Friday, August 13, 2010

Crabby

Yes, it's Friday.  I know there's supposed to be a recipe here today.  Alas, I am not prepared, but I am moved to put finger to keyboard.  This is about crabs--so at least we're on the subject of food.

I had thought surely by this time I'd have been able to post a picture of some great crab catch of mine, either a harvest of live blue crabs in their steamer pot staring back at you, or that same harvest freshly steamed, spread out on layers of newspaper, all red and covered with Old Bay, just waiting to be devoured.  Alas that hasn't happened.

The waterways around here are a virtual obstacle course of crab traps and gill nets.  Local professional watermen know there is bounty in these waters and they actively exploit it.  One professional crabber can put out hundreds of crab traps and make a decent seasonal living from what he (they're all "he's" down here) catches.  But "professional" is the operative word.  There is no acknowledgement whatsoever of the sports fisherman in these parts.  From Edenton in the the south to Elizabeth City 30 miles north, there are any number of marinas that will sell you water craft and everything to do with them from cleats to charts, but there is not a single bait and tackle shop.  You can't buy a crab trap anywhere, and the only sellers of menhaden, the bony, oily fish caught in the millions off the Delmarva Peninsula and known as ambrosia to crabs, are those who cater to the pros and sell only in 50-lb. lots.  If you'd like to try catching a fish for dinner and need a pole and some hooks, Wal-Mart is your only choice.  Need bait?  Dig your own.

When you come here for the first time, you are struck by the preponderance of water.  (It is, of course, what brought us here in the first place.)  Five huge rivers that dwarf the Mississippi, in width if not length, run north-to-south along a stretch of about 70 miles of northeastern North Carolina, all feeding Albemarle Sound.  The recreational and touristic possibilities would seem to be endless, but there is virtually no nod by the state or any of the local governments in that direction.  I've spoken often of the various wonderful surprises we've had down here; this is one of the few disappointing ones.  We were so accustomed to hopping in our boat in Delaware and running up to Lewes or down to Oak Orchard for lunch, or setting our crab traps out for two or three days in Herring Creek and getting enough "keepers" to make a few crab cakes.  Here, the water distances from point to point are enormous, and if you should actually navigate to a town on the water, and should it even have thought to put up a public dock, there's not much to do once you tie up there.  And the crabs?  I buy my "bait" at the local grocery store--farm raised croaker meant for human consumption but which I wouldn't put near my mouth, and as cheap as the menhaden were in Delaware.  With them I have caught many, many crabs, none of which have been legal keeping size.  (We're using the traps we brought with us from Delaware.)  Guess all the pros are beating me to the good ones.

A Friday the 13th story:  today we decided to try one more time to catch a few crabs.  A storm is brewing someplace in the vicinity, causing clouds, a stiff breeze and choppy water.  It was to be a quick trip, just long enough to drop our two traps and come back. 

The first trap went in just fine.  The second one seemed to have got caught on something--turned out it was the engine's propeller. The wind and choppy water sent us right over the trap's rope, which tangled itself into the works of the engine, which in turn ceased running.  (First thought:  Oh great.  A storm is coming and here we sit on the water with a dead engine.)  The motor is old--the hydraulic mechanism that tilts the prop up out of the water stopped working a couple of months ago and we decided not to get it fixed, since a new engine is probably in our future next year.  Nothing to do, then, but climb into the water to untangle the rope, which Steve, bless him, did.  He had to cut the rope. I pulled the trap back into the boat, only to discover that the bait had fallen out of it.  We turned around and came back home, then, with one empty, baitless crab trap--luckily it was just the tangled rope that was keeping the motor from running.  Steve was able to dry off almost completely in the breeze.  We now have one crab trap out there in the Little River, luring crabs with Food Lion croaker.  We probably won't catch anything.

11 comments:

Helen said...

........ but just in case you do? Have that recipe handy!

Ralph said...

Oh by all means, Helen! I make a mean crab cake!

MLP said...

First, thanks for clarifying the type of crabs you were talking about!
Gosh! Never dreamt you would have such a problem setting your traps!
Seems the land has many wide open spaces, but not so the waters...too bad! Well, keep trying - I'm sure you'll figure it out! HUGS!!

Cuidado said...

I have a southern crab question for you. In the south I bought crab legs from someone on a wharf somewhere. They todld me they remove one claw from each crab then throw them back in so that the crabs would grow another claw. Do you know what crabs they might have been. I miss you around here, Ralph.

Ralph said...

Those are stone crabs, Cuidado. Steve grew up in Florida and is very familiar with them--that's what "crab" meant to him before he moved up here to the mid-Atlantic. Stone crabs in Florida and then range south into the Gulf of Mexico. The blue crabs I'm talking about range the entire North American eastern seaboard, from all the way up to you down as Florida. It's the only "crab" I've ever really know. If you gave me a Dungeness from the west coast I wouldn't know what to do with it.

Sorry I'm such an infrequent visitor these days. I could promise to do better, but then I'd just disappoint everybody, including myself....

Mark said...

It's a shame that nothing is left for the sport fisherpeople. My vision of NC always contains Andy and Opie walking down the road to the creek, fishing poles in hand, all set for a big day. Now I guess they would be walking down to the Food Lion.

Speaking of which, I attended a work seminar the other week and a woman from Montgomery County MD told me that she and her husband and two other couples were going to a beach in the Outer Banks. She said "There's a Food Lion there and over the years we have persuaded them to carry some better products."

Progress!

Ralph said...

Hi, Mark. Thing about Andy and Opie is they were in "Mayberry," which is modeled in Mount Airy, NC, in the upper middle of the state, several hours west of the OBX. They can probably still fish in the local streams out there. (I hope! Actually, Any Griffith now lives in some palatial digs in the vicinity of Roanoke Island, which is across the sound from the Sough Nags Head area of the Outer Banks.

Foods Lion is a country store with bad lipstick, I don't care how many bells and whistles they add! They don't sell something basic like spray shower cleaner. Capers are in the foreign foods section. The produce lady at our local outlet wouldn't know a sprig of fresh thyme from a dandelion. (Oh don't get me goijg.....)And they virtually monopolize this part of the south. There are alternatives, though. There's a beautiful Harris-Teeter (also a North Carolina-based firm) in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks, and we have a H-T ripoff called Farm Fresh, a Southside, Virginia firm, in Elizabeth City.

Mark said...

There's a Harris-Teeter in Ocean City MD. I yearn to shop there!

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