Crab Country: An Insatiable Quest on the Chesapeake Bay
by Lydia Woolever
Published July 15 in Baltimore Magazine
Excerpt: Just before sun up, Billy Rice sets out on the water he’s known all of his life. On this cool October morning in 2019, it’s like glass—calm and clear, catching the reflection of the full moon as he cuts fast across Piccowaxen Creek, riding the swells and around the shallows that lead him to the wide, majestic Potomac River.
A V of Canada geese floats in the twilight sky. An osprey nest sits empty. A duck blind waits for its winter brush. The sun, just beginning to seep over the horizon, casts orange light like some distant fire along the silhouette shoreline. This is autumn on the Chesapeake, and for a little while longer, crab season.
“This was all I ever wanted to do,” says Rice, 65, who sold his first catch at the age of 10 and became a full-time waterman after graduating high school. Now, with his ballcap backwards and flannel tucked into olive green bibs, he’s headed out toward his nearly 500 crab pots—galvanized wire cages dropped to the river bottom, attached to a rust-red buoy that bobs on the brackish tide.
By a quarter past seven, he slows the boat, sets it in neutral, and hooks his first line over the hydraulic puller, the pot rising through some 20 feet of water. He grabs, unlatches, and, with a swift shake, empties it, as a half-dozen crabs are sent clacking into the culling box. He refills the bait trap with razor clams, splashes the cage overboard, and continues on his course—west to east, east to west along the Potomac—the boat engine purring as the dawn burns off into a bright blue day.