I’ve been going to Florida on fishing trips for over 10 years now. Normally I take my boat and fish in the inlets and bays along the coastline. A couple of years ago I began leaving the boat at home and fishing from the many piers that dot the shorelines of both the Atlantic and the Gulf coasts of that state. A year ago I spent a couple of weeks fishing the piers between Virginia Beach, VA and Bogue Inlet, NC.
There are advantages and disadvantages to pier fishing as compared to boat fishing. A major advantage of pier fishing, for me, is the opportunity to meet new and different people. More times than not a visit to a pier will produce meeting someone with a story to tell and one worth listening to. In my book a good story is just as enjoyable as catching a trophy fish.
On my most recent trip to Florida I had been camped out at Tampa Bay’s Skyway Fishing Piers for several days without having met anyone of note. I was beginning to believe this would be the first time I didn’t come home with a memorable tale to tell. On the fourth or fifth night I had relocated my van down the pier and laid down for a nap. When I awoke it was dark and there was lots of activity going on near my van. Checking it out I discovered people with large dip nets at the ends of 20′ poles catching blue crabs as they drifted by on the outgoing tide. I have crabbed before but never using this method.
I walked up to a young Asian fellow and asked him a few questions about the process. He was extremely open to educating me and eventually we introduced ourselves. His name was Chino and he was Vietnamese-American. Turned out he was on the pier with a group of 20 or more fellow Vietnamese who were having a sort of reunion. Some in the group were fishing, others were crabbing, others sitting around talking, while still others were preparing to steam the evening’s catch right there on the pier.
As Chino and I were talking and I was watching him net crabs my eyes didn’t even see, we were joined by another fellow who offered me some chips and a beer. This was the beginning of what became a gracious extension of hospitality and friendship to a total stranger. Next thing I knew I was sitting among a group of Vietnamese men, drinking beer, picking apart blue crabs and listening to their stories about immigrating to America and what America meant to them.
This was exactly the immigrant story I had taught so many times in my history classes. People who risked everything to come to this nation and through hard work and risk carved a place for themselves and their children. The three older men had each been Vietnamese “boat people” and as young children had survived horrific experiences fleeing communist Vietnam in search of freedom and opportunity.
Danny and his family were at sea for 4 days on a crowded scow, landing in Hong Kong where they found an American sponsor to gain them a visa to America. Mike and his family were at sea for 12 days before ending up in Macau awaiting a sponsor. Danny served 8 years in the US Marines, wears the scars of battle, and ended up owning his own construction company. Mike found his way into the nail care business and has now retired to Austin, TX. Between them they have five children who are all college graduates with parents who couldn’t be prouder.
As the beer flowed we discussed a little politics and it was quickly obvious these guys were fairly conservative Americans, especially Danny. They had achieved success at their own efforts and labors and pretty much expected the same from all others.
They all appeared bilingual and the evenings conversation easily switched between English and Vietnamese. It has always amazed me how bilingual people are able to make the mental adjustments necessary to rapidly switch between languages. I’ve watched fast food counter clerks do this and I’m always stunned by their adeptness. I observed at least three generations on the pier that evening and of yet there appeared to be no weakening in culture and language. If the traditional patterns of immigration occur there will come a day when the young will assimilate into the melting pot of America. For the moment, however, it gave me pleasure seeing these people keep alive all that is good about their culture as they continue to make a place for themselves in America.
The food experience was yet another topic to write about. I have eaten lots of crabs but none so fresh. We were enjoying blue crab that literally came from the sea, to the pier, and into the steam pot, all within a matter of seconds. The only seasoning was whatever the beer had to offer up. It was fresh, tender, flavorsome, and ooh so sweet. Mike had mixed up a seasoning sauce comprised of freshly squeezed lime juice, black pepper, and a little Asian hot sauce of some sort. His technique was to dip his finger into the mixture and suck the juice as he plucked pieces of crab into his mouth. I didn’t see him doing this until after I had finished but I did give the sauce a try by itself and it was fantastic.
Don’t know if I’ll ever see any of these good people again but if they happen to come across this website I want to tell them thank you for the friendship, hospitality, openness, and for enriching my life. I was celebrating my 70th birthday that week and they, without knowing it, gave me a hell of a party and a hell of a great gift. Plus, their being here is also a gift to America.