Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Morels and Crab

OK, I know the first thing you thought when you read the title of this post was I can't wait for the recipe. Sorry to disappoint you but this is not about recipes. Rather it is about trying to not think of morels during the season and how dang hard of a task that can really be.

Take this week for example, I am coming off a major haul over the weekend pulling over 400 in two days, and now work has me on the road in Chicago, couped up in a hotel in the middle of the urban jungle with no time to get out despite the prime conditions I saw in the few sections of woods during the drive from the airport (by the way there were no less than 6 peeling bark elms I counted on the taxi ride to the hotel). It's killing me.

So, to take my mind off morels, while eating some true traditional deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati's, I decide to watch last night's episode of Deadliest Catch, a reality show on Discovery about crab fishing. My wife has often questioned me about why I like this show. Is it because I love to eat crab? No not really. The characters on the show do have some quirky appeal and their friction and the danger of the job do make for good drama, but that isn't it either. It wasn't until watching the show tonight, while trying so hard not to think of morels, that I finally realize its appeal. And if any of you watch the show, you may already know what it is.

Crab fishermen operate a lot like morel hunters in their search for king and snow crab. Now don't get me wrong, you cannot even come close to their level of danger. I cannot think of a single time when I have been in a life threatening situation morel hunting and I by no means want to belittle what they do to my harmless obsession. By that means it is like comparing and apple to an atom bomb.

But if you do watch an episode listen to the terminology. We share a lot of it. They "spot check" areas early looking to find this season's "hot spots" and "hit the motherlode." In a five minute span of last night's episode, I heard the following phrases that if you replace crab with morel, you could find on any morel message boards:
  • "The place that hit last year are not this year's hot spot"
  • "there is an art to finding the elusive crab"
  • "it's not as easy as everyone thinks it is"
  • "twelve hours of grinding and only 30 crab"
To me, the crab act similar to morels, in that although they can be found in general areas every year, they never seem to be in quite the exact place consistently. So even though they may show up in the exact same place two years in a row, as they said on this episode of Deadliest Catch, "Lighting rarely strikes three times."

Also, the way they fish is often quite similar to the way we do. Some "prospect" for their prey. They go to an area they know have produced in the past and set out prospect pots (or crab traps) to see what is around. We don't use pots, but early in the season, many of us prospect by walking old known spots and new ones, to see where the morels are coming up this year.

Others hunt more like myself. The Time Bandit, one of the boats on the show, uses more surgical strikes. They had noticed in the past that when they were catching good crab, their pots would often come up with scallops, which the crabs eat. So now they go out and concentrate their pots on scallop beds and seem to do very well. I do the same thing. Morels are mycorrhizal fungi, which means that they live in a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding trees. In a sense, they feed off of them. As I have explained, I hunt more strategically and once I figured out what trees are hitting in the areas I hunt, I focus in on them to find the mother lode. Watch the clips titled "Slime Banks Gamble" and "Bandit hits the Jackpot" and you can see what I mean.

So, no matter what you do, in the middle of the season you just can't get away from the fever. The only way to solve that is to get back in the woods.

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