Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I'm a Little Crabby

My extended family and I were in the Outer Banks last week on vacation. In case you are unaware, the Outer Banks, or OBX, as the locals call it, is basically a sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean just off of North Carolina. It runs half the length of the NC coastline and varies in width between a staggering five neighborhood blocks wide and just wide enough for one bicycle and one jogger to pass each other if the jogger turns sideways.

The first people to visit the OBX were Native Americans in the early 1500s. They took one look at the North Carolina Highway Department’s ridiculous layout of having the only two bridges from the mainland connect smack in the middle of the two hundred-mile-long stretch, and said, “Forget this mess. Traffic is going to be a nightmare.”

They were right.

The next group of people to visit the OBX were the Europeans, who arrived in the late 1500s and stayed, even though the prices for crab cakes and hand-churned ice cream bordered on gouging. A group from the Netherlands built the first three-story home on the beach, complete with ten bedrooms, eight and a half baths, a pool, a hot tub, and a gourmet kitchen with two dishwashers. The Germans immediately opened a real estate office specializing in vacation rentals and offered to represent them. A day later, an English immigrant sold them the first hurricane insurance policy in America’s history. Within a week they had one hundred percent occupancy from a vacationing Virginia dentist and his extended family, and the OBX was born.

I’m sure a lot of notable people have vacationed in the OBX over the years, but certainly it’s most famous visitors were Orville and Wilbur Wright. They were on more of a working vacation, busy running up and down sand dunes dressed in three-piece suits and snappy patent leather shoes. Sure, they managed the first powered, controlled flights in history, but unfortunately for aviation, they chose a field in Kitty Hawk. Amazingly, they were only three or four blocks from the town of Kill Devil Hills! Think of how much cooler the history books would sound. I’m not sure what they were thinking. At least they didn’t choose the town of Duck. (Yes, Duck, NC. No, I’m not making that up.)

For those of us less visionary visitors who go to the OBX for non-working vacations, we are forced to choose a side each day. There are two sides to the OBX – the ocean side and the sound side.

The ocean side offers endless wonderful beaches with one main activity – playing in the waves. The sound side offers jet skiing, wind surfing, paddle boarding, boating, fishing, and my personal favorite, chicken neckin’.

No, that’s not what it means.

Chicken neckin’ is marketed by the OBX board of tourism as a fun and surprisingly effective way to catch the delicious Carolina blue crab. All you need is a string, a chicken’s neck, and a public dock on the water. You simply drop the chicken neck down to the bottom on a string, the blue crab grabs on for a tasty meal, and you pull him right out of the water. What could be simpler or more fun for the whole family?

Where do I find a chicken’s neck that I do not have to separate from the chicken myself?, you might ask. Simple. Every tackle shop in the OBX has a freezer full of them in the back.

Do I need to buy an expensive fishing license to catch crabs in the state of North Carolina?
Of course not. Not to chicken neck. It’s free!

What is the limit?
Each visitor to our beautiful state can catch and keep fifty blue crabs per day! Fifty! Per day! That’s enough to feed an entire three-story, ten-bedroom vacation rental every night.

I love crab, and this sounds like my kind of family fun, OBX. Let’s do this!

Off to the tackle shop I went to get my family outfitted for this unique, exciting, and free brand of entertainment. In the back of the shop I found the freezer full of chicken necks, right next to the wall of chicken neckin’ gear.

Here’s the special chicken neckin’ string with a weight and a cool chicken neck attaching wire. That’s handy. Ooh, look! Nets that collapse on the bottom and can catch lots of crabs at once instead of just one at a time. And the great state of North Carolina says I can use five collapsible crab traps without needing a fishing license. Sweet!

And don’t forget your long-handled net to make sure you don’t lose the crabs at the surface when you’re pulling them up hand over fist.

And you’ll need one of these special chicken neckin’ five-gallon buckets to hold the hundreds of crabs you and your family will catch.

We also sell special crab claw-proof rope for those collapsible net traps. You don’t want to be hauling up a mess of blue crab only to lose them because you were using the wrong rope!

And we also sell pliers, because it never hurts to have pliers when you’re fishing.

Oh, and of course, the chicken necks.

That will be seventy-five dollars, sir.

Wow! This “free” form of wholesome outdoor family entertainment is expensive. But let’s keep our eye on the prize. That’s a small price to pay for a week of all the crab we can eat. We’re going to be money ahead in no time. Someone start melting the butter. It’s chicken neckin’ time!

We loaded up the rented minivan with eager chicken neckers, and off we went to the public docks at the old city park – “the best place in the OBX to catch blue crab,” as advertised by every tackle shop and board of tourism flyer on the two hundred-mile stretch of sunbaked sand.  

We arrived on the dock, greeted by a mob of other tourists, all sporting their shiny new buckets and collapsible nets with special crab claw-proof ropes.

“Any luck?” we ask hopefully.

“Not yet,” they reply, returning our hopeful smiles, only with a slight sadness behind their eyes.

We find an open section of dock and get right to our wholesome family fun. After an hour or so of not catching a single blue crab, I start to look around. Hmm… there’s not one scratched-up bucket or weathered-looking long-handled net out here. I get the feeling the local chicken neckers aren’t here with us at “the best place in the OBX to catch blue crab.”  

“Let’s try again early tomorrow morning,” I told the kids, “before everyone else is here.”

That might be a good plan at another vacation destination, but not so much for us in the OBX. The early bird may get the worm, but the early OBX chicken neckin’ tourist gets exactly one blue crab that is too small to keep.

Wash, rinse, repeat for the next week, trying desperately to get your money’s worth out of your heap of surprisingly ineffective chicken neckin’ gear, and do you know what you end up with?

One stinkin’ crab, that’s what. One stinkin’ blue crab that may or may not have just barely made the five-inch size limit, but we were damn-sure keeping.

He was delicious. We split him between all the kids that stuck with the chicken neckin’ effort over the week. We each had one bite about the size of a thumbnail.

We did end up having some good family time together during this wholesome and fun family activity, but I must say, if you thought the OBX was price gouging on shrimp scampi, wait until you spend twelve hundred dollars a pound for crab.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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