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Volume 15, Issue 23 ~ June 7 - June 13, 2007

Honga River Heavies

A long shot hits a bulls-eye

Last year I spent May and a lot of June complaining about the poor crabbing in our sector of the Bay. This year, facing the effects of yet another cool spring — poor crabbing — I intended to do something about it.

Fish Are Biting

The May worm hatch is ebbing, and rockfish are getting on the bite again. There are large schools forming off of the mouths of most rivers, usually at the channel edge. Trolling is still the most productive technique, but once the school is located many anglers are scoring good-sized fish by jigging Bass Assassins and BKDs.

Live-lining small perch is also starting to become effective. The big croaker encountered earlier are more scattered, but they are still to be found by persistent anglers. Evenings are best, with peeler crab by far the best bait.

Enlisting my long-suffering friend Mike in what was probably a grand scheme destined for naught, we prepared to go south. We had both heard vague, second-hand stories claiming that blue crabs were active sooner down there. Now we were going to see for ourselves.

Consulting Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s map of piers and boat ramps, I eyeballed a put-in location south of Cambridge on the Honga River. But we could find little crabbing information about the area.

Disregarding that lack of knowledge, Mike and I mounted up anyway. Behind my pickup, our skiff was stuffed with a 900-foot baited trotline, crab net, baskets, floats, anchors, a cooler with sandwiches and drinks.

Two hours and 90 miles later, we put in on the Honga. Our plan was to motor to the first area that had at least a consistent five-foot depth, start crabbing and trust everything to luck. If there were no crabs, we would continue to move until we found them … or ran out of daylight.

Compounding our absence of specific knowledge was a faulty weather forecast. The predicted light southern wind was actually a howler out of the east.

Not really surprised, we carried on, though we knew that the wind would complicate our setup and limit our ability to venture far from a lee shore.

Negotiating an extensive shallow water area adjacent to the ramp, we finally found the marked channel and headed out into the river. The very first cove we came to was wide, ranging from five to eight feet deep and well out of the main current of the river.

It all seemed too easy. Mike and I looked at each other and shrugged. We had no real expectations of success, only our shared desire to get out and try something. Whatever we learned, we could use the next time; any good fortune would be a bonus.

Strategizing for Success

The crabbing gods must have been pleased at our attitude because as soon as we began a run, the jimmies started to come up. This immediate success was so startling that we missed the first three or four. Then we started to get the rascals.

They weren’t giants, the majority were five and one half to six and one half inches, but they were all stained dark and dirty, and dirty crabs are heavy crabs. As heavy crabs go, these babies weighed like bricks, thumping loudly as they hit the bottom of the basket.

By the third run on the line, however, things weren’t so upbeat. The crabs had stopped. Puzzled at the slowdown, we paused and analyzed the situation, a process that works only occasionally for us.

Since we were well out of the river’s current, perhaps the crabs weren’t moving much. We guessed that we could let the line set until more crabs eventually filtered into the area and came onto our baits. Or we could move the line to a fresh zone.

Impatient and appetite-driven by the thought of a crab dinner, we dragged the line farther across the cove. To our surprise, the strategy worked. The crabs returned. Again, after a few runs, they fell off. We dragged the line farther, and the harvest resumed.

A couple of persistent hours and five relocations later, we had our bushel basket stuffed full with fat and dirty crabs. Pulling the line and chasing down the scuttling culls that had escaped into the hard-to-reach places under the deck and behind the cooler, we allowed ourselves to feel triumph.

The long shot had hit a bulls-eye. There was going to be a feast of fresh Chesapeake Bay blue crabs in our very near future.

A few hours later, over a pile of delicious critters we knew we couldn’t exhaust and more than one adult beverage, we celebrated. The crabs turned out to be as packed full of meat as anticipated, and they were sweet as any crab we’d ever eaten.

As the night deepened, our celebration got just a little out of hand. Crabwise we were full tilt into Chesapeake summer — thanks to a lot of luck and those heavies from the Honga River.

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