Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Bay Journal and Baltimore Sun.
Slow steam ahead
Boats await those seeking crabbing’s idle pace
Drive up to Schnaitman’s Boat Rentals in Wye Mills, MD, and it’s as if you stepped back in time.
Even on a windy day, the Wye River is calm. Couples from New Jersey and Pennsylvania idle away the day in skiffs and rowboats, crab traps and lines overboard, hoping to catch some dinner. When they do, they bring it in, and Schnaitman’s steams up the catch — some of the fattest, prettiest crabs one’s likely to see in a long time.
In a fast-food and fast-boat world, crabbing is slow, out of step with our ever-quickening pace. Even the picking and eating takes too long, some say, when there are phone calls to return and champion lacrosse games to play.
But for those who seek to stop and smell the Old Bay — or, in the case of Schnaitman’s, J.O. #2 Crab Seasoning— the rewards are rich.
There are herons and eagles to watch, not to mention the commercial crabbers hauling their catch from this river, long known for its excellent crabs.
Farther up the Wye, one can gawk at some of the larger mansions. Even as so much changes on The Shore, a lot looks the same here.
Charles Schnaitman once had 100 wooden rowboats, all of which he made himself, and the line of people wanting to rent them went up Wye Landing Road for at least a mile.
The road to Schnaitman’s is still crammed with vehicles. But these days, most carry their own boats on trailers and launch from the county boat ramp next door.
Now Schnaitman has about 25 boats, most with motors. The younger Schnaitmans, Billy and Chuck, installed them years ago when they took over the business.
Motorboats rent for $90; the rowboats are $31. Schnaitman’s will let you bring your own motor and attach it.
That’s what Ron Bates does. The 71-year-old retired meat cutter has been a regular at Schnaitman’s for 35 years, ever since a co-worker got him hooked. He comes weekly in the summer from Hanover, PA, a 2.5-hour drive. He has his own boat now, but never brings it — it’s not worth the hassle, he said. Schnaitman’s has an outboard motor shop, so if his motor needs attention, it gets it.
“These are nice people here. It’s the easiest way to go,” Bates said. “There’s so much fun in coming here. This is entertainment to me. I enjoy so much seeing a crab up on that line.”
Bates usually brings someone with him. In 35 years, only one of his companions couldn’t dip a crab. That was his son-in-law. Make that former son-in-law.
Schnaitman’s gets busy on the weekends. They don’t take reservations. Skiffs go quickly. Those willing to work their arms might find a rowboat waiting for them.
“People are more-health conscious these days,”
Billy said, “But they still don’t want to row a boat.”
In addition to the boat rentals, the brothers also offer all-day crabbing charters at $600 for a party of six.
Over the years, developers have approached the family — three generations are in the business today — with lucrative offers.
Many other marinas have succumbed to that pressure. Schnaitman’s once had several competitors in the boat rental business, but has very few now. Charles, now 82, figures it’ll stay that way. He and his brother, now 86, both live on homes on the property — Charles in the house where he was born.
“I’ve been here all these years,” he said. “I ain’t about to go nowhere else.”
Crabbing 101: Ready, sit, dip!
Never crabbed before? No problem! Billy Schnaitman has everything you needs to get started: crab line, crab pot, a chicken neck and a boat (or access to a good dock where the water is calm and one is likely to catch something.)
Schnaitman’s doesn’t let people crab off its dock, unless they’re waiting for a boat rental. In part, that’s because it would hurt their boat rental business. Billy Schnaitman also notes that customers aren’t likely to catch much there anyway, because the water is too busy and the crabs are likely to be elsewhere.
- Start with the crab line. Schnaitman’s shop sells crab lines for $2. The crab line looks like a bent-apart paper clip reshaped as a triangle. A rock is at the bottom, the narrower end. At the wide end is a point that fastens. That’s for the bait.
- Put on the chicken neck. Thread the chicken neck through the point and fasten the clip to keep it tight.
- Get in the boat. Schnaitman’s staff will show where to tie a crab line on the boat. They will also offer a short lesson in operating a boat with a motor if needed, or refresh one’s memory of how to row.
- Let the line sit in the water. Get out to a good spot (staff can suggest a direction). Once a line has been in the water five or 10 minutes, it’s ready to be pulled out to see if has caught a crab. Sometimes it’s easy to tell because the line will be taut, or move away.
- Get the dip net ready. Slowly put the dip net under the crab. Bring up the dip net to catch it. Be careful not to scare the crab before the net is in position.
- Throw the crab in a bushel basket or a cooler with ice. Many people make the mistake of keeping a bucket with water for the crabs, Charles Schnaitman said. When the crabs take up all the oxygen from the water, they die. Better to keep them dry. Crabs can survive that way for a long time. To keep them out of the sun, cover the basket with a wet cloth if possible.
For the best results, Schnaitman’s recommends using more than one line. They also sell crab traps, which they will help bait and are easy to use. Visitors can use 10 traps without a recreational license. Two dozen crabs per person per day is the allowed limit without a license; one must throw back any more than that.
Schnaitman’s Boat Rentals is located at 12498 Wye Landing Lane, Wye Mills, MD 21267. Its hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
For information, call 410-827-7663 or visit www.schnaitmansboat.com.
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