Fall Harvest- The Midnight Ramber – by John Papciak

The Midnight Ramber

By John Papciak
And Now For Something Completely Different (The Fall harvest)
Most of us are basically dock rats and beach bums at heart.
We’d give away most of the money in our wallet to get some extra time on the water. And somehow, the idea of living off the land – or the sea in this case – has immense appeal. You can buy a dozen hard shells for under $6 in many places, but its so much more rewarding to bust your hump digging them up for yourself.
I guess it does bring up some interesting thoughts. If I never worked again, and lost my 401(k), I’d be in deep shit.  But because I know how to fish and clam, and I have the access and permits, I highly doubt I would ever go hungry.
But if I had a commercial permit, hey wait, I probably could cover my heating and electric.
Ok, ok, I won’t go there.
Anyway… The other thought is that I -think- I’m such a salt … but really… how much time do I really spend on the water? And then, what else am I really able to do out there besides the same old same old casting for bass?
Well, my old surfcasting buddy Mike really seems to be onto something here.jp11
He still has his day job, but he more or less reorganized his life around maximizing his time on the water. Sure, he still runs the beaches and plugs the surf… but then he digs clams, put out traps, bucktails fluke, jigs seabass… among other things. Oh yeah, and then he dredges for scallops.
It’s that last part that really got my attention. Not sure why.
Maybe it’s that I really like to eat scallops. No wait, I also really like those cool shells. But there’s more. Scallop season is kind of special. Always early November in my neck of the woods. And each year I read how the local baymen are doing, and how the market prices are going up or down, based on the harvest. The fall harvest.
It almost feels like a tradition. I’ve spent upwards of $25 per pound for bay scallops. And if you’ve ever eaten fresh pan-seared bay scallops… on a cold November afternoon… with a premium draft beer… overlooking the water? No? Add it to your bucket list!
Anyway, Mike’s been at me many years now about trying for scallops. Each year he takes off the opening day of scallop season, and torments me with pictures of scallops coming up in the dredge.
Well, this year I finally agreed to give it a try.
I understand there are many ways to go after scallops. You can dive for them with a mask. You can use a clam rake, or something just like it. Or, if you are super serious, you can rig yourself up like a bayman and pull scallop dredges.
I guess I am not too worried here about giving away trade secrets. I highly doubt anyone here would do what Mike did – he watched the baymen, he found some videos on Youtube. He made his own dredges. And sure as shit, he eventually figured out exactly how they do it, or at least exactly how some of them do it.
So when the day came when I agreed to accompany Mike for a day of scalloping, I was essentially signing on to be a bayman for the day. I was his Gillie, or has he put it, his rent-a-bitch for that day.
So here’s a bit more of a day in the life…
I was told to arrive at the dock at 6am, just before first light. I was told to come in boots and slickers, and not to wear anything that I cared about getting ruined.

His fiberglass center console was transformed into a working boat. It was filthy. Three dredges were stacked in the front, and one of the sides of the boat was covered in wood, held in place with a vice – protection needed when pulling up the dredges (more on that later).
It was a 15 minute run through Shinnecock Bay to his favorite scallop spot. This was all well marked off on his electronics.
Scallops are found where there is eel grass (at least our scallops liked eel grass). They seem to be more abundant and available on a high incoming tide, and where the depth of about 5-6 feet.
Please don’t ask me why this is so.
To be honest, it make no sense to me how a bivalve could be so much more “available” during a certain stage of the tide, and in a certain depth of water. But we did enough tows in various spots at various depths to convince even me that this all really does matter.jp2



Then there’s the dredges themselves. Mike pulls three of them in a row. That’s right, three, and only on one side of the boat. That means dredge number one goes by, then a second later here comes dredge number two over the same spot, and then dredge number three.
Are you still with me?jp4



Why three dredges going over the same spot? Why not spread them out and cover more bottom? Apparently a bayman would go hungry thinking that way.
No, you pull them in line, single file.

And which dredge is most likely to have the scallops? The first? The middle? Maybe an equal distribution in all three?
I’ll leave you guessing on that one, though I never did get a good explanation for that one either. But here again, we did pull after pull, and sure enough, 90% of the scallops were found in that one dredge.
Anyway, this all sounds very basic, but minute details about depth, tide, amount of eel grass, and alignment of dredges can mean all the difference between two scallops or 40 scallops after a 12 minute pull.
Oh, by the way, this is WORK. A full dredge is well over 50 pounds. The first few pulls are not so bad. It’s pull number 30, 31 and 32 when you finally realize just how much you’ll be needing extra strength Advil that night. And the dredge feels so much heavier after a few pulls with nothing but rocks and weed.
But the fish gods (um, the scallop gods) did finally smile upon us on this cold wet November morning. We finally did fill up to our limit (that’s the good part) …which meant we would be shucking for the next two hours back at the dock (that’s the not so good part).

We all went home happy, smelling like that mud in the bay, but with containers of fresh bay scallops. And while it would have been a hell of a lot easier to buy them – even at $25 per pound – I did agree to go out the following week, to do it all over again.
These will taste so much better than anything I’ll get at the store anyway.

8 comments on “Fall Harvest- The Midnight Ramber – by John Papciak

  1. Scott Hayes

    good stuff to see Dr Mike DDS (dredging delicious scallops ) . Wish we saw more of him on the beach , funny , funny guy . Bet you laughed your ass off all day John .

  2. bob jones

    Great to see pix of my old friend, Dr Mike. He looks good. He really does lead a ‘double life’. When I was younger, I dug my own clams & oysters, snorkeled for soft shell crabs, bucktailed fluke & stripers and many other things to prove that I could ‘live off the land’. Most nights would be a feast; some others, not so much. My Daughter shared my love of these things; my Son didn’t.
    But, I will never own a boat; so my scalloping days will never be.
    I will continue to visit Mark Lester and pay $18 to $25 a pound to feast on his efforts.
    Local Bay Scallops are my second favorite thing to eat. BJ

  3. Jerry

    Very cool story, I’m going to go against reason and without any logic to my thought process at all guess that dredge #2 was the money pot.

  4. Vitol Orlando

    Mike looks great. He is a funny guy. Scott, I like That DDS designation. Bob, after you purchase those scallops stop by the cottage and I will show you how to open them.


  5. Lionel Berthelon

    l think your main catch would be the second and third trap. For one they have eyes and are able to swim, so when it spots the first trap and jumps out of the way here comes the 2nd & 3rd trap. l have seen them move in the water.
    Any way good story , it always feel good to be out on the water, or in the surf. There on bad day by the ocean.


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