Delicious Treasures of the Chesapeake Await
The sound of our four-stroke outboard was barely audible in the still morning air as we began creeping down our 600-foot trot line. My son, Harry, was manning the net and I was steering and trying to stay close to the barely visible line while keeping a heading on the far end float.
Vision on the water was poor in the early morning mist and we were both anxious. The first crab of the day for us is always a superstitious harbinger of what’s to come. As one untouched bait slid by, followed by the next and the next, we were getting way too anxious.
Then I realized that a bait was slowly coming to the surface, a sure sign that something was holding it down. I could see Harrison tense—and then he lunged. The Jimmy was big and dirty, hard to see and suddenly alarmed. Unfortunately for the crab, it attempted to take the chicken neck bait as it fled and ended up in our net.
The rascal was so big that it stretched out its claws, rattled its legs and began to eject itself back out of the wire basket. Harrison pushed the net up high in desperation, managed it just over the gunnel and as the angry crustacean clambered to freedom it only managed to arc solidly into the basket below. Cheers erupted.
The first hefty crab in our basket, besides being a sure sign of good luck, invariably prompts the Pavlovian response. Our mouths began to water in anticipation. The blue crab is one of the most delicious treasures of the Chesapeake. It’s taxonomic name, Callinectes sapidus, translates to “the savory, beautiful swimmer,” the only genus name that I’m aware of that includes its culinary quality.
The trot line approach, though a bit equipment-intense, is one of the more efficient methods of obtaining a goodly number of crabs for a feast, and a feast is exactly what they provide. There is something unique about sitting down with friends and family to a steaming pile of freshly caught Jimmies, fresh from the Chesapeake and showered with fierce spices. It evokes the very spirit of the Bay.
Maryland celebrates the blue crab like few other states and there’s a reason for that. The crabs from the Chesapeake are clearly superior (sweeter and more savory) to those from anywhere else. Some diners, though, claim to not be able to tell the difference between those from the Carolinas, Louisiana and Texas, who export most of their crabs to us.
Personally, I always taste a slight bitterness in crabs from distant locations, possibly from a higher salinity or the inferior sustenance for the crabs in those areas. Plus, there is the crabs’ physical reaction to the stress caused by being stored and shipped long distances. For a crab dinner to be ideal, it should be procured the same day and from nearby. But that’s just me and I’m prejudiced toward critters from the Bay.
A boat of any kind, from a kayak to a mid-sized powerboat, with a little ingenuity can be rigged to fish a trot line. A simple internet search will identify any number of crabbing equipment suppliers with the accompanying expertise to provide the necessary gear and explain the process thoroughly.
While there is a modest cost to begin and a bit of a learning curve, once it is achieved there is no limit to the number of quality outdoor, on-the-water crabbing experiences in your future. The fantastic meals that, hopefully, will ensue as well, means multiple returns on a single initial Chesapeake investment.
The rockfish bite is on at last. The mouths of the Chester, the West and the Severn Rivers were the best locations over the past week but most areas seem to be coming to bloom and will only continue to improve. Light tackle anglers are beginning to chum those areas and using cut menhaden with good results. The Norfolk spot have arrived en masse and the live-lining bite is blossoming as is drifting soft crabs on marks or around a structure. Trolling continues to be effective throughout the Bay and the white perch are schooling nicely in the tributary channels and along rocky shorelines, piers and jetties. Channel cats are holding and biting along with the perch so hold on to your rods, they usually run about 24 inches. Blue cats seem to have gone missing but I’m sure they’ll be back once more. I’m aiming for a 50-pounder. The crabs are out of the mud and moving about in six to 10 feet of water, a half bushel is a distinct possibility if you’re willing to move around a bit. Life is good now and only getting better.