What Are Creek Shrimp?

Prior to moving to South Carolina 35 years ago, Libby Wiersema resided in California and Alabama.

where she explains the tales of the foods and covers the top gastronomic offers in the state.

Calabash isn’t simply a town; it’s also a byword for delicious food. In order to prepare food in the Calabash method, fresh shrimp, fish, oysters, clams, or crabs must first be coated in a tasty, light batter before being dipped into a blistering hot oil until they are gently browned. The delicate puffing and flaking of the crisp, almost gossamer-thin crust allows the flavor of the shellfish to stand out with just the appropriate amount of “grease factor” and a smidge of salty. A basket of hot hush puppies and a batch of Calabash seafood straight from the fryer will make this powerful combo one of your favorite South Carolina recipes.

While it’s true that the small fishing community of Calabash, NC, where this type of seafood originated, virtually crosses two states, the Grand Strand is where it’s most common. The South Carolina coast, from Little River to Murrells Inlet, has the highest number of seafood restaurants in the Calabash style. Of course, the lovely people of Calabash claim that seafood isn’t truly Calabash unless you’re eating it there, but we just shake our heads and continue battering and deep-frying.

Aside from geography and cooking methods, there are other traits that characterize true Calabash cooking. The fried fish must be presented in copious amounts in order to showcase real Calabash style. In other words, it’s not Calabash seafood if it doesn’t come at the table in an outrageous heap and make you feel like you should have brought a friend (or two!) to help you finish it off.

Additionally, this dish is not fancy, therefore the cost should be reasonable. (You’ll discover that Calabash shrimp is a popular component of many of our coastal seafood buffets.) Additionally customary is serving hot dogs as an accouterment. Additionally, the shrimp used in Calabash-style meals are relatively little; they are frequently referred to as “baby shrimp,” “creek shrimp,” or “popcorn shrimp” on menus.

Let’s see: delectable, freshly produced, generous amounts, reasonably priced. Who can resist the appeal of fish from Calabash? Nobody, to be exact! There are simply too many South Carolina eateries serving this local favorite to list them all, but here are a handful of the most well-known locations, both coastal and interior, where devotees travel for the Calabash experience.


Many South Carolinians catch their own shrimp, typically using a circular net or a seine (which takes training as well as strength). Small stream shrimp are believed to be sweeter when caught in shallow, brackish waters as opposed to those that are caught farther out in rivers and the ocean. It is unusual to find any of these commercially captured shrimp very far off the coast in South Carolina.

The basis of lowcountry cuisine is South Carolina shrimp, which is regarded as some of the greatest in the world. Commercially caught brown (Penaeus aztecus), pink (Penaeus duorarum), and white (Penaeus setiferus) shrimp are well known from the Gulf and South Atlantic. Since most shrimp change color depending on the type of substrate and the purity of the water, their common names do not accurately depict them. Some farm-raised shrimp are compared to wild-caught shrimp in terms of quality.

The majority of commercial boats sell shrimp fresh, while many larger shrimp trawlers that are out of port for a week or more freeze shrimp quickly after being caught—sometimes even boiling them on the boat. Many South Carolinians catch their own shrimp, typically using a circular net or a seine (which takes training as well as strength). Small stream shrimp are believed to be sweeter when caught in shallow, brackish waters as opposed to those that are caught farther out in rivers and the ocean. It is unusual to find any of these commercially captured shrimp very far off the coast in South Carolina.

Most people typically buy shrimp without the heads on. Some lowcountry cooks favor cooking shrimp with the head on so they may extract the juices from it like they would from a crawfish. Even the softer regions of the shell are edible to devotees of stream shrimp. It is preferred to cook shrimp with the shell on to achieve the most flavor and a more soft texture. The shell may be removed before or after cooking. Some people choose to cut out the vein from the shrimp’s back (the digestive tract). It is advisable to cook shrimp fast, for no longer than a few minutes, and to stop boiling them as soon as the shell turns red because shrimp cannot be eaten raw. Shrimp that has been overcooked are rough and bland. To prepare a shrimp stock that may be used in sauces and broths, the shrimp’s head and shell can be used. Shrimp can be grilled, baked, steamed, poached (also known as “boiling”), fried (without the shell), sauteed, and so on. Butter- or cream-based shrimp mousses, commonly known as “shrimp butter,” were popular in the 1800s. Shrimp and grits and lowcountry shrimp boil, which goes by many other names, both gained popularity in the latter half of the 20th century.

Standard market sizes for shrimp are not regulated by legislation. Commercially, they are often rated according to how many whole shrimp or shrimp tails there are in one pound. Jumbo shrimp should be between twenty-one and twenty-five tails per pound; giant shrimp should be between thirty-one and thirty-five per pound; and medium shrimp should be between thirty-six and forty per pound. The grading, however, varies according on the seller.

Seafood: A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook, Alan Davidson. 1989: Simon and Schuster, New York.

Coastal Migration

abrupt tail snap. While shrimp may travel short distances on foot, they must swim up to two to five kilometers per day when migrating over great distances. A shrimp may snap its tail and move backwards by contracting its abdominal muscles to flee from predators. This technique is frequently used by white shrimp to jump out of the water.

Shrimp leave the nursery area as they get bigger and head out to sea on the outgoing tide, especially at night. When shrimp are about four inches long, they transition from the shallow estuary creeks into coastal rivers. They collect shortly before entering the ocean in the lower levels of sounds, bays, and river mouths, where they continue to proliferate.

White shrimp feed at night in neighboring shallow areas when they are in staging zones. On the other hand, brown shrimp prefer to spend the night in deeper waters. Shrimp migrate into the ocean when they are between four and five inches long during years when there are plenty of them. However, when the population is lower, shrimp might take up to six inches to leave the estuaries. Shrimp growth rates slow in tidal creeks where they are more concentrated because of competition for scarce food or because each shrimp spends more time defending its space than eating. Juvenile shrimp leave nursery sites early because of low salinities brought on by prolonged periods of rain, which hinders growth and survival.

The bulk of white shrimp enter the water in August, or roughly one month earlier, in a wet year. As a result, commercial trawlers may have a difficult time harvesting shrimp in October, which is often one of the best months for shrimping. Charleston Harbor and Winyah Bay, which receive comparatively substantial volumes of upstate river discharge, are the areas most severely impacted.

White shrimp stay in the estuaries into the fall if there is not a lot of rainfall and/or river flow until the water temperature reaches about 60 to 65 degrees. Large tides brought on the new and full moons are when animals migrate into the ocean.

Shrimp typically only live for eight to nine months. A commercial shrimper off Seabrook Island got the largest white shrimp ever (just over 10 inches) in July 1979. The age of that shrimp was most likely around 14 months.

Creek shrimp are still abounding.


happy news The shrimp in the creeks were not washed away by Ernesto’s rains. On Saturday, I had a few anglers who preferred to use live bait, so I was a little concerned about the availability of shrimp. Fortunately, this was not the case as we set up our bait right away (6-7 throws of the cast net). Even though it was early, we had just arrived at the first location. A great current seam was generated off a point in the main river by the last of the ebbing tide.

A Cajun Thunder float was two feet below where we were shrimp fishing. Even if the target species wasn’t involved, the action was intense. Keeping a live shrimp in the water was challenging due to bluefish, ladyfish, and pinfish. We were successful in catching a few fish that resembled trout but were smaller. The biting stopped when the tide went out.

We went to a position for the early incoming tide after netting more shrimp during the ebb tide. We will have a nice trout season the next year based on the catch at this area. The majority of the fish were about 12 inches long. They made up for their lack of size with quantity.

After releasing perhaps a dozen little trout, we moved on to look for bigger fish (it seems I never learn). The subsequent pit stops produced nothing. I got lucky and noticed some shrimp darting out of the water followed by the splash of a larger fish eating just as desperation started to set in. Soon after positioning the skiff, we started regularly capturing some trout that were of keeper size. The majority of the fish were released, but we kept a few that were deep hooked for dinner.

Trout (and other fish) are focusing on shrimp as their preferred food because they are in large supply in the creeks. Fishing for live shrimp beneath a float is a straightforward, simple, and highly effective method. Although the majority of my fishermen prefer to use flies or artificial lures, live shrimp suspended beneath a float offers some of the best activity.

Bass, largemouth:

Spinnerbaits, plastic worms, and lizards are cast fairly near docks and other structures. Fishing live herring at a depth of 30 to 40 feet for striped bass is effective. All throughout the lake, there has reportedly been some schooling activity. The most fruitful fishing has been done at night. crappy: Okay. Try using small to medium-sized minnows near brush piles and other fish-attraction sites. Use chopped herring, stink bait, chicken livers, and shiners 9 to 20 feet deep at the bottom along dike borders and around the dam to catch catfish in the good, shallow, 9 to 15 foot range. Bream: Use nightcrawlers, redworms, and crickets near banks and fish attraction zones for good results. Poor shellcrackers that forage on crickets and redworms near river edges and along points

Open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight, the Winyah Bay Fishing and Observation Pier in Georgetown offers free parking and fishing. A wonderful aspect of visiting is bird watching. Due to the brackish water, a freshwater fishing license is required. Hobcaw Point Observation and Fishing Pier is a second fishing pier that has opened in Winyah Bay. Opportunities for birding and crabbing are available.

Folly Beach Pier is open every day of the week from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Cut and live shrimp were used to catch black drum. Catching Whiting with Shrimp Cuts.

The Best Road Trip for South Carolina Shrimp

What would you advise? Gloria, a customer at Dave’s Carry-out in Charleston, South Carolina, is tapping a pencil on the counter. She portrays me as if I have fallen from the moon. She says, “Shrimp.” “Fried.” even though I don’t speak a word, and writes my order down on a piece of paper.

Dave’s and the majority of the businesses along South Carolina’s State Highway 17 as it skims down this permeable coastline of land, marsh, tidal river, and ocean serve shrimp. Spanish moss is to live oaks what shrimp is to Lowcountry menus—essential and inextricably linked. Whether they were brought in by a trawler, a cast-netter knee-deep in a creek, or a nighttime baiter whose johnboat lantern is just one glimmer in a constellation of fellow shrimpers out on the dark harbor, they were all pulled in. It makes little difference whether the shrimp are fried, boiled, grilled, or simply browned in a thin layer of bacon fat before being surrounded by a mound of creamy grits. Entirely the shrimp is local, all from the Lowcountry.

And this voyage unites those parts of shrimp culture like pearls on a thread—from the hippie outpost of Murrells Inlet to the culinary capital of Charleston and south to a shrimp pier on Hilton Head Island. Friends don’t let friends eat imported shrimp, according to the bumper sticker that is frequently seen along this road.