Posts Tagged ‘Choptank’

A crabbing conundrum on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

May 6, 2009

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a narrow neck of land separates Eastern Bay and the Miles River from the Broad Creek and Choptank River systems. By foot the distance between the two watery mid-regions of the Chesapeake is only a matter of several hundred yards, right through the heart of downtown St. Michael’s. By boat though, the distance is many miles, including a trip through Knapp’s Narrows at Tilghman.

Crabbing on the south side of that narrow neck of land costs local crabbers about $20 per bushel of crabs. In a visit there last weekend I spoke with a waterman named Mike Kilmon Friday afternoon as he baited his trotline for Saturday’s work. “I’m getting $80 a bushel for my crabs. On the other side, they’re getting $100. It’s just a little ways away but I guess people think the crabs are better over there.”

Mike Kilmon  prepares bags of soft clams to bait his trotline.

Mike Kilmon prepares bags of soft clams to bait his trotline.

It’s early in the crabbing season but the blue claws have started to run. Kilmon, like other crabbers in the area, use whole soft clams wrapped in small, plastic, orange mesh bags as their bait in the spring. Later in the summer, when the water warms, they will turn to bull lips, salted eels or chicken for their trotlines. Bull lips and eels hold up the best. The crabbers get more miles out of their effort.

Loading the little bags with clams and attaching them to their trotlines is hard and tedious work. “It’s not easy,” said Kilmon. “No one ever said this was easy work.”

As for the quality of the crabs, it’s well known among crab aficionados that the finest blue crabs in the word come from the waters of the Chester, Wye and Miles rivers, just above and just below Kent Island. The crabs from those waters tend to be fatter and sweeter.

The neck of land on which St. Michaels is built demarcates different crabbing regions. The Choptank system where the crabbers on the south side of St. Michaels set their lines is a little saltier, a little further down the Chesapeake from the big freshwater infusion from the Susquehanna River. It makes for a subtle but real difference in the size and flavor of the crabs.

But that’s mostly just for crab snobs. With the right amount of cayenne pepper, rock salt and ice cold National Bohemian, those subtleties get washed away quickly. Still, it doesn’t soothe the sting that watermen like Kilmon feel when their bushels fetch $20 less than those of their brethren just a little further up the bay.