Fish Camps: Fried Seafood and Family in a North Carolina Mill Town (Gravy Ep. 41)

Howdie and Ben Smith outside Twin Tops Fish Camp in Gastonia, North Carolina. Photo by Mary Helen Montgomery

If you’ve never heard of a fish camp, don’t let the name fool you. It’s not a place where you fish or camp. Instead, the term designates a place where you can order up piles of fried catfish and hushpuppies, shrimp and flounder, french fries and cole slaw.

Fish Camp 1
Fried whole flounder at Twin Tops Fish Camp. Photo by Mary Helen Montgomery.

But fish camps are not your run-of-the-mill seafood restaurants. They are rustic, family-oriented gathering spots birthed out of the textile industry that once dominated places like Gaston County, North Carolina. Though they’ve become increasingly scarce in the past few decades, going to a fish camp on a Friday night used to be “as routine as church on Sunday.”

In this episode of Gravy, guest producer Mary Helen Montgomery explores the history of Gaston County fish camps, their significance to proprietors and patrons alike, and the external circumstances that have led to their slow decline.