by David Cecelski
My brother and my son and I rode bicycles down to the Cape Fear River to watch the sunset tonight. The day had been hot—103 in Wilmington—and most people stayed inside well past supper. But at dusk, crowds of people came out of the shadows and gathered at the river to fish and crab.
Many brought fishing poles, cast nets, coolers, and bait boxes down to the shore. Others carried a twine line, a few chicken necks, and a dip net. They sat on the riverbank in lawn chairs, perched on tiny rock jetties, or cast their lines from the marina dock. Together we watched the sun go down on the other side of the river and we relished the sea breeze coming at long last up the river from the direction of Southport.
We walked along shore and my brother talked to everybody. He knows the local waters well and, when asked, he offered advice on bait, the best tide for fishing, and how to cook their catch. Most of the people we visited had traveled hundreds of miles to enjoy fishing by the sea and to taste a little fresh seafood. They said they came every summer at least for a weekend.
One woman, Brenda, who lives in a small town north of Greensboro, told us that she waited all year for the chance to be by the water and to satisfy her craving for fresh-caught seafood. She was fishing, her friend was crabbing, and her friend’s two young grandchildren, both less than a year old, watched the river with a sense of wide-eyed wonder.
Brenda and her friend already had half a dozen blue crabs in a pail when we visited with them. Her friend said she was going to steam some of the crabs, and she planned to take off the backs and fry the rest.
We met people renting tourist cabins for the night, lots of folks staying at the state park campground, and even one couple that slept nights in the back of their station wagon.
As the sun went down, I began to make out the silhouettes of fishermen sitting on the shore as far as I could see upriver. I saw their shadows and I heard the soft murmur of their voices. They were part of a great pilgrimage to the river and the beach that happens every summer here. I imagined other such pilgrims in the cool dark night all the way to Wilmington and beyond, and on the banks of every little cove, inlet, and creek.