People and Places with Pierce: The Fish House Lies

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – Every man has his own story to tell. One of them is helping to keep a rather unique flair for storytelling from Down East Carteret County alive and well.

“It’s a term we use reverently around here,” said Rodney Kemp, who specializes in a type of storytelling known as fish house lies.

Fish house lies as they’re affectionately called have a long history in this remote corner of the East. And Rodney Kemp is happy to keep it going.

“It was tradition down at the fish house or down at the community store that the men folk would meet in the evenings and tell stories,” said Kemp.

“I went up to an old timer during a pretty day and I said it’s a mighty pretty day,” said Kemp. “And he said yeah but it was cold last week. Well when they say that to you, you’re supposed to ask: how cold was it? He said well you know that metal statue down at South River of the hunter holding his gun? It was so cold he had thrown his gun down and put his hands in his pockets.”

“We carry on a tradition of telling stories that border on the truth,” explained Kemp. “A lot of times it’s hyperbole or exaggeration in the punchline.”

This type of swapping stories, or swapping lies as it’s known, came at a time when there weren’t many other options for entertainment.

“I’m sure it existed in the 1800’s but certainly into the 1900’s because we’re long before radio, long before TV,” said Kemp. “So it was in that period of time where fishermen, who tend to exaggerate anyway, would be involved in that.”

“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” said Kemp. “I remember they were talking about how big the fish were they had caught that week and one guy kept his mouth shut and they finally said well didn’t you catch anything this week? He said yeah but it was too big to put in the boat.

It’s a form of entertainment that has now passed its expiration date. Many of these fish house lies are recited by Kemp and others by memory. So it’s hard to say how long these tall tales will stick around.

“On one of those very hot scolding humid days we have often in Carteret County, I heard an old timer from the Promise’ Land section right across the street in Morehead City say I ain’t been this hot but twice in my life and today is both times,” said Kemp.

For now, Kemp and several others are doing their part to keep the tradition rolling.

“When the wind is blowing hard around here, the term they use is its honking,” said Kemp. “And one of the old timers said it’s honking so bad one day it blew my living room door open and it caught the hammer on my granddaddy’s shotgun.”


Pierce is always looking for interesting and unique people and places to visit. If you have an idea, send him an email or a message on Facebook or Twitter.


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