A City Crabber's Paradise

Fumes, exhaust can't deter fishermen at Hanover Street bridge

Maryland Journal

July 18, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

There are brief moments of peace here. The caw of seagulls fills the air. Ducks wade in the water. A gauzy haze shrouds the city buildings glistening from afar.

More so, there is the constant whiz of cars and trucks as they rumble across the concrete span of the Hanover Street bridge.

This is not your idyllic vision of fishing. But in a city where crab is king, this is where many a man - even a woman or two - will come to haul in blue crabs from the murky water below. Call it crabbing, city-style, where the exhaust and fumes of trucks whizzing by don't matter, nor does that not-so-pleasant odor wafting up from the Patapsco River.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions on crabbing incorrectly identified the name of the road that runs parallel to the Hanover Street bridge between Cherry Hill and Brooklyn. It is Potee Street.
The Sun regrets the error.

On weekends they will come - both fishermen and crabbers - and stand elbow to elbow, marking their territory with the ropes that dangle into the water separating Cherry Hill and Brooklyn.

But on this weekday morning there are only about five men. They talk as though they've been there, done that, been around the world and back again and still would rather be no place other than this spit of a bridge.

Jerry Faulk is one. The 54-year-old Army veteran trudges the mile or so from his Cherry Hill home to the litter-strewn bridge a few times a week during crab season. Here he is on the bridge now, sitting on a folding chair, taking a drag from a cigarette.

"Just something to do," says Faulk.

Not much else to do since he retired from the service.

"Twenty years, six months and five days," he says of his time there.

Faulk first came here when he was about 11. Been coming regularly for 10 years now. He'll haul in a few dozen or more crabs on a good day.

Today isn't such a good day. Just three crabs in just as many hours.

He checks one of his 18 traps.

"I got one," he says, slowly reeling it in. Sure enough, up comes a giant, squirming, blue-tinged crab trapped in a black metal cage.

"This one's 7 or 8 inches," says Faulk as he proudly plunks it into a white plastic container.

Faulk will give them to his "lady friend" and her grandchildren and nieces.

"I steam them or she steams them, but I don't eat them," he says. "Too much work."

Sitting on a bridge from dawn to noon, however, isn't. Not much to it, really, says Faulk. You set up the traps - cagelike contraptions with raw chicken as bait - tie the rope to the railing and wait.

And while you wait you meet men such as the 61-year-old retired truck driver from Remington standing across the two lanes of traffic on the other side of the bridge, furiously checking his traps like a man on a mission. Faulk calls him Motor Mouth. "He talks all the time," he says.

Motor Mouth calls Faulk a not-so-nice name.

"He's a great guy," he quickly adds. "We look out for each other.

The Hanover Street bridge has been a gathering spot for decades. People - mostly from the surrounding neighborhoods - used to split their time between this bridge and the 14th Street Bridge across the way, which is closed for construction.

Now they just have Hanover, where they come to crab and fish, smoke and drink, chat and gaze at the skyline of the city.

They say the waters hold everything from catfish and trout, to junk, to an eel that Motor Mouth got once.

"You put that net over and you never know what you're going to get," he says.

Some question the quality of the water.

"The water just ain't right" Faulk says, shaking his head in dismay at the trash strewn across a bank. "Look at all that crap. Probably came from the Inner Harbor."

"I don't trust anything out of this water," he adds. "But I got friends and family that love crabs. They know the hazard, just like I do."

There are a few rules. No crabbing Wednesdays, per state law. A crab less than 5 or 5 1/4 inches (depending on the month) goes back in the water, another state edict. And there is no selling of crabs. That would be against the law.

Bill Brooks started coming here once a week recently. The 58-year-old Woodlawn resident recently retired from the supermarket business. He was out at 7 a.m. today. By now, it's 7 p.m.

He caught about a dozen today, a lot fewer than the 3 1/2 dozen he got last week.

"It's pure luck," he says.

Brooks wearily walks across the street to check his traps on the other side with John Finwie, a 50-year-old from Cherry Hill whom he just met.

"This is the best place to meet people," says Finwie, a painter who has been crabbing since he was 4.

"And it keeps you out of trouble," he adds.

Brooks chuckles.

"It's relaxing," Brooks says. "Can't play ball anymore. I'm too old.

"Just something to do, I guess," he mumbles. "Been here too many hours."

And with that he rises and shuffles off into the hazy evening.

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