Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 28
July 13-19, 2000
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Meet the Majestic Blue Crab

Have you ever examined a blue crab, truly explored its wonder? I don’t mean while you’re plucking out succulent, lump backfin. Rather, have you taken the time to really examine this wondrous Bay creature in its natural environs? If you look closely, unfolding before you will be a cascade of magnificent hues of earthen green, magenta, and blue. It is this complex color palette that gives each specimen a uniqueness that is rarely, if ever, duplicated in any other of its kinsmen.

I will go a step further. I move to require every citizen, lifelong resident or fresh transplant (of which there are perhaps more than the former) of Chesapeake Country to read William Warner’s timeless classic, Beautiful Swimmers. And not just once, but several times, to gain a complete appreciation for this special Bay creature.

I was struck by this worthy notion as I dipped fat Severn River crabs off a trotline run by my erstwhile outdoors partner Kevin Colbeck. In Beautiful Swimmers, one of my favorite chapters is called “Lester Lee and the Chicken Neckers.” I like it not so much because I fit the description of a necker, which I very well may although I hope I don’t, but because of the lovely descriptions of a master working his craft.

I, too, love the intimacy of the trotline, its immersion into the water and the anticipation of what the next bait holds. The trotline is one the oldest methods used to harvest blue crabs, and for the professional the setup is elaborate. The amateur can make do with about 1,200 feet of line, bait (preferably salted eel, but chicken necks are less expensive), weights to anchor the line at each end and float buoys to mark your set. The final component is a roller bar, often homemade, that attaches to your boat to move the line over.

To my way of thinking, the blue crab is one of the most interesting creatures in our Chesapeake. It is a study in brute force, a survivor of the highest order. When you catch a crab, whether hand-lining with chicken necks, in a pot at the end of your dock or on a trotline, have you ever seen this feisty crustacean go silently into the basket? I doubt it. Crabs fight captivity claw and pincher, and the ones on top of the basket are continuously trying to escape.

The blue crab is certainly the Bay’s most enduring creature, given the enormous pressure placed on it recreationally and commercially.

Sadly, it has outlasted the oyster and American shad as the last great fishery on the Bay. Despite encouraging restoration efforts, oysters remain severely depleted, the fishery a shell of its former prodigious self after decades of pollution, disease and over harvesting. Shad have met a similar fate, and the fishery is so far removed from it historic standing that it is not commercially viable. Even the mighty rockfish, which rebounded from pollution ills and intense fishing pressure that closed the fishery merely 15 years ago, proved it wasn’t immune to human influence.

So today on the Bay, the blue crab remains the most valuable and sought-after commercial catch — and is pursued with equal vigor by recreational crabbers. When we say crab, of course we all mean the blue crab. Rarely would we talk with the same lust and reverence of the other 20 or so crab species as we do the mighty blue. It demands and has earned our respect, but it also deserves our diligent efforts to ensure its population not only remains stable but increases.

Fish are Biting

Fishing recently has been hard to beat. Hardhead, flounder, spot and white perch are abundant, and now even bluefish have made an appearance. If you want your limit of rockfish, try chumming at the Gas Docks, Love Point, or the mouth of the Potomac. Paddling maniac Dave Cola said he and Capt. Bart tore up the blues and rockfish chumming at the Hill.

Fred Donovan from Rod ‘n’ Reel (800/233-2080) says fishing down toward Chesapeake Beach is “fantastic.” He reported nice catches of spot, croaker and some flounder off Holland Point and the mouth of the Choptank. Karl and Robin from Crab Creek got into some big croaker and snapper bluefish drifting squid and minnows just south of the West River.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly