PASADENA, Md. — These Chesapeake Bay crustaceans weren't going down without a fight. Setting out from the Magothy river in Pasadena, Maryland and motoring into the Bay, the boat captain summed up a day in his workplace: everything out here will try to hurt you.
Our captain, Luke McFadden, 26, didn't immediately strike me as a stereotypical Chesapeake waterman. Perhaps I envisioned a few more burly, beer-swollen and bearded blokes whose leathered skin made them impervious to the pinch of an angry crab.
Nevertheless, McFadden's disarming demeanor and deep Maryland drawl immediately convinced me that if I was to learn the ways of the Chesapeake Bay crabbers, this was the guy to show me the ropes.
He's fast becoming Maryland's unofficial crab ambassador on TikTok, amassing more than 1.2 million followers since he started posting videos about life on the boat and bringing his haul to market.
His most viral video features McFadden tutoring his audience on how to keep a batch of crabs alive in a cooler in order to save them for eating the next day. As crabs make a break from the bushel and attempt an escape, McFadden scampers around collecting them all while narrating with a lively and comedic delivery.
I asked how he was able to collect more than a million online followers.
"I wish I knew," he said. "I didn’t pull them up in a crab pot, that’s for sure."
McFadden's rise to social media stardom comes after a life spent on the Bay. He recalls his first "work" trip on the water came when he was 12 years old. By 18, he owned his own boat and now at 26 he seems settled in and destined to make a career off Maryland's most renowned and lucrative seafood catch.
With a wink and a smile, he tells me what's led to his TikTok and social media success.
“It’s probably my good looks, mostly. My sense of humor. And being such a humble guy," he replies matter-of-factly.
Operating a commercial crab harvesting operation is not for the faint of heart or anyone short on Dramamine. During the thirty minutes I spent on the water with McFadden, we faced the turbulent Chesapeake Bay; churned up by a passing thunderstorm that hammered a bolt of lightning onto the white-capped waters not fifty yards off our starboard bow.
We didn't break stride. Three of us, McFadden, a deckhand and myself were a crab pot assembly line. McFadden reeled up the pots, his deckhand shook them free of crabs holding on to the chicken wire cage for dear life. He baited the now empty trap and handed it to me to immerse in a solution that cleans the cage and makes it attractive to the next round of crab victims McFadden hoped to scoop up.
After fifteen minutes of reeling in and emptying the pots, I was certainly glad I hadn't spent the previous evening enjoying any alcohol because I was already worked over. Covered in sweat and drenched from the rain, I silently cursed anyone who ever questioned the market price of a dozen crabs.
That's only part of McFadden's job. He's usually on the water at 5 a.m. to reel in his cash crabs.
“I handle everything from catching the crab to selling it to the consumer and every step in between. There are many," McFadden says. "And that’s where TikTok comes in. It documents everything it takes for a Maryland waterman to bring crabs to the table."
He'll ship steamed crabs anywhere in the country. Order HERE.
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