made a lot of lifelong customers like that. The inlet sure has changed a lot, but he sure loved it."
The crew of Molar Man out of Marlin Quay Marina weighed in a 37.6-pound king mackerel to finish third in the Southern Kingfish Association-sanctioned tournament Saturday based out of City Marina in Charleston.
Pole Dancer caught the winning 42.7-pound king, finishing ahead of Mas Pescado in second place with a 40.7-pounder.
The crew of Molar Man, a 42-foot Yellowfin, headed out of Marlin Quay Marina with marina owner Mark Lawhon and his son Chris Lawhon aboard.
Chris Lawhon noted seas were "slick calm" and the crew hit numerous spots.
"It was kind of slow except when we got into the major bite around lunchtime," said Chris Lawhon, who said the king was caught in about 100 feet of water southeast of Murrells Inlet near the break.
The fish hit a dead cigar minnow and Capt. Alex Hrycak, who operates the Marlin Quay charter boat, Carolina Fly, served as the angler.
Also among the crew were mate Brenden Kowalewski and Trey Tyner.
"It was a fun day, we had a good time and hit a bunch of different spots," Chris Lawhon said.
The tournament was the first in SKA's Division 3 (South Carolina). The final tournament in the division will be hosted by the Lawhons at Marlin Quay Marina on Sept. 8 with the Marlin Quay King Mackerel Shootout.