One of many wonderful experiences on St. Helena Island was the morning I spent oyster picking with Ed “Lee Man” Atkins.
Atkins’ family owns Atkins Bait Shop, one of the oldest businesses in Beaufort County. It’s on the roadside just as you cross the bridge onto St. Helena Island. It doesn’t look like much, but folks in fancy pickup trucks come from miles around because Atkins has exactly what they need to catch The Big One.
During season, Atkins also works his family’s oyster beds around St. Helena Island. Oyster season usually runs from September to April. It’s easy to remember because oysters are only in season during months with the letter “r” in them.
On this particular morning I met Atkins and his cousin Curtis Atkins before daybreak at the bait shop. After a short ride in a johnboat, we settled on a nearby shoreline. Atkins scanned the clusters of shells at our feet and quickly determined which had the largest oysters inside. To me, every rock-like handful looked the same.
I’ll never be an expert oyster picker, but at least I can buy them from the man who is.