Crabbing, Trotlines and Winches, as remembered by Nancy Ricker Rhett
Growing up here in post-war Lowcountry, we saw crabbers of all types constantly working the creeks in small wooden boats. The men would set out trotlines baited with potent smelling meat. The lines were marked with floats on which their particular license number was painted. Heaven forbid anyone was caught poaching! Wars were started over this for men’s livelihoods were at stake.
The man at the stem motor had to be quite skilled at working the tide and the current, allowing the person in the bow to follow the trotline to the next bait line. With great expertise, he’d pull the line, then used his wire dip net to scoop up the crab, or crabs, if he was lucky. He’d flip them into a fifty-five-gallon drum which, when filled, was taken to Blue Channel, the crab processing plant in Port Royal or to the Miss Mary, the company’s pick-up boat. In the winter, they’d have a fire in a steel drum on board the boat to keep them warm.
It was a big industry and our local crabmeat was shipped worldwide. Because of the Lowcountry’s extreme tides and rich, saline water, our crabs are already very flavorful and tasty. Ours are different altogether from those north of here in the Chesapeake Bay where water is diluted by many freshwater rivers emptying into it.
Crabbing in our creeks has changed from the thriving, big business that it was. Nowadays, the professional crabbers are fewer and the method has become mechanized. Wire crab traps, or pots, have replaced the trotlines. Winches are used to pull the haul. And Fiberglas has replaced homemade cypress and pine boats.
To see crabbers pulling their pots is a treat, and a bit of nostalgia.