Crabbing Aboard the Riley Kat

September 12, 2010

What better way to experience Chesapeake Bay living than to spend a fun-filled day crabbing aboard the Riley Kat with Captain Russell Dize.

Although I helped compose those words for my father’s crabbing charter business website a couple of years ago, Jay and I had not actually headed out on the Bay with Dad until this past Sunday. We have really been missing out! I don’t know what we were waiting for? We had an absolute blast!

My father is originally from Smith Island, Md. and moved to Tilghman Island with his family when he was 13 years old. He is a sixth generation waterman and has spent his whole life working on the Bay. He has run a clam rig, been a crab potter, a trot-liner and dredged oysters as Captain and owner of the Skipjack Kathryn for many years.

He currently is Captain of his crab charter boat “Riley Kat” (named for his granddaughter),

Jason and Riley Kat

aboard which he teaches folks how the crab with a trotline. The video clip above shows this type of crabbing.  A trotline is a long length of rope which has weights or anchors and buoys attached to each end. It also has bait attached to it every 4-6 feet to attract the crabs. We were using bull lips on Sunday.

My brother Russ, sister-in-law Jen and their children Riley and Jason had driven down to Tilghman Island on Saturday to spend the Labor Day weekend with Mom and Dad, so Russ, a veteran trot-liner, was able to head out with us. Jen stayed home with the kids, who are a bit too young for the adventure yet. I must say, crabbing starts early on the Bay. Jay and I left Falls Church at 3:30 a.m

in order to catch the boat which was leaving the dock at 6 a.m. (This is actually quite a late start for Dad, who usually leaves the dock around 3:30 a.m. when he is crabbing on his own!)

We headed out into the Harris Creek and first “dropped the line” just off of Sherwood and began to crab shortly after the sun rose. The way this worked is that Dad dropped one anchored buoyed end of the trotline and piloted the boat forward so that the line was dispensed from the trash can in which it was stored.

Dropping the line

Once he reached the end of the line it was also anchored,buoyed and dropped into the water.

Anchored and buoyed line

We then traveled back to the beginning of the trotline. Dad hooked the trot-line to raise it from the water and slipped it over a roller which is attached to the starboard side of the boat at the stern.


Lowering the roller

Then he piloted the boat down the line which caused the line to rise slowly from the water and to run over the roller.  Russ, Jay and I would take turns dipping the crabs up with a net when we saw them hanging on the line and eating the bait.

Veteran Trotliners

Lea takes a turn

The crabs were a little difficult to see, especially first thing in the morning as the light wasn’t so good, so Dad would “spot” the crabs for us, literally pointing them out so that we could get our net under them.


Dipping the crabs was not only difficult because they were hard to see, but you also had to be fast and coordinated. Often you would end up with many crabs in the net, which could get a bit heavy. Then you had to figure out what the best time would be to dump the crabs out into a holding bin, which you had to do quickly so that you didn’t miss any crabs on the line.

Waiting to be culled

Once we reached the end of the line, Dad would pilot the boat back to the beginning and we would do it all over again.

During the time it took for us to get back to the beginning, Dad and Russ would “cull” through our catch, measuring each crab to ensure it was legal (a legal crab measures 5 1/4″ from tip to tip) and separating the different types,

Culling the Crabs

A keeper!

Too small…back you go!

“Sooks” or females in one basket, legal crabs in another, “peelers” in yet another. ( A peeler is a crab that is getting ready to shed and become a soft crab. We actually caught a peeler so far along in the process that she shed while we were on the boat.)

Soft crab

We “ran” the line about eight times or so there and were catching some crabs, but it was a bit slow. So we decided to move to another spot just off Barneck on Tilghman which was brimming with crabs. Almost more than we-I mean Jay and myself…the newbie crabbers- could dip.

A lot of crabs!

We caught about 7 1/2 bushels of crabs that day.

Back at the dock

Our catch

It was really a lot of fun! The weather was perfect, high 70’s, sunny and breezy. Fantastic! Book your charter today!!!

Crab feast

Crab feast

To see all of the photos from the day, take a look at our gallery “Crabbing”.

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