April 22, 2021

Art & Lifestyle:

Goin’ Crabbing? Some Hints in Message from the Cap’n


Message from the Cap’n is a compilation of fishing advice, waterman and weather insights, Chesapeake lore, and ordinary malarkey from the folks who keep their feet wet in the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers.

The Cap’n

The crab season got an early start, but the weather didn’t hold. And the 2020 crab harvest hadn’t really hit a stride for the traditionally strong Memorial Day market.

The Interpretive Buoy System had salinity falling from the Memorial Day weekend — below 12 PSU and water temperature at 60 degrees, dipping slightly as well in the Lower Potomac. Just like us, the crabs like it a tad bit warmer, but we have some aspirational indicators to keep our season’s hopes alive.

The Winter Dredge Survey is conducted every year at the same locations around the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries and gives us useful information on the overwintering crab population. A synopsis of the 2020 Winter Dredge Survey is presented HERE.


Here is what is happening late May in the lower Potomac and bay:

Lower Potomac crabbing has been almost non-existent since mid-March when a few good catches were made. Now the barnacles have struck and crab pots are coming ashore to be pressure washed. Hopefully the business will pick up around the June 1 as the water continues to warm and the crabs fatten up.

Meanwhile the crabs are shedding their hard shells or molting; they’re abandoning their shells as they’re growing.

A “Sage” of the Potomac told me that the April water temperature was warmer than May and that the first two weeks of May were the coldest in 75 years. He says that we are about three weeks to four weeks behind right now, but we will catch up because June and July will be three or four degrees higher than normal. He also told me that the man upstairs was in control so “be patient, get your boat ready, ’cause they will come when they get ready.”

That later season is holding true for soft shell crabs as well. Usually they’re here after the first full moon of May, but we’re just running behind this year.

Smith Island and Tangier Island are 15 to 25 miles southeast of Point Lookout, and the readings for salinity and water temperature at Smith and Tangier Islands run about two or three points higher than Point Lookout. The crab scrapers are just getting started at Smith Island. They need warm weather also. Tangier Sound and Pocomoke River produced well this spring. No crabs to speak of right now because “it’s mating time” says a crabber from Tangier.

If you are going to bait a line to catch crabs for the family by boat, chicken necks are probably the most useful. Bait the line NEATLY  in a container, set the line for crabs and at the end of your excursion put baited line back in the container NEATLY and put it in the freezer for another time.

“Hey, just do it. You will do better the second time. … Just do it.”

Till next time,

Cap’n Jack

“Its our Bay, Lets pass it on”

To learn about tours and trips into the Chesapeake, keep in touch with Fins + Claws on Facebook. Catch up on Messages from the Cap’n Member Page. Please visit Cap’n Jack’s lore and share with your social media sites. Or reach him here: arster694@gmail.com; 240-434-1385.

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