Fish Camps: What more could you ask for?

Clark’s waterfront location makes for this lovely view.
Words and images by Ashley Anderson
While you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can almost always judge a fish camp by its exterior.
In the 1930s and ‘40s it was the lonely fisherman awaiting a nibble, his reel hanging over the river hoping for some action, who birthed the first fish camps. Originally, they were places where people could buy bait and rent tackle for a turn on the water and then later fillet and fry whatever they reeled in that day.
As they were mostly utilitarian, then, as often now, they were simple sheds along the rivers of the southern United States.

Eventually, fish camps evolved into what we know today, modest mom-and-pop canteens where fishermen and non-fishermen alike eat affordably on fresh local catches as well as heaping portions of southern comfort food.

Clark’s is situated right on Julington Creek, making it an easy stop for boaters.
Some of the best fish camps in Florida are shacks that aren’t aesthetically pleasing from the outside but once the door opens, exude the aroma of food that is anything but ordinary.

As I pulled into the parking lot that day I knew something special was in front of me.  The smell of fried everything filled my nostrils and I could feel the anticipation building in my stomach.

I walked in and a life-size taxidermy giraffe grabbed my attention. To my left was a tank about half filled with water.  As I peered in the tank, searching for fish, I spotted a reptilian tail … a live alligator.

This is Clark’s Fish Camp, where staff has been serving patrons for more than 30 years.

Clark’s, located off Old St. Augustine Road in Mandarin, maintains the traditional fish camp atmosphere with simple and rustic surroundings, with a bit of a twist.

The restaurant houses a tribute to the taxidermist’s artistry by displaying the largest private taxidermy collection in America.  This collection includes everything from lions, tigers and bears to … oh my.

Repeat customers Casey Ayers and Tristan Adams of Jacksonville said that Clark’s has more to offer than just good food.

The artwork lining the outside of Clark’s Fish Camp in Mandarin.
“It’s the combination of food and atmosphere,” Ayers said, adding that the view is also nice.   Clark’s is located right on the water of Julington Creek.

Boaters are able to dock their boats out at Clark’s dock, come in for a good meal and then continue on with whatever the day has in store.

My waitress, Jamie Kiser, has worked at Clarks for over eight years.  She loves working at a place like this for many reasons but – most of all — she loves who she works with.

“We’re all like a family, we’ve all been here for a long time pretty much.  The newest person has been here a year and a half.”

Clark’s Fish camp has been a fan favorite for decades.

Originally it was a bait and tackle shop at the foot of Hood Landing Road.  Clark’s has since expanded that small shop into a unique and casual dining experience.

Generally, when at a fish camp, people order a traditional fish camp meal.  Our waitress said that normally a traditional meal would either be catfish or gator tail.

I decided to live on the edge while at Clark’s and got a fan favorite, gator tail.  People say it tastes just like chicken and up until recently I would’ve called them a liar … but then I tasted it.

Clark’s knows how to do seafood.

However, Clark’s isn’t the only fish camp in and around Jacksonville, there’s also; Whitey’s, North Beach Fish Camp, Julington Creek Fish Camp and more.  Florida is chocked full of sea camps and seafood.

Whitey’s, located on Fleming Island, was opened by Whitey and Ann Ham in 1963.  The original fish camp was nothing more than a tackle shop with nine bar stools, a toaster oven, soft drinks, beer and sandwiches.  Now, they have a full service bar, kitchen, dining room and outside deck.

North Beach Fish Camp was opened in Neptune Beach by the owners of Marker 32 and Palm Valley Fish Camp, Ben and Liza Groshell.  North Beach is Palm Valley’s sister restaurant mirroring its menu, view and service. North Beach Fish Camp offers a contemporary casual beach feel.

Julington Creek Fish Camp is also owned by the Groshells, the newest addition to their fish-camp network in the Jacksonville area.  This fish camp offers a spacious interior with outdoor seating as well.  It is located along the backs of Julington Creek.

Before leaving Clark’s I walked out on the dock and admired the beautiful scene in front of me. A beautiful view, great food, a fun atmosphere and great people — what more could you want?


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