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The Spring Herring Run Spans a Festival in Jamesville, NC

Updated on December 29, 2018
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Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

About the Herring

Through the centuries blueback herring, also known as river herring, have found their way from the Atlantic Ocean, through rivers, creeks and canals to spawn in the lakes and the sounds of coastal North Carolina. Those that survive return to the sea, the young fish wait until the following fall to make their exodus to the Atlantic Ocean.

The tradition of spring herring fishing goes back long before the first European settlers arrived on the shores of the Carolina Coast. American Indians fished the coastal waters for thousands of years before their arrival. The native fishermen taught the newcomers how to make nets woven from plant materials, and how to use traps called weirs that are still incorporated by today's commercial herring fishermen. The bow and dip nets of ancient times are made from more modern materials, but follow the same pattern as those used by Indians long ago and many recreational fishermen still use them to catch herring. Some nets were simply a big chicken wire basket with a cord attached. When the fish swam into the net and the fisherman felt them bump he just yanked the net out of the water by the cord.

The Annual Herring Run Prompts a Festival Every Spring in Jamesville, NC


Cooking and Preserving Herring

Herrings were preserved in the old days by packing them in salt brine or pickling them in a vinegar and spice concoction. Before cooking the salted herring the fish must be soaked overnight in fresh water to take out the saltiness, changing the water at least twice. The fish are then rolled in meal and fried in hot lard. Herring have many fine bones and are eaten bones and all. Fresh herring are fried the same way, only after cleaning the fish the sides are notched every half an inch down the length to ensure the fish are cooked through and the bones can be eaten.

Recipe for Herring Roe and Scrambled Eggs.

Six strips bacon

1 8-ounce can Herring roe drained, or 1 cup chopped cooked fresh roe

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

Six eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Fry bacon, drain on paper towels, keep warm in oven. Pour off and reserve drippings. In same fryer, put 2 tablespoons bacon grease, add roe, salt and pepper. Brown slightly. Beat eggs. Add salt and pepper. Add 2 teaspoons bacon grease to browned roe, pour in eggs and mix scramble roe and eggs. Cook until eggs are partially done. Remove from heat, cover for a minute. Serve immediately topped with bacon. Serves 4 to 6.

(Recipes courtesy of Eddy Browning, food columnist for the Washington Daily News)

Fried Herring at Easter Monday Herring Festival

photo by Donna Campbell Smith
photo by Donna Campbell Smith | Source

Let the Festivities Begin

On Easter Monday in Jamesville the air is filled with the fragrance of fish frying in deep fat and the streets and riverfront are lined with vendors. Visitors and residents browse through an array of arts and crafts, while the kids beg for balloons and pony rides.

A parade, complete with floats, a band, and the crowned Herring Festival Queen kicked off the festivities. Folks used to line up to eat fried herring at the Cypress Grill, a weathered old eatery on the banks of the Roanoke River. In spite of the fact the restaurant burned to the ground in July 2018 the festival will still carry on its 70 year old tradition. Patrons will still be able to enjoy the treat of fried herring and herring row from participating vendors.

Located on the banks of the Roanoke River, the herring was once an important source of income for this small community. A "fishing machine" was used to harvest the fish, which were then processed and salted for distribution. No longer an industry in that sense, the festival brings large crowds to Jamesville, population 612, on that one day a year.


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