By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
Capt. Ed Carroll is a long way from the rolling waves of the open seas that he’s loved since he was a child.
Good thing he’s brought a bit of it with him, then.
“I’ve decided to stay on land for a little while and try my hand at this,” said the owner of Off the Hook Fresh Seafood Market, located across from the ICC campus in Fulton, which opened its doors last week. He made a sweeping gesture over a counter lined with rows of fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, lobster and crab. All of this food — save the lobster — was pulled from the waters off the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It’s about as fresh as it can get around these parts.
“We’re bringing all of this back from the Gulf Coast,” Carroll said.
Open Wednesday through Saturday each week, the market will be supplied with fresh fish Carroll purchases when he returns to his home in Orange Beach, Ala., for the first half of the week. While he’s gone, the business will largely operate under the watchful eye of his eldest son, Trace.
Life at sea
Carroll has spent almost his entire life on the water. He’s been fishing since he was a kid and captaining a boat since he was 18.
“I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and when you grow up on the Gulf Coast, fishing is what you do,” Carroll said.
For more than 20 years, Carroll has been captaining private sports fishing boats — a job he claimed was just about perfectly suited for him. There’s a certain freedom to the seemingly endless reach of the open water, where a man can see the earth stretching on until it appears to curve. It’s about as far from an office job as a person can get. He loved it.
“There’s nothing like being 150 miles off shore and seeing whales in the blue water,” he said. “Or, looking up in the night and seeing a sky full of stars.”
So, what pulled this lifelong sea dog away from his true love?
“It’s basically what takes any man out of his element: A woman,” he said with a curt laugh.
When Carroll met and subsequently fell for a girl from the small town of Fulton, Mississippi, his life changed quite drastically. He began splitting his time between the coast and Fulton. Some days, she’d drive down to see him; other days, he’d drive up to see her. Either way, it was a six-hour trip for someone.
Over the two-and-a-half years they did this, Carroll began hauling more and more fresh sea food from the coast. He said Fulton friends began requesting he bring some fish back with him … then even more. Soon, he was basically a local fresh seafood delivery man, save for the paycheck that usually comes attached to something like that.
“Before you know it, we were hauling 150 pound ice chests full of fish back with us,” he said, shaking his head.
So, since he was bringing seafood back with him anyway, Carroll decided to try his hand at a fresh market. He spent several weeks renovating the old Coleman’s BBQ building, which had been empty for years. Now, it looks much more like something the captain might call home: light blue and white paint on the walls, various maritime decorations scattered about and, of course, a counter packed full of fresh food straight from the sea.
When the business opened late last week, Carroll and his son were greeted by a steady flow of customers. He hopes its a sign of good fortune to come.
“It went well,” Carroll said of his business’ opening day. “Especially considering nobody knows we are here. Still, we had a steady stream of people. I’d say the response has been tremendous so far.”
It’s a good feeling, he said, to be welcomed to an area. Even though he’s dozens of miles away from the open water he loves, Carroll said Fulton seems like a nice place to drop anchor for a while.
“I like being down here,” he said. “Every now and again, I can hear the riverboats blow their horns and it makes me think of home.”