By Jack Sherwood
Gunkholing on Chesapeake Bay is primo on the wonderful Wye River, which meanders through a bucolic region of Maryland’s middle Eastern Shore with a dozen or more named and unnamed deepwater creeks and coves.
But even a dedicated gunkholer can grow weary of gunkhole after gunkhole in a gunkholing paradise. At some point, one might have a need for ice or fuel or just to stretch a leg and stroll on land. Also, this river is famous for its large blue crabs (male “jimmies”), creating an uncontrollable desire to eat those jumbos lurking unseen beneath you.
So what to do, since many gunkholers may not carry hand lines, crab nets, bushel baskets, and smelly bait? There may be plenty of gunkholes, but there is only one Schnaitman’s Boat Rentals, a Wye Landing time capsule on the Wye East River.
It is reached by a winding route past many creeks and coves, any one of which can lure you in to drop a hook in a woodland setting that will bring you back time and time again.
There are many undeveloped areas to explore, but the charm and personality of Charlie Schnaitman’s operation near the mouth of Skipton Creek is worth a visit between gunkholes. Schnaitman, who is 73, and assorted other Schnaitmans, rent old wooden rowboats, repair outboard motors, and sell bait, ice, carry-out gas and crabs (live and steamed, when available). He and his brother were born in an old frame house on the 7-acre property that’s so filled with items no one can live inside.
There is no fuel dock, but it’s OK to land a dinghy and fill a gas container at a pump next to a workshed that also serves as a kind of private club for watermen and regulars who gather for cold beer on tap.
Commercial crabbers sell most of their catch to Charlie’s son, Chuck, who supplies truckers picking up big, live male crabs to be steamed at local restaurants. “If we have enough crabs, we’ll sell them to boaters and steam them to eat here or to go,” says the father, whose “kitchen” is an open shed with a propane-fired stove on the floor. Nearby are picnic tables and benches on the shore under shade trees.
It is questionable how long this family tradition will continue under Charlie’s devoted guidance. He had a heart attack last year, a knee operation (with another due), and has severe arthritis in his hand. But this is his way of life, which began just after World War II when his father, a waterman, began building and renting rowboats to recreational crabbers. The son took it over in 1970 and has built every one of the 80 or so marine plywood rowboats. I should note that only a couple dozen usually are available at the end of May when crabbing gets serious.
Many recreational crabbers (called “chicken neckers” because of the bait they use) own their own trailered runabouts these days, and this has cut into the rowboat rental business. They use the busy public landing adjoining Charlie’s property to launch their boats, after parking their trailers and cars on the side of Wye Landing Lane.
“We still have regular patrons driving down here from Pennsylvania,” says Charlie. Some are content rowing the flat-bottomed boats, anchoring and setting their hand lines. Others rent outboards.
“If you were here yesterday, we fried up some fish and potatoes,” says Charlie. A long table holds sandwich rolls and various condiments, waiting for the next fish fry or crab feast.
Some friendly advice: Don’t anchor for the night anywhere near this place unless you consider the dawn launching of powerboats and departing commercial crabbers music of the Bay. And don’t ask Charlie if any of his rowboats are for sale, which can make him indignant — in which case you can forget about asking for crabs.
For more information and to check the crab supply, contact Schnaitman’s Boat Rentals at (410) 827-7663.
Check out the other parts to our Gunkholing series:
Explore our picks for 10 great gunkhole getaways:
Learn The Art of Gunkholing
Or introduce yourself to "Mr. Gunkhole."