Surprises on the Trotline

The marine weather forecast promised only a short window of good weather, but that early May day was the only opportunity coming for quite some time. My friend Mike, his girlfriend Michelle and I launched my skiff that morning, just as a generous full tide was beginning to fall, a good phase to crab the long narrow inlet we had in mind.
    The first weeks of May are early for crabs in the mid-Bay — or have been the last few years. But we’d heard from some commercial potters that the blue devils had already begun to move well in our part of the Chesapeake. Even better, acquaintances who lived on this particular inlet had reported that some of their pots were capturing a surprising numbers of jimmies.

Fish Are Biting …

   The trophy season is getting better and better. Good-sized rockfish are being boated by trollers, usually on parachutes adorned with large soft shad in white or chartreuse. Chummers are also getting in on the action with Podickery, Hackett’s, Love Point and the mouth of the Eastern Bay producing nice stripers for those soaking cut menhaden back in their slicks.
    White perch are being caught in smaller and smaller numbers in the tributaries but are showing up for shore-bound fishermen at Sandy Point, Severn River Bridge, Matapeake, Romancoke and Fort Armistead as they move back to deeper water. Croakers up to 18 inches are also pleasing those anglers as a good run of early fish continues to grow.

Blue Crab Alert

    DNR  is seeking public comment until May 24 on potential changes to commercial crabbing limits, including increasing the female harvest. In light of the positive results after restricting female harvest the past few years, you might expect these restrictions to be maintained if not increased. Apparently not.
    Send comments to [email protected] with the subject line CRABS.

Conservation Alarm

    Yet another illegal commercial gill net (the 10th since February) was discovered, almost a mile of it, holding tons of rotting rockfish.    
    That news was followed by DNR’s announcement that our state’s oyster sanctuaries, built and nurtured with many millions of dollars of taxpayer money, have been depleted, some to the tune of 80 percent, by poaching.
    It’s time to take a serious look at what’s going on with the Chesapeake’s natural resources and how they are managed and allocated. There’s got to be a better way. Send your thoughts to your elected representatives.

    A southwest wind was threatening to breeze up as we laid out the 800 feet of trotline we had sweetened with chicken necks earlier that morning. Idling slowly back to where we had started to give the crabs time to find our baits, we began our first run with fingers crossed.
    Mike volunteered to be first with the net. It proved to be a particularly difficult task. The water was heavily silted from the recent rains, and a new line roller setup was not raising the trotline high enough out of the water to give him a good look at the snoods. With our line rigged with nine-inch droppers, it was almost impossible to see if a crab was on a bait.
    Mike adjusted to this situation by scooping as if every snood held a prize. It was a physically demanding technique but one that worked. Blue crabs of all sizes began coming up regularly in our dippers.
    That would have been fantastic if just half the crabs had been keepers. But most were throwbacks. On the bright side, a few were legal, so we persisted, and our basket began to accumulate quite a pile of nice, heavy, medium-sized jimmies.
    Then, despite the morning’s forecast of mild breezes, a stiff wind came after us.
    As it strengthened, it also gusted randomly out of the south and pushed our light skiff first one way, then another. This dragged the trotline in our roller sideways, and while the extra motion didn’t seem to bother the countless smaller crabs that doggedly clung to our baits, the larger jimmies weren’t as tenacious. Keepers got even more scarce.
    We stuck with it for another hour, adding a few more nice crabs to our basket. Retrieving our trotline, we packed everything up and headed home, letting the wind have its way.
    Later that evening as the weather thrashed the tree line and a cold rain dripped down our windows, my wife and I dug into our share of the bounty. We gave thanks for the surprisingly early feast. It was especially delicious knowing that there would be a lot more of this celebration coming soon.