Panfish: Spot On

Photo by Bernard L. Herman.

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Panfish: Spot On

by Bernard L. Herman
Southern Cultures, Vol. 21, No. 1: Food

"'I would say the average age of most people that buy spot now is probably sixty. Nobody young comes in this door and buys a box of fish.'"

Late summer the phone rings in the Bayford Oyster House on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. “Bayford,” H. M. Arnold answers. “Yes ma’am,” he says a few seconds into the conversation, “I don’t have any spot today. They don’t seem to be running. Nobody I know has them. I have some hardheads though, if you want to drive down and get them. Thank you.” H. M. shakes his head and sits down in his plastic chair by the stainless steel counter where he shucks oysters for the winter trade from Thanksgiving to New Years. The afternoon steams August hot, a bit of breeze ruffles the water on Nassawadox Creek outside the door. The tide is rising and soon enough will seep under the sills and into the dock end of the venerable shucking house, sheeting over the old concrete floors, compelling H. M. and his visitors first to walk on boards and then to slosh their way past the soft-shell crab shedding tanks now all but closed down for the season. Tank, the monumental Chesapeake Bay retriever who lives up the hill, stands in the boat launch with a chunk of pine branch clenched in his jaws, waiting for someone—anyone will do—to seize the wood and pitch it into the water. Strangers shy away from the massive dog; regulars ignore him. Tank perseveres. And so do the callers seeking spot, a panfish deeply savored in this corner of the world. The phone rings. “Bayford,” H. M. answers.