Pulling on the trotline one final time to straighten it and ensure proper tension, we dropped the red trailing float and released its anchor into the water, completing the setup. It was just after sunrise, an early start being a necessity when hoping for a good catch of blue crabs. Still, we also knew our job was not going to be easy.
There had been nothing but bad news this season on the local population of jimmies. My friend Frank had invited me on this trip with the understanding that he needed a basket of crabs for a gathering later that very afternoon. But, perhaps, if we caught enough, a few fat males might come my way.
That possibility, I knew, was slim to none. But hope springs eternal on the Chesapeake. We also had two lucky charms with us: two of Frank’s granddaughters, Emma and Sydney, ages nine and 10.
If anything tugs at the heartstrings of crabbing’s Lady Luck, it’s a youngster on board, and two female youngsters pull on them that much more. Frank and I, of course, had no idea how much good fortune the girls would bring.
Fishing a Trotline
A simple crabbing trotline has the chicken neck baits tied directly onto the line, generally one every five to seven feet. There is a drawback to that simplicity. When the line begins to be pulled up off the bottom, the weight of the crab grasping the neck flips it over. Often that startles the critter enough to cause it to drop off.
Our trotline, however, was rigged with snoods. A snood is a dropper line about six inches long knotted onto the main line and rigged with a slip loop to hold the chicken neck. This tends to keep crabs holding on all the way to the surface as the line is pulled up.
Our first run was startling. In recent seasons, the number of crabs in the Bay has dropped significantly, to about half that of years past and worse in some areas. If a sport crabber nets just a few legal (51⁄4 inches) males off a trot line with some 200 baits, lately that’s considered a good catch.
When we reached the end of the line and lifted it off the roller, we rushed back to the culling basket and counted. Fourteen keeper-sized jimmies crowded the bottom, fiercely brandishing big, bright blue claws and daring us to come closer. It was an awesome beginning, but, we feared, unlikely to continue.
Then it did. Taking turns, the girls netted crab after crab. Occasionally, the girls relinquished their nets to do a share of the culling, allowing us adults to make the catch.
Within an hour, keeper jimmies were filling the big orange basket, climbing up and over the top to scuttle into the confines of the boat. That wouldn’t do. So we put a lid on the first basket and pulled out a second.
Well before the end of the morning, the impossible was accomplished: Two bushels of big, beautiful blue crabs, one for Frank, and the other, quite miraculously, for me. Motoring back to the dock we all congratulated ourselves and, especially, our lucky charms.