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Southern Traditions: The Fish Fry

Updated on January 29, 2013
D.J., my son-in-law, playing guitar. My three daughters are enjoying the music.
D.J., my son-in-law, playing guitar. My three daughters are enjoying the music.
Bobby playing guitar at a fish fry.
Bobby playing guitar at a fish fry.
Keith playing bagpipes at a fish fry.
Keith playing bagpipes at a fish fry.
Husband Johnny enjoying a brew while waiting for the fish to get done.
Husband Johnny enjoying a brew while waiting for the fish to get done.

Southern food traditions

The fish fry is another one of those wonderful traditions that we Southerners enjoy frequently. It gives us just one more excuse to enjoy some great Southern food!The fish are rarely purchased – we catch them ourselves. South Georgia is dotted with farm ponds, irrigation pits, lakes, creeks, and rivers that are home to some delicious inhabitants. These include largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, warmouth perch, shellcracker, flathead catfish, and striped bass.

We’re also within a couple of hours of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, so fishing trips to the coast are made often. These hauls might include sharks, reds, bluefish, trout, whiting, croaker, drum, spadefish, sheepshead, and flouder. If someone goes out deep sea fishing or offshore trolling, they might come home with grouper, red snapper, amberjack, or a number of other fish species. I have lots of saltwater fishing tips for catching these critters!

Fish fries aren’t usually planned very far in advance. If a farmer seines one of his ponds, he’ll host a fish fry. If someone makes a trip to the coast and returns with a big haul of fish, there’s a fish fry. Typically, it goes something like this:

The phone rings.


“Hey, Larry. It’s me, Scooter. Me and Bubba just got back from the flats and we got us a big mess of flounder and trout. We gonna fry ‘em up Friday evenin’. Wanna come?”

“Shoot, yeah! Whatcha want me to bring?”

“Well, everbody loves yore hushpuppies, so why don’t you bring the batter and we’ll toss the puppies in with the fish.”

“Will do, Scooter! What time?”

“We gonna start cookin’ around six, but just come on whenever you want to.”

Actually, this is a pretty formal invitation for a fish fry. Sometimes, just firing up the gas cooker is enough to bring folks in. Uninvited guests are par for the course, and they’re always welcomed. Southerners rarely run short on food, but in the off chance it looks like there won’t be enough fish, a neighbor is sure to offer a helping hand:

“Hey, Scooter, I got some dove and quail in the freezer. Want me to go get ‘em?”


“Want me to go get that bag of shrimp I got last week at Amelia Island? We can thaw ‘em out quick and fry ‘em up!”

We Southerners always over-figure on the amount of food we’ll need. For example, if two fish fillets per person are adequate, we’ll figure five or six or ten. It’s a good thing, too! Several years ago I took a Florida Yankee friend of mine to her first South Georgia fish fry, and she ate nineteen pieces of fried crappie. Nineteen! And she’s just an average size woman.

All the cooking and eating is done outside. The men cook the fish, the hushpuppies, and the French fries in the deep fat fish cooker, and the women bring all sorts of Southern food side dishes. There’s always a huge pot of cheese grits and another pot of plain grits. Think this sounds like an unusual combination? My husband is from North Carolina, and he had never heard of eating fish and grits together until he came to South GA. Now he loves the combination!

In addition to the aforementioned dishes, there’s always lots of coleslaw, too, in several different varieties. Corn-on-the-cob, potato salad, and rolls usually show up, too, along with several different kinds of casseroles. And don’t forget the desserts! If the fish fry is in the summer, sometimes there’ll be churns of homemade peach ice cream and peach pies. Other frequent guests include key lime pies, lemon pies, brownies, coconut pies, and chocolate cakes. There will also be an ocean of sweet iced tea and cold beer.

Just about everyone will bring their camp chair to the get-together, and sometimes there will be picnic tables set up. We’re good at eating, though, so we don’t need no steenkin’ tables to enjoy a good meal! We can balance two plates, a couple of napkins, and a glass of tea on our lap and knees with remarkable ease. As Hank Williams, Jr. says, country folk can survive.

A fish fry is never an eat-and-run affair. Folks hang around. A lot of times, we'll build a campfire, and Randy Godwin and others usually break out their guitars and pick tunes that everyone knows. We even have a pal who plays the bagpipes, and he sometimes performs for us. Often, the guys will pitch horseshoes and toss around a football. The women chat or join in the games with the guys.

If the fish fry takes place on the banks of a lake or irrigation pit, and if it’s in the summer, a lot of the guests will go swimming. The pits are often fed by deep wells, and the water is often cold and crystal clear. There’s nothing like a quick dip to recharge your battery and shake off the heat and humidity of the South Georgia sauna-like summer!

All in all, fish fries are great fun. They provide a chance to catch up on the latest news, make a few new friends, and to fill your belly with good ol’ country cooking. Wanna come to our next one?

Read related articles and get great Southern recipes by clicking the links below the fish cooker ads! If you click on the "Holle's Kickin' Chicken" recipe, you'll find numerous links to homemade and heirloom Southern recipes, including my awesome hushpuppies. By clicking on the article about free bait, you'll find a host of fishing tips, fishing photos, and fishing videos.


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