Photos by Bob Grieser
Have you ever wanted to be a chicken necker — that is, try your hand at being a Chesapeake Bay crabber for a day, even if you’re without a boat, basket, crab net or trotline rig?Get thee to Charlie Schnaitman’s Wye Landing seafood compound, a family operation squirreled since the late 1940s near the head of the fabled Wye River off the Miles River on Maryland’s middle Eastern Shore. Here reside in elegant repose and growing fat the monster “Number One Jimmies” — males that can measure 8-plus inches across their hard shells. Brothers Charlie and Ken Schnaitman, both in their 80s, will fit you out with chicken necks or salted eel for bait and cast you off in one of their 25 home-built wooden boats, outboard- or human-powered. And if you aren’t all that successful you can lie a bit and buy a batch of freshly caught blue crabs, which the Schnaitmans get from local crabbers, and have them steamed to take home for bragging rights.
“Some chicken neckers prefer to use hand lines rather than stringing out a long baited line anchored by two small floats,” Charlie says. “They row to a spot, drop the hook and sit in the hot sun with a cooler of beer. It’s not the pro’s way of catching a mess of crabs.
Maybe it’s just about sitting out there in peace on a nice day on the Wye East River” — tending to hand lines and learning how to net these savory, beautiful swimmers without getting bitten.
As for buying crabs and claiming you caught them, Charlie laughs and says, “What happens in Wye Landing stays in Wye Landing.”
Much of the business is filling orders for locals, who pick up their steamed crabs for consumption elsewhere. And if you’d rather not try your hand at chicken-necking, Schnaitman’s also offers charters.
You can check out the operation at www.schnaitmansboat.com.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.