A couple of hundred yards off Bogue Banks, dolphins–airborne at times–were working their way down the coast. Farther out, a trawler worked the channels near the inlet.
Along the beach was a well-spaced row of surf-casters in their shorts and hoodies. You could see the mullet roiling the waters–the long, slow breakers practically bubbling with them in the morning sun. Many, but small, one caster groused, but the sight was amazing–the schools traveling the waves at the pace of a brisk walk. The scene was a reminder that the currents at play this time of year, when the water is a warm 77 degrees and the morning air a dozen degrees chillier, draw a multitude all along the Carolina coast.
Farther up the coast, along the waterfront at Morehead City, was a much more organized reminder of the waters’ harvest. The air was not salty there; the sea breeze was thickly perfumed with the actions of hundreds of deep-fat fryers crisping the breading around flounder, oysters, crab balls, shrimp and mullet.
This is a time in North Carolina marked by county fairs and regional festivals, and in that way the N.C. Seafood Festival is no different. Like others around the state, this one has games, science displays, country karaoke and crafts and watercolors up for sale in long rows of tents and booths. But, save a lone fried Twinkie stand and the occasional turkey leg and blooming onion, this festival’s fare is a daunting array of the history of ingenuity applied to the day’s catch.
For landlubbers and seafood lovers, walking the midway is a dream come true–Blue-crab burritos, oyster burgers, baked potatoes stuffed with shrimp and scallops, shrimp rolls, clam chowder, shark bites, shrimp and chips, scallop fritters and sea trout sandwiches to name a few. You can’t try it all, but you can try these tricks at home. And that’s the idea.
There is a lot of talk, and rightly so, that the old ways on the water are fading as condos and seaside mansions edge out the fish houses and docks. But on some days, they still shine as bright as the morning sun on a breaker teeming with life.