Soft Shell Central

For the freshest of summer’s bounty from the Bay, head to Saxis.

Deep on the bayside of virginia’s Eastern Shore, on the outskirts of Saxis Island in Accomack County, Kenny Linton, 55, holds a pair of dripping wet Chesapeake blue crabs, one male, one female, in front of me as we stand on the dock behind the lifelong waterman’s shack, built of the same gray and weathered wood as the dock. He has been out on his boat this morning, as he will be every morning through the summer, pulling hundreds of crabs from his traps off the Saxis shoreline and water nearby.

For soft-shell connoisseurs who wait all year for this harbinger of summer’s bounty, Saxis could just be the closest thing to paradise. Here, Linton and the roughly 20 watermen like him keep a close eye on the crabs, which lie in shallow, bay-water fed wooden bins, sorting them as they go through the molting process every spring and summer. They look for “busters,” the ones about to bust out of their shells; there is a small window of time when they must be removed from the water before they begin to harden again. It happens quickly—a useful biological adaptation to minimize the now soft crab’s vulnerability to predators. But Linton knows just when the moment is right, and the best part is, in addition to the live crabs he delivers to restaurants around the shore and as far north as Ocean City, Maryland, he will sell them to visitors like me who find him working in his shack.

“These are hotels,” he tells me, pulling a couple of the smaller crabs out of the water. “That’s the smallest size; then you’ve got the primes, jumbos, and the whales, which are the largest.” When I tell him I’ll send everyone I know to Saxis for crabs, he laughs. “Tell them to call me first, and I’ll have the biggest crabs for them they’ve ever seen.”

The exact timing of the molting season varies each year, explains Linton as the crabs wriggle in his hands, usually from late April to early August. Plenty of time to get to Saxis.

For more information about visiting the Eastern Shore, go to ESVaTourism.org

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