Oyster tonging may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you own a center console fishing boat—or, for that matter, any modern recreational boat. But when the usual boating activities are out of the question due to weather, seasonality, or prevailing conditions, this is one fun activity that far too few of us ever consider.
Case in point: the striped bass bite is deader than a doornail, my kids and I have cabin fever, and there are no specific dinner plans for that evening. Why not harvest a pile of nice, fresh oysters?
Don’t get upset, you environmentally-minded, concerned conversationalist types. I know what you’re thinking: in many areas oysters are a threatened species, and harvesting them takes a toll on our water’s health. Well, that’s true. That’s why you should limit yourself to a handful of tonging trips per year, and save your shells to re-plant back on the oyster bar. But there’s also an environmental up-side to taking the family tonging. Children who see the oysters in their natural habitat are going to grow up into adults who understand, and care about, this unusual ecosystem. My own kids, for example, can list a dozen different critters that live in and around oyster beds. They’ve set up an aquarium with native Chesapeake oysters, anemones, fish, barnacles, and crabs, all of which were brought to the boat with tongs. And when their friends come over, look in the tank, and see all the life that lies in the belly of the Bay, they’re usually shocked and amazed. “I didn’t know that lived down there” is a common refrain.
Plus, did I mention that after tonging, you get to eat a pile of fresh oysters?
This activity is a whole lot easier than it may seem. All you need to do is get a pair of oyster tongs (these can be tough to come by in some areas) and inquire at the local DNR or Marine Police to find out where a public bar is. Don’t just go tonging anywhere blindly, because the bottom in some areas may be leased or reserved as a sanctuary. Once you have a legit location, anchor your boat, lower the tongs until they near bottom, and open the basket up with the handles—they work just like scissors. Then let the basket scrape bottom as you scissors the handles closed, and raise the tongs hand-over-hand, until the basket is exposed. Then you can dump the contents into a culling basket, or have someone pick the live oysters out of the basket before you lower them back down.
One final warning: oyster tonging is an excellent way to get your boat extremely dirty. In fact, make sure you and the kids aren’t wearing any clothes you care about, because you’re bound to get muddy and gunky. But I’ll bet you’ll decide it’s worth the mess—especially when you shuck open a hand tonged oyster, and slurp down the best of the belly of the bay.