Season Ends … Season Begins – Message From the Captain
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.
From the Interpretive Buoy System: The lower Potomac water temperature was 58 degrees F and salinity was 13.6 ppu (parts per unit) the opening of 3rd week of April 2017.
The oyster season ended March 31. Oysters brought as much as $50 a bushel dockside during the past season. We have had an oyster spat set (many baby oysters on shells and substrate in the river) this past year. In the oyster business, there is a fine line between having or not having oysters for another year. Hurricane Agnes, with the deluge of freshwater in 1972, and other climatic events critically affect the oyster business.
The 2017 crab survey is complete but the numbers have not been compiled yet. The results will be posted online and you will soon be able to find the prospects for this year. According to the captain of the crab survey vessel Madra Ann, “We should have a good early season with pots during April and May in the Lower Potomac but the supply will dwindle after the first shedding of crabs are caught up in June.”
Blue Crabs: They are starting to crawl around on the bottom with the water temperature rising above 52 degrees F. The first crabs to be caught are on the mud where they buried for the winter. (Remember, crabs buried when the water temp went below 50 degrees F, now the temp is going up and crossing that threshold again.) They are mostly males because they are remnants of the southern migrating population of males from last fall that cold weather forced into burying here. They also do not move very far after they first come out of the mud. Crabbers have to move their pots around for the first week or so.
Ospreys: The earliest sighting of an osprey this year was Feb. 12 in St. George Creek.
The old adage that the ospreys are always here by St Patrick’s Day proved true this year. The birds in our area overwinter in the uppermost reaches of South America and travel up the 77th parallel to the Chesapeake Bay and East Coast. After the nest building and mating rituals are complete, the ospreys raise from 1 to 4 young and share “nesting duties.” Last year the pair in front of our house changed the guard around 11 am. (Papa sets on the nest so mama can go feed.) Somebody has to be there at all times to keep the crows away. We have about 40 nesting pair on St. George Island. The young birds generally take flight early in July after testing their wings for several weeks. The parents put on quite a display in teaching them to bathe in the river and catch fish. The mature ospreys will leave on their southern migration in October, leaving their off-spring here to “catch another later flight” of ospreys migrating to South America.
Purple Martins: They generally arrive in Southern Maryland around April 10. After settling in, they build their nests out of scraps of material found in moist areas. They raise from 2 to 5 young and are always gone by Aug. 1. Black snakes are their worst enemy. If snake guards are not used and a snake gets in the colony the birds will generally leave and not return.
Barn Swallows: They arrive about the same time as the martins. Barn swallows nest under piers and any building rafter that they can find, making mud nests. They have a rusted breast whereas the female martin has a gray breast and the male martin is colored purple.
Waterman’s Lore: “When we see Laughing Gulls, soft crabs will soon be shedding.”
Till next time, remember “It’s Our Bay, Let’s Pass It On.”