And, of course, there are umpteen restaurants serving up some of the tastiest fried soft-shell-crab po’ boys and fried cheesecake (this area isn’t called the Stroke Belt for nothing) one could ever overindulge in.
The point is, on a three-day, off-the-beaten-sand odyssey in Lower Alabama, I’ll be logging more coastal highlights and firsts than I have in a while over on that other L.A. coast, where I flew in from.
For example, it’s in this L.A. where I board a 24-foot covered pontoon boat to go shrimping with Captain Skip Beebe of Sailaway Charters on the quiet backwaters of Wolf Bay, on the outskirts of Orange Beach.
“Today is one of the best days of the year to be shrimping, and I’m not just saying that,” says Captain Skip, a veteran fisherman and local naturalist guide, as he steers a small boatload of novice shrimpers into a large, empty-looking bay that — we’re assured — will soon be teeming with action from all sides.
In preparation, Skip hands each pontoon guest a long Mark-What-You-See checklist itemizing about 50 different creatures and critters commonly found in the bay. “By the end of this trip,” says Skip, “a lot of them will be checked off. Pretty dramatically at times.”
Pretty dramatically at times — the phrase sticks with me while Skip slowly weaves us through the bay’s brackish, bivalve-encrusted shallows. He pulls up oysters (check) with a pair of enormous 8-foot tongs, points at a brown pelican (check) gliding overhead, hoists up a blue crab (check) scuttling around in a trap and chucks a large shrimp net into the water, all the while fielding our various questions about crustaceans.
“Where’s the best place for shrimp in Lower Alabama?” someone asks Captain Skip. “Aside from your kitchen.”
“You’ll need another list for that one,” the captain responds. “But you gotta try the Royal Reds.”
Pink shrimp. Brown shrimp. White shrimp. They cover the bottom of this bay, and they’re all good eating. But the Royal Reds, we learn, are ambrosial. Skip tells us where to go to order some — but it’s not lunchtime quite yet.
Fifty yards away, dorsal fins from a pod of resident bottlenose dolphins (check) appear, veering toward the boat as Captain Skip drags the shrimp net at an easy 2 mph. We’re already pretty jazzed, but Skip shakes his head.
“This is nothing,” he tells us. “Just wait. It’s gonna get even better.”