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Volume xviii, Issue 17 ~ Apri 29 to May 5, 2010

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Captain Bob Evans Takes the Cake

Better make it a crab cake

by Mick Blackistone

When you call Bob Evans at home his answering machine message sums up his professional life. “I’m either crabbing, fishing or shootin’ something. Please leave a message,” it says.

Capt. Bob, 56, has called the Chesapeake Bay home all of his life. He was born to it and has worked its waters for over 40 years, crabbing, fishing, oystering and trapping year in and year out.

“I’ve never made a nickel doing anything that wasn’t somehow connected to the water,” Evans reports. “In fact, I still tell people that I started out in this business with nothing and I still have most of it left.”

Now, Evans also has the highest achievement award a commercial waterman can get. This month, National Fisherman magazine named him one of the year’s three Highliners.

Highliners, as defined in William McCloskey’s novel of the same name, “is the commercial fishermen’s term for their own elite, the skippers and crews who bring in the biggest hauls.”

In National Fisherman’s parlance, the word “is as much about who you are as it is what you do.”

Evans joins Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and skipjack captain Russell Dize as the Chesapeake’s third waterman to join the elite fraternity of Highliners.

“Bob Evans has been a great ambassador for the fishing community, lobbying and working with youth and others to introduce the waterman’s ways and call attention to the value of the lifestyle,” said Jerry Fraser. “It’s all on his own time, and when asked he doesn’t say no.”

Being and Doing

Evans knew he wanted to be a waterman since he was 12. He started trapping and fishing from a small skiff on the South River.

“I was the black sheep of the family according to my grandmother,” Evans says. “She died when she was 108 years old and still didn’t like me working on the water. There never was any other place for me, unless it was being a produce farmer — but I could never afford the land,” he says.

Bob opened Bob Evans Bay Food in Churchton in 1976 to sell his catch, learning seafood marketing and handling from dealers who bought his crabs and fish. He worked hard doing and learning all he could to keep moving forward while waiting for his big break.

That came in 1978 when he was oystering with Tutti Wilde aboard his 40-foot round stern, The Tempest, which was built in 1970 by Grover Lee Owens out of Deltaville, Virginia. Evans told Tutti that he loved the boat, and eight years later, when the older captain retired, he sold her to Evans.

“She was mine, just as I dreamed, but I never dreamed she could be in such bad shape,” Evans recounts. “The topsides and cabin were rotten, and I didn’t have the money to fix her right, so I put her back together with Git/Rot to work her. She leaked so bad the West River passed through her twice a day. If I didn’t have a bilge pump running 24/7 she would have sunk overnight.”

In 1985, when Maryland put a moratorium on striped bass, Evans knew he had to become involved in fisheries management and industry issues to save his business and be able to support his daughters, Lori and Eliza, who he raised as a single parent.

Since then, Bob Evans has been active with the Maryland Watermen’s Association as a member, board member and officer. He is the long-time president of the Anne Arundel County Watermen’s Association. He has served for 12 years on the Maryland Seafood Marketing Commission and was chairman for four years. He has served on virtually every Maryland Department of Natural Resources fishery management committee, from crabs to oysters.

“I have called on Bob to represent our industry too many times to count,” says fellow Highliner Simns of Maryland Watermen’s Association. “He testifies before the Maryland legislature, gives speeches, meets with students, bureaucrats and politicians on industry issues and is one of the most knowledgeable men we have on fisheries. He exemplifies the meaning of Highliner, and I am proud that he has earned that recognition.”

Capt. Danny Beck, a fourth generation waterman and president of the Baltimore County Watermen’s Association, says, “I’ve always known Bob Evans was a Highliner. He’s a top-drawer waterman, industry representative and spokesman, and he gives unselfishly of himself every week for the men and women who are commercial fishermen while trying to make a living in these tough economic times.”

As well as the honor of the thing, Evans gets a plaque, a cover story and a big awards dinner in New Bedford, Mass., the nation’s largest commercial port in terms of value of the catch.

Evans was so humbled that he was uncharacteristically speechless.

Mick Blackistone, long a Bay Weekly contributor, is the author of eight books, mostly about the Bay, as well as the editor of The Waterman’s Gazette, the newspaper of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

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