A weekend at the beach.
I’m going to a little fishing town called Rock Hall in Maryland on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.
There are four of us. I’ve put the Civil War away for 48 hours and I am sitting here at Harbor Shack bar overlooking the yachts and fishing boats. The breezes are warm and soft, just the way I like them.
I have a strange sense of the familiar. It’s like Kinsale, or Ballycotton, or Schull, with the thermostat turned up to high.
Chesapeake Bay stretches out before me; in the distance, the hazy distance I can see the outline of Baltimore. Not the original Baltimore but still…it’s nice to be reminded of home every now and again.
Rock Hall is beautiful and seems to be a well-kept secret. A couple of miles down the road is Ocean City where, I believe, you can’t move for the visitors and holiday makers right now. Here, there is the gentle sound of the ocean and the smell of soft shell crab cooking.
Soft shell crab, oh my!
I order a soft shell crab sandwich and a glass of the local Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. The sandwich arrives with two crabs (each about the size of my hands). a salad (one leaf of lettuce) and fries.
The crabs, which are recognizable as crabs still in their shells, are between two slices of toasted white bread. Also on the plate is a plastic tub of mayo and another of coleslaw.
I break off one of the crab legs. The shell is indeed very soft and I can see the white meat inside. I take a bite, the sound is akin to really crispy bacon, then I taste the white sweet crab meat.
It is a very strange sensation. The shell, to me, tastes, well, very artificial, as if it isn’t meant to be there. I felt it took away from the really, really delicious crab meat; but having said that, the locals and visitors sitting around the bar clearly can’t get enough of them.
They’re dipping them in spicy sauces, ranch dressing (this seems to be served with everything in Maryland), salt and vinegar and a million other condiments arranged on each table.
Maybe it’s just me but I think I’ll stick with the good old brown crab, they’re a bit more work but I think they’re worth it.
Along the bar at the Harbor Shack are, what the waitress calls, the ‘salty sea-dogs’: clearly locals, clearly fishermen, or watermen as they are known in these parts.
Each with a bottle of beer and a whiskey chaser, they are recounting the morning’s fishing out on Chesapeake Bay. They are all facing the dock where they have tied up their boats and they can see other boats passing the channel as they make their way to and from the bay.
I ask about the fishing prospects here about. ‘They’re good if you have the right captain,’ said one of the sea-dogs.
‘An’ I suppose that captain would be ya’ll?!’ one of the others called from the end of the bar.
‘Well, it sure as hell ain’t you,’ said my friend as he drained the last of his beer.
They are all laughing and high-fiving each other now.
Anyway, as the laughter dies down, another sea-dog tells me that the only way to catch fish around here is to charter a boat for the day.
‘So you can’t fish from the pier or off the rocks?’ I asked.
‘Hell no, ain’t no fish out there worth catching,’ he said.
I told them that I was only here in Rock Hall for a short time so maybe next time.
I pay my bill and as I turn to leave there is a call of ‘Hey, how ’bout a round of drinks for the bar before you go?’
I smile and wave and am followed by a chorus of boos as I walk out into the afternoon heat.
A short distance down the pier, I come across a fishing tackle shop. Calling in, I am greeted by another line of sea-dogs sitting along the sales counter drinking coffee, swopping fishy stories and eyeing the latest in fishing tackle that’s displayed along the shop walls.
I ask again about the fishing in the area.
‘We have some of the best fishin’ on the east coast! In fact, Frank there landed a three pound striper just at the end of this here dock the other morning,’ Bob, the tackle shop owner, said.
Frank nodded, smiling.
‘Really!?’ I said.
Recounting what their colleagues at the Harbor Shack said, Bob would have none of it.
“Well, they’re lying! Look, you need to listen to us. I can get you all sorted out for fishing right now, right off this here dock, I’ve got everything you need,’ Bob said making his way out from behind the counter.
I told him I was only here for a couple of days and didn’t want to have to carry a fishing rod and tackle with me for the rest of the trip but maybe one day I’d come back when I had more time.
As I left the shop, I walked to the dock where Frank had landed his striper and I was confronted with a large white sign.
ABSOLUTELY NO FISHING OFF THIS DOCK.
Well now. Fishy stories indeed.