OCEAN CITY – What are the fish biting today?
Is this crab a female? Can I keep it?
What are they catching?
Can you take our picture?
It’s not unusual for Pete Jones, the man so often behind the counter at the Ocean City Fishing Pier, to get bombarded with questions like these as the summer sun beats down on the resort. While waves pound the shoreline and the excited cries of children enjoying the Boardwalk’s amusements carry on the wind, Jones sits behind the counter at Ocean City’s iconic pier. He rents rods and sells bait while he chats with visitors exploring what he considers the most photographed piece of Ocean City.
“You meet a lot of nice people,” Jones said as he sat in his usual spot this week.
Jones, who’s from Pocomoke, grew up visiting Ocean City with his family. As the rest of the family strolled the Boardwalk, he would come to the pier and fish. He returned to Ocean City as an adult, where he spent 36 years working for the Ocean City Department of Public Works. While he’d been working weekends at the pier for decades, it was upon retirement from his position with the town last year that he began spending more time at the Ocean City landmark.
Jones has now been greeting guests at the pier for 23 years. He has no plans of stopping any time soon.
“One of these days you’ll find me sitting here dead and I’ll be happy,” he joked.
Jones collects the 50-cent admission fee from those who want to take in the sights from the end of the pier and also rents gear to those who want to try their hand at fishing or crabbing.
“You get a lot of sightseers and a lot of fishing too,” he said. “Police come and take their breaks out here. It’s a nice environment. We’re low key and laid back. We get a lot of photographers too. Especially during the air show.”
Jones says he enjoys the family atmosphere of the pier. He’s watched people get married on the sand below and others propose from atop the wooden landing. He’s come to know families who vacation in downtown Ocean City every year. He recalls going to a local fish market each year in advance of one family’s visit to make sure he had the father’s favorite bait on hand. Though that man has since passed away, his wife and children continue to stop in to see Jones on their annual vacation.
When he’s got young families interested in the antics of the ocean, Jones makes an effort to point out rip currents to them.
“You can see them easy from up here,” he said. “I show them how to identify them. Hopefully I’ve saved a life or two over the years.”
Of course, during his years on the pier Jones has witnessed some unsavory incidents. He called the police once when he caught some men trying to cut the locks off the chain link fence at the top of the pier. They’d intended to sell the locks, which people attach to the fence as a way to remember loved ones, for scrap.
“Most of the time we don’t have trouble here,” Jones said.
Jones, who is considered a mainstay of Ocean City by many, says he enjoys running into folks he worked with during his time as a town employee.
“The town did me a good service,” he said. “We all worked like a team.”
He’s also occasionally visited by local homeless individuals.
“I feed ‘em TV dinners,” he said.
Jones also does what he can to support local charitable organizations. He’s quick to volunteer his time, whether it’s at The Freeman Stage or the Atlantic General Hospital Thrift Store. He says he just likes to keep busy, something he realized as soon as he retired.
“The sitting home and watching TV, that did it for me,” he said.
He also knows the value of giving back to the community. He’s eager to talk about the various initiatives underway at Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services, where his wife works.
“You’ve got to help people,” he said. “The time of ‘it’s all about me,’ the whole world’s going to go down because of that. That’s not the way it should be.”
Watching the years go by in Ocean City, however, he believes things are looking up.
“It’s changed a lot,” he said. “I used to like how everybody knew everybody. Now businesses have changed. But even with the new people, that’s starting to come back … It’s starting to get back to where it’s more friendly, with people who are here all the time.”