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James Drake

These next few weeks are a simply grand time to schedule a little get-away to Ocean City.

I’m not talking about setting up a deal for good prices next summer, either. Right now can be an absolute prime time to visit the ocean. Just think about it.

Most everyone likes to collect a few shells when they go to an ocean resort.

During the spring, summer and fall seasons, you’d have to get up before daybreak and start searching with a flashlight to get first dibs on the nicer ones that wash up at Ocean City.

Ah, but check it out this time of year and you’ll probably be all alone shell hunting along the beach edge. It’s just so beautiful there now, and if you have someone special with you, it can also be very romantic without the rush of so many other vacationers nearby.

I know many of the hotels have special deals and rates for this time of year. Just for general information, I checked out a weeklong stay for two adults and two children for next week at one of the nicer ones, the Hilton Suites Ocean City.

A waterfront suite there will set you back $109 a night. To rent that very same suite in July would be a whopping $529 per night. You can stay the better part of a whole week right now for what one night costs you in summer.

That’s some difference, and it can be easily argued that it’s better right now because there aren’t any crowds.

The permanent listed population of Ocean City from the 2010 Census was 7,102 people. In the summer, Ocean City becomes Maryland’s second largest city with an estimated population of between 325,000 and 350,000.

It doesn’t get any bigger in area to accommodate all those extra guests. It just gets more and more congested.

This time of year, you’ve got basically the same zone to play with, but you’ve got it pretty much to yourself. You can even get in a little fishing during these winter months.

Capt. Monty Hawkins takes anglers out aboard his “Morning Star” if the weather is decent and enough people want to go.

If you’re heading out that way, give him a call at 410-520-2076 and ask if the taug are still biting.

If you’ve never visited the coast during winter, do it at least once in your life. It’s my favorite time of the year there because it’s just so beautiful and uncrowded.

Lots of the hotels and restaurants stay open all year and even some of the shops are open for business along the boardwalk. Have you been hungry for a few Thrasher’s French fries lately? You can scratch that itch and have them right now; they’re even open weekends.

When we make a winter Ocean City visit, I almost always include a little excursion north to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. It’s not a long trip from Ocean City, and it too is a picturesque place to be in winter.

If you get to Bethany Beach and the hunger bug strikes, I highly recommend Grotto Pizza. I’ll tell you a little secret about that place.

I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, and a fishing hole called Harvey’s Lake is where I spent a whole lot of my time. There’s a little public beach there, and in the summers (we’re talking back in the 1960s now), a little grotto-like building also stood there and some guy started selling this distinctive and delicious pizza.

I think I remember 20 cents a slice, and we always stopped if they were open. He’s the same man who later opened several Grotto Pizza restaurants in Delaware.

So, grab the camera, dress accordingly and give Maryland’s vacation capital a chance during the winter months. I’m sure you’ll find the outdoor scene far more natural without so many other people around you.

Give it a try. It’s a win-win on so many levels, and after all, spring turkey season doesn’t get here until April 18. You’ve got plenty of time.

Summer jobs

Maryland’s Park Service is actively recruiting now for more than 100 seasonal full-time and part-time jobs throughout the state. They’re looking for folks to fill in openings such as lifeguards, seasonal naturalists, rangers, maintenance people, contact station attendants and customer service staff.

You’ll be paid hourly wages. Most positions start at between $9 and $13 per hour, but some supervisory and specialist jobs pay up to $20 per hour. Spring through fall seasonal opportunities are available for high school and college age students ,as well as retired candidates, looking to share some of their life-learned skills and talents.

For more information, go to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources’ website,, and click on “Seasonal Job Openings” from the homepage.

There, you can search different jobs available at the individual state parks in your area.

New aluminum boats

Ranger Boats has launched a website ( devoted to promoting its newest line of durable, feature-laden and rather affordable fishing boats.

These range from a 16-foot tiller model to 18-footers with 115 horses pushing them smartly along.

Many of these rigs are easy on the wallet and not horrible for the environment, with modest power options ranging mostly from 25 to 75 horsepower.

These are ideal for first-time buyers and even older and now maybe wiser anglers who are finally backing away from those gasoline-hog speed machines with the monster 250s bolted on the back.

Think reasonable as well as fishable and practical.

Oyster roast

An oyster roast will be held at Solomons Pier from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday.

On the menu will be fried, steamed and raw oysters, oysters Rockefeller, oysters Chesapeake, oyster stew, BBQ oysters and Southern Maryland stuffed ham. Everything is being served all-you-can-eat.

The cost is $29.95 per person. There is no sharing, no carryout and no substitutions. For more information, call 410-326-2424.