A Southeast Road Trip: Hitting the Old-School Fish Camps
Don’t let this year’s summer road trip be “the one that got away.” Opt for a throwback Southeast road trip, kicking back at a few fish camps along the way. Originally a place for fishermen to hang their waders for the night and fry up their daily catch, today’s fish camps . still offer some of the best fishing, but also the best eating. Their no-frills accommodations are often overlooked as great places to stay, offering a place to commune with nature and enjoy some true R&R. If watching a cork bobble on the water isn’t your cup of tea, there’s plenty to do including boat and kayak rentals, hiking and biking trails, and just chilling in a hammock.
Let’s kick off this backwoods fish camp tour with a stop at Luvans Old South Fish Camp Restaurant, just 25 minutes from Myrtle Beach. As you arrive, don’t worry. This isn’t someone’s rundown backyard shack — you’re in the right place. Just pull on up and park in one of the restaurant’s five parking spaces. Most nights, it’s a one-man show as the owner serves as host, chef, waiter and chief dishwasher (be prepared for a leisurely evening). Luvan’s only serves the best of daily catches so opt for the Seafood Platter, broiled, to truly enjoy the freshness. If you read the reviews, don’t be scared off by the references to the movie “Deliverance” — it’s worth the trip.
nope, this shack doesn’t even have a website
Here’s where the “camp” portion of this Southeast road trip comes into play. Head on down to Canal Lakes Fish Camp located between Lakes Marion and Moultrie, known as the Santee Cooper Lakes Region, and stay in one of the camp’s full-size houses. These lakes span five counties and are a nature-lover’s paradise with towering Cypress trees and vast swamps. Mac Daddy’s Restaurant, voted Berkeley County’s best restaurant, claims the best steaks and seafood on the lakes. Schedule your stay for a Thursday night to enjoy the famed Chef’s night featuring everything from surf and turf to crab legs. The lakes are dotted with dozens of great restaurants, most accessible by boat, with every type of cuisine from Thai to barbecue, and of course, fresh local seafood. Be sure to visit Harry’s Restaurant in nearby Pineville for their famous Santee Cooper Fried Catfish Dinner. They also serve the best full breakfast in the region and will make boxed lunches if you’re headed out for a day on the lake.
On the banks of the Darien River, Skippers’ Fish Camp offers shrimp so fresh, you can watch it being unloaded from the boat. Local shrimpers dock at Skippers bringing in wild Georgia shrimp daily. Inside the restaurant, make note of the wood used on the bar and tables. It was salvaged from Brunswick’s famous Oglethorpe Hotel in the late 1800s and floated down the Altamaha River to its new home. Skippers serves Coastal Georgia seafood at its finest including Collards & Q, a combination of barbecued pork and collard greens. Most seafood dishes feature sweet Georgia shrimp, your choice of fried, blackened or broiled. Don’t miss a chance to try Georgia Blue Crabs, second only to Maryland blue crabs.
You won’t find rustic accommodations here, but you will be surrounded by wildlife. Clark’s Fish Camp is rumored to be one of the largest privately owned collections of taxidermy in the country with lions, tigers, monkeys, bears, giraffes, deer, bobcats, and birds donning the walls. (All of the animals died a natural death according to the owners. No animals were harmed in the making.) Don’t be alarmed by the “Do Not Feed the Alligators” signs on the docks and walkways surrounding this Jacksonville restaurant, but certainly heed their advice. Clark’s features an authentic taste of backwoods Florida including the Swamp Fest Platter piled high with alligator, frog legs, and catfish. But you may have to stay two days to try Clark’s twist on New Orleans seafood, especially the Boudin Stuffed with Crawfish.
New Smyrna Beach, FL
I can vouch for many of these fish camps but J. B.’s Fish Camp & Seafood Restaurant is one of my all-time favorites, for the scenery and the food. New Smyrna Beach is one of Florida’s most beautiful, white sand beaches. J.B.s is across from the beach on a quiet portion of the Indian River, a haven for manatees and dolphins. Rent a kayak or paddle board for the day and head back to The Drunken Clam Over Flow Tiki Bar for a cocktail. J.B.s catches blue crabs right off the dock and serves them steaming hot in buckets. Or try the Oyster Stew served in a broth of corn, cream, and savory seasonings. Be sure to save room for the restaurant’s specialty, authentic Florida Key lime pie.
Now it’s time to experience a true campresort (that’s not an oxymoron). Further down the St. Johns River on the western edge of Volusia County is the “Camelot on the River,” Highbanks Marina & Campresort. This 25-acre, wooded RV campground also includes resort amenities — a large swimming pool, clubhouse, and even laundry facilities. The Swamp House River Front Grill and the Happy Snapper Tiki Bar are the perfect spot to unwind and enjoy the views of the historic St. Johns River. If you haven’t drummed up the nerve to try fresh Florida alligator, this might be the place to do it. The restaurant’s Tropical Gator Tacos are made with citrus marinated gator topped with mango sauce and shredded cheese, served on flour tortillas.
Santa Rosa Beach, FL
You might not think of gourmet seafood at an establishment called Stinky’s Fish Camp, but that’s what you’ll find here on South Walton Beach on Florida’s west coast. Recently named “Top 10 Places to Eat Like a Local” by USA Today, Stinky’s is a haute cuisine fish camp with one of the widest selections of oysters around at The Chum Line Oyster Bar. Local seafood stars in all of the dishes including Stinky’s Stew of shrimp, mussels, oysters, fish, snow crab, potatoes, corn, and tomatoes in a basil butter broth. And if you’re craving fish for breakfast, don’t miss Stinky’s Sunday brunch and order the Rock Star Crawfish Pie with two shirred eggs.
This article was originally published in The Local Palate in 2015