Here on the East Coast, we’re hitting crab season. And the only thing better than feasting on crabs is feasting on crabs you caught yourself. Crabbing can be hit or miss, depending on any number of factors in the natural world like water temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, habitat health, and predator abundance, factors which crabbers evaluate and summarize simply: the crabs are either “running,” or they’re not. If you have access to water where crabs live and they are running, here is one way (the way I’ve been doing it with my family practically every summer since I was a kid) to go about catching them.
Wake up before dawn. Tie some chicken necks to strings. Tie the strings to pilings on a dock, toss the chicken necks in the water. (You want the strings to be long enough that the bait reaches down to the sludgy bottom where the crabs hang out, but not so long that they get tangled in underwater plants when it’s time to pull them up.) Wait. When a line starts “walking,” when it grows taut and starts scooting away from, or under, the dock, you may have a crab on the line.
One person slowly, very slowly, finger over finger, starts pulling the line back towards the pier and the surface of the water. A second person dips a metal net in the water and lies in wait. When, after a few minutes, the bait comes into view, you’ll hopefully see a crab hanging on, stuffing its little crab mouth full of chicken neck. (Sometimes there is no crab—it may have dropped off already or it may have been fish nibbling the bait—not to worry, it happens.) If there is a crab on there, or if you’re very lucky maybe it’s a doubler and there are two crabs munching on the neck, carefully pull the crab toward the person with the net without bringing it too close to the surface. When the crab and the bait are within reach of the net, SCOOP! Disentangle the string from the net and the crab. Hold the crab by its backfins to avoid the claws. Gently stroking its belly will put it to sleep. If the crab is a male and of legal size, add it to your bushel basket. If it’s a female or a puny guy, toss it back.
If you know of other ways to crab, like using crab traps or a trotline, feel free to tell me all about it. Happy crabbing!