Volume 14, Issue 23 ~ June 8 - June 14, 2006

The Sporting Life

by Dennis Doyle

An Early Summer Report from Paradise

Crabs punctuated by pickerel

Maryland catches and consumes more blue crabs than any other state in the union. As a loyal resident, I try to do my fair share, which is why late in the evening on the last day of May I was sitting on my front porch, swatting mosquitoes and baiting a thousand feet of trot line.

I knew it was too early for a trotline to be catching well in the mid-Bay, but I also know that you can’t always tell what a crab will or won’t do. Besides, I didn’t need a lot of crabs. I just needed enough for a small dinner. And I was really itching to go crabbing. It was a long winter.

By late the next morning, my hopes were dimmed considerably. A friend and I had headed to water south of Annapolis, where there were anecdotal reports of good catches. But stories that are too good to be true are usually just that. Crabless by nine we had given up, and I was headed home alone, towing the boat. Dinner looked grim.

As I neared my own neighborhood — and since the line was baited and all the gear was still in the boat — I couldn’t give up so easily.

Back in the water by 10am, I had the bait laid in six feet of water at a quiet cove inside the Magothy. I let the baits soak while I cast a small spinner bait toward some downed trees and waterfront docks. Fifteen minutes of effort rewarded me with a nice pickerel that put on quite an aerial display. It also finally put a smile on my face. I sent him on his way after a quick picture.

Returning to my trotline, I prepared to meet the inevitable. But the first run produced three heavy jimmies and an equal number of drop offs. Not very good by most measures — after all, there were 200 baits in the water — but I just might be able to scratch up dinner.

Another couple of runs produced a few more crabs, and some of them were seven inches or better. But I was also reminded why most people don’t use trot lines this early in the season: the drop offs numbered two or three times the crabs that held on to the baits — and those were just the ones I glimpsed. I suspected there were others when the line stayed suspiciously deep but came up empty to my roller. Still, I soldiered on.

A lull in the crab action resulted in yet another shoreline casting sortie and yet another nice pickerel. This one kept deep for a while before I got a good look at him. He was bigger than the first, very thick through the middle and quite powerful.

Playing him gently so that he would tire and could be easily landed, I was rewarded by the fish chewing through the leader at boat-side. Suddenly free, he swam off, displaying my $4 spinner on the side of his grin like a pirate’s earring. I did not begrudge him his trophy. My day was shaping up much better than it started.

Returning to the trotline, I was further rewarded with yet another couple of nice males. It was arduous, but the numbers in my basket were undeniably mounting to the size of a small but generous feast. And they kept coming.

By 2pm I was tired, the crabs had ceased their interest in my line and I had managed two dozen nice keepers. This was just about perfect. I pulled the gear and headed home.

Only my 13-year-old son was going to be there for dinner since my wife had planned to be away that evening with our other two boys. I hoped to surprise him with his favorite meal when he arrived home from his long day at school.

Setting the crab pot to boil, I hosed down the boat, put my gear away and started dinner. By the time my son burst through the door, the house had that aroma of the finest meal in the nation. The crabs came out red and steaming. I had the vinegar, butter and Old Bay already on the table, and the two of us sat down. This was definitely a day in Paradise.

Note: Striped bass fishing is now open throughout the Bay and its tributaries. Two fish of at least 18 inches may be kept, but only one may be larger than 28 inches. These restrictions will be in effect until the end of the season, December 15. Live eels may also now be used as bait.

Fish Are Biting

The summer rockfish bite is progressing nicely, with chummers catching medium-sized fish in all of the usual locations and trollers still taking fish regularly along the channel edges. Live-liners are doing well with small perch as bait. The full moon this month on Sunday, June 11, should draw the rock into shallower waters looking for soft crabs from the first big molt of the season.

Croaker are appearing and disappearing throughout the mid Bay but have not settled anywhere in any numbers as yet. White perch are also frustrating most anglers used to finding them consistently, but warmer weather should make them more predictable. The crabs are slow to turn on, but their presence this month is inevitable, and there is a good season predicted. Everything looks excellent for the summer. Cross your fingers.

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