How do you crab?

"How do you crab?"

Last week we wrote about where to go crabbing. This week will we discuss
how to crab.

Crabbing is a lot of fun for the whole family. You may not catch a large
amount of crabs in our Coastal Bays, but you can catch enough to eat if you
go about it correctly. It is easy, inexpensive, and entertaining.

"How about those commercial pots? Can I take them to a pier or out in the
middle of the bay?"

No, only waterfront property owners are allowed to set out commercial crab
pots. If you are a waterfront property owner you are allowed to set two
crab pots tied to your private pier or dock or you can tie your crab pot to
a pole not more than one hundred yards from the shore. It must be marked
with a sign not less than six inches in height indicating the owner's name
and address. (Most owners write this on a white crab pot float.) If you put
crab pots out illegally, the DNR will confiscate them, and you will be out
more than a little pocket change!

"How do you work the commercial type crab pot?"

Put bait in the cylinder shaped bait holder. The best bait is bunker, but
any oily fish or fish carcasses or chicken backs will do. Position the crab
pot so the holes are on the bottom. Let the crab pot sit several hours or
throughout a full tide change. Pull it up and open the strap that holds the
crab pot together. Spread out the sides and shake out the crabs into a
bucket or basket. (Fresh bait is the key to catching crabs.)

"How about collapsible crab traps?"

You can take out as many as 10 collapsible crab traps per person (but not
more than 25 per boat) to any pier or out in your boat. They work great and
will catch you more crabs than hand lining. There are several different
types of collapsible traps. I like the square traps as opposed to pyramid
traps because they have no springs to foul up. Pyramids traps are very
frustrating and I will not even sell them in my retail stores.

You can spend a little on collapsible traps or a little more, depending
upon how long you plan to keep them. If you are only going for the day, buy
the less expensive ones. If you plan to crab year after year, buy the
better ones.

"What makes a collapsible trap better?"

Some are made with heavier wire and some have "bait holders" in them, so
you do not have to tie the bait in the center of the traps. Several variety
of traps like the Danielson "snap trap" and the Chesapeake Bay trap called
the "Crabbie Mate" fold down flat for easy storage. If this is important to
you, be sure you buy these kinds. I like the "Sure Catch" crab trap with a
bait holder in the center of the trap. When you have a bait holder you can
use oily fish that is hard to tie down such as bunker.

"How do you use a collapsible crab trap?"

When you buy your traps, be sure to buy some rope to extend them to the
bottom of the water. Most traps come with the string to open and close the
doors, but do not come with line to extend them into the water. (You will
also need string or a shower curtain clip to secure the bait to the bottom
of the trap.) Use cord that is heavy enough to hold the crab trap. Clothes
line cord, poly cord, or nylon 1/8 inch cord is good. Don't use lightweight
cotton twine or a ball of string to pull the crab trap up out of the water.
It may break and then you will lose your trap!

If you are in a running current, you may have to add extra sinker weight to
the bottom of your trap. (You want it to lie flat on the bottom floor.)
Bait it up with chicken necks, chicken backs or other pieces, bunker, or
fish carcasses or heads. Let it sit in the water for 10 or 15 minutes
before checking the trap. If you get a crab, hold one end of the trap
closed and shake the crab into a bucket or basket. (You can also buy crab
Gloves will help but a powerful crab can bite right through a glove.

"What about those crab net rings?"

These crab rings are great for the vacationer who wants to crab for one day
and just throw them away. It is made from a double wire ring with a clothe
net attached. The crabber simply ties the crab bait in the center of the
net along with a sinker for added weight, and tosses them in the water with
a length of cord attached. After about 10 or 15 minutes, the crabber
quickly pulls it up, and hopefully catches a crab. Centrifugal force keeps
the crab in the net, so you have to pull it up quickly. Hold one end of the
net over the bucket or basket and shake the crab out as soon as possible so
the crab will not tangle in the net.

"How about hand lining?"

If you decide to crab with a hand line, the most convenient item to buy is
a "crab throw line." This triangle of wire with a weight molded into it is
wrapped with 25 feet of nylon string and works like a big safety pin.
Unwrap the line to the desired depth, run the chicken neck onto the wire,
and tie the line to the boat or bulkhead. When you are finished for the
day, simply wind the line back on, and save the hand line for another day!

Chicken necks are the best bait to use on a hand line, though you can also
use whole squid, fish heads, or bunker fish hooked through the eyes. Try a
couple different baits. It is important to change your bait periodically if
it gets dirty or washed out looking. You will catch more crabs with fresh
bait. Don't throw it back in the water right where you are crabbing though.
You will be giving the crab a free meal!

When you use a hand line, you need a long handled crab net that should be
lowered into the water only after the crab is seen. The most common mistake
is to accidentally hit the crab with the rim of the net, scaring it away.
If there is a tide running, position the net slightly "down current" so that
if the crab lets go, it will fall into the net. Crabs get spooked by noise,
a shadow of a net hanging over the water, and by crabbers pulling the hand
line up too fast.

If the current pulls the crab throw line too far away from you and the net
when pulling in a crab, add more sinker-weight to the line. A depth of four
to seven feet is best for hand lining.

"When should we go crabbing?"

It is important to crab at the right time, and the right time is on the
higher tides. It doesn't have to be exactly high tide to start. In fact,
you want to start crabbing before the high tide. Just like fish, the rule
of thumb is: Two or three hours before high tide and two or three hours
after high tide is the best time to go crabbing. If you are consulting a
tide table, remember that most tide tables are ocean tides. You want to add
two hours for the bay. If you are crabbing in the Ocean City's upper bays
such as the 127th Street Pier, you will want to add about three hours to the
tide table. (The tide behind Assateague will be a little earlier.) Add
about an hour to convert the ocean tides to the bay behind Assateague.
Places like Ayres Creek and Derrickson Creek can be totally opposite from
our Ocean City tides. For these places, look at the tide chart, find low
tide, and it will likely be high tide there!

Keep your crabs cool and moist, and out of the direct hot sun. Keep them
dark side up in the cooler or basket with a wet towel over them. Do not put
them in water or directly on ice.

Crabbing is a lot of fun. Good crabbing.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 June 2009 18:19