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The Bounty of the Chesapeake

Enrich your Thanksgiving menu with fish, fowl and venison

The winter giants are arriving. A 48-pound, 51-inch rockfish fell to angler Kevin Corbin (at right) aboard Capt. Jeremy Bendler’s boat on Saturday, November 11, just off the channel edge in front of Sandy Point State Park. It took a No. 21 Tony Accetta spoon trolled 200 feet back with just three ounces of weight.

The tradition of Thanksgiving dinner was first attributed to the Plymouth Bay Colony in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. But the practice of a harvest or a thanksgiving dinner was widespread throughout the early colonies and especially around the Chesapeake.
    The Chesapeake was by far the richest colony in America in terms of fish, waterfowl and wild game. Capt. John Smith, who first explored the Bay, spoke of being able to “walk across the water” on the bounteous schools of striped bass. Oyster beds were so numerous and large that they threatened the hulls of careless ships. Crabs choked the shallows, waterfowl darkened the skies each fall and wild turkey swarmed the surrounding forests.


  Big fish over 36 inches were also reported off the mouth of the South and Severn rivers.
  Light-tackle jiggers are reporting excellent action on stripers to 26 inches around the Bay Bridge in about 35 feet of water. Stingsilvers with droppers are the most popular with this crowd right now. Trollers, however, continue to have the best chance at tangling with a whopper. Big silver spoons like the Tony and the large Bunker will likely produce the bigger fish as some schools of large menhaden (to three pounds) have recently arrived in the mid-Bay. Look for gannets and pelicans to alert you to the location of big baitfish.
  White perch schools have recently relocated to avoid the pods of big hungry rockfish, so they’ve become a little difficult to locate but should resettle soon.

Hunting Seasons

Whitetail and sika deer bow season:
thru Nov. 23
Light geese: thru Nov. 23
Ducks: thru Nov. 23
Brant: thru Nov. 23
Common snipe: thru Nov. 23
Woodcock: thru Nov. 23
Canada geese: Nov. 17 thru Nov. 23
Whitetail and sika deer, firearms:
Nov. 24 thru Dec. 8
Bobwhite quail: thru Jan. 15
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Sea ducks: thru Jan. 31
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28
Cottontail rabbit: thru Feb. 28

    In observation of that early American wild game tradition, no Thanksgiving dinner at our house is complete without at least a few of the dishes (or variations thereof) that were sure to have been served around the Bay for 400 years.
    Chesapeake Bay oysters are a treat that never gets old. I have two favorite ways to serve them: On the half shell with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of Tabasco; and barbecued, smoking hot off the back-porch grill, with a seafood horseradish sauce.
    There were always wild geese and ducks on Tidewater tables because their migrations were at their peak this time of year. The flights of waterfowl coming down from the north no longer darken the noontime sun as they once did, but there is still a fair flurry of Canada geese, mallards, black ducks, widgeon and teal blessing our shores in autumn.
    Grilled teal is a great starter, for these birds are scarcely larger than a pigeon. You can also substitute smaller pieces of larger waterfowl. Salt and pepper each piece and wrap generously in thick bacon strips. Then quickly cook over a hot charcoal fire until the bacon is crisp and the duck medium.
    Our garden salads at Thanksgiving have a Chesapeake twist, with backfin crabmeat to top everyone’s bowl of mixed salad greens sprinkled with mustard vinaigrette.
    Whitetail deer also graced the tables of our colonial fathers, and while not nearly as plentiful as today, they were still very highly regarded. A hindquarter of young whitetail deer makes a wild Thanksgiving centerpiece.
    Stuff the roast by piercing it with a sharp thin knife and inserting stout slivers of garlic throughout. Then coat it with olive oil, coarse salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh, minced rosemary. Allow the meat to reach room temperature before cooking.
    Roast about an hour — until the venison reaches 135 degrees — on a covered charcoal grill with mesquite chips added for a good smoky flavor. Slice the meat thin and across the grain.
    If you’re lucky enough to still be fishing the week of Thanksgiving, fresh rockfish fillets add colonial variety to your holiday spread. I like to keep my rockfish simple. Anoint it with olive oil, salt and pepper, then broil. Flip when the fish begins to brown, and remove when it flakes.
    Smother the fillets with sliced mushrooms and some chopped pimentos sautéed in lemon butter.