Volume 16, Issue 25 - June 19 - June 25, 2008

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Maryland’s Finest Meal

This is one delicacy you can bring home yourself

The trotline came up slowly over our roller as my electric trolling motor ghosted the skiff along. A bright sun was already getting a firm grip on the morning and warning us of a hotter day ahead. My son Rob crouched in the bow, the net poised and his eyes straining to see into the creek’s murky depths. Then he scooped, raised his net, pivoted and with a yell of triumph thumped the first blue crab of the season into our basket.

Immediately turning back to the line and plunging the net in again, he caught and deposited a second crab. Then just as quickly, another. Three crabs on our first three baits — and they kept coming.

On the next run, our third crewmember, Dave Posner, who had instigated this first foray of the season, took his turn at the net with continued good fortune. By the end of those first two runs, we had over a dozen and a half big jimmies.

Now there was no longer any question that there would be enough for a dinner. The world suddenly seemed a better place, and our summer took on a luster that up to now had been missing. The blue crabs were running.

Within three hours, we had our basket full of the beauties. Pulling the line and securing our gear, we headed for home.

There is something special about the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. And there is definitely something special about catching them and cooking them up yourself. For our family and friends, everything else is a distant second.

Fish Are Biting

The recent heat wave has the rockfish on the move. There’s been action at Swan Point, Love Point, Podickery, Hackett’s and around the Bay Bridge for chummers as well as trollers — but not in any one place for long. The key is to be flexible and to keep looking for them. Nice white perch have been taken over shell bottoms in 30 feet of water, and bait-sized spot are scattered among them. Bluefish are still far to the south, but the crabs are on the move and should soon be active just about everywhere.

Crabber Alert: New emergency crabbing regulations issued by DNR went into effect June 1. Among other restrictions, the harvest of all females by recreational crabbers is banned.

Catch ’Em, Cook ’Em, Eat ’Em

By six that evening, the dining room table had been cleared and protected with multiple layers of newspaper. The mallets and knives, rolls of paper towels and dishes of spices and vinegars were ready to go.

Outside in the yard, my old crab cooker, fashioned from a stainless steel beer keg, was spurting steam and the unmistakable aroma of Maryland bliss: hot crabs. Thirty minutes later, as we spread out a first batch of the spiced, red beauties onto the center of the table for everyone to share, I silently thanked the heavens for such a unique and delicious bounty.

Recreational crabbing on the Chesapeake is an especially egalitarian affair. Anyone and everyone can do it with little specialized equipment or preparation. You don’t even have to have a license if you keep to a two-dozen-per-person possession limit. A ball of cotton twine for hand lines, a few chicken necks, a long-handled crab net and an airy basket to keep them in is all you need.

While I generally work a trotline measuring about 900 feet, I will often go the ball-of-twine approach for its simplicity and casual nature. And it works.

The key to catching is selecting your water carefully. In our mid-Bay, there is heavy pressure on these crustaceans from both commercial operations and sport crabbers. Consequently many places contain few crabs, and the crabs that do venture into those locations are soon captured.

Look for quieter, more deserted waters, preferably with good tidal movement. Crabs drift and swim with that current in their constant search for food. The better the water movement is over and around your baits, the more the chances for good numbers of crabs. Traveling farther south toward Tilghman Island or the Choptank on the Eastern Shore and the Solomon’s Island area on the western side is also a good idea.

Store your crabs in a split wood bushel basket or ventilated plastic basket. Good air circulation is essential. Kept cool in the shade or in an air-conditioned room, blue crabs will live for 24 hours or more.

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