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Crabbing with Handlines- where/how

“I want to try crabbing with the kids.”

Crabbing can be a fun thing to do with the kids. It’s relatively
inexpensive and most kids fine it extremely interesting. If you are
attentive, you will often see other aquatic life while crabbing. You can
point out horseshoe crabs, turtles, and little baitfish to the kids while
they are checking their lines or traps. There are all kinds of sea birds in
crabbing areas as well. So it can be educational as well as fun.

“What do I need? How do I do it?”

There are two ways to crab. One can use crab hand lines or
collapsible crab traps. If you decide to crab mainly to keep the kids
occupied on a non-beach day I would opt for hand lines. There’s more to do
and if you have several lines they won’t have time to get bored or get into
some other kind of mischief. One advantage to hand lines is that you can
throw the lines out rather than just “dropping down.” You can cover more
territory this way!

To make hand lines the old fashion way, buy a ball of cotton
and some one- ounce sinkers. Tie on the sinker; wrap the line with
the sinker around the chicken neck several times so the sinker does not
dangle, than tie a good square knot over the chicken neck to secure it all.
Tie it tight, or the chicken neck will be lost with a good “tug” from the

Unless you are training a Boy Scout troop or simply want to keep
your kids really busy making lines, I would buy “crab throw lines.” These
lines are made specifically for crabbing and are “ready to go!” A crab throw
is made out of a triangle of wire with a weight molded into it. It is
wrapped with 25 feet of nylon or cotton 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

Note: You do not have to use the whole 25 feet of line if you do
not want to. I usually unravel them about three-quarters of the way and then
do a couple of half hitches in the line around the wire. Experiment with
several lines. Keep a couple close to the bulkhead, pier, or marsh. Throw a
couple “way out there” and see where you are getting the most action.

I put two or three chicken necks on the wire, not just one. I find that the
big crabs will hang on longer if the bait is larger when pulling the lines
up. I also refresh my bait every hour or so. You don’t have to replace all
two or three chicken necks, but replacing one gives it a fresh “scent.” It’
s just like fishing. When your squid gets are dirty and muddy from drifting
over the bottom, you replace it for a better look and a fresh scent.

“Do you have to use chicken necks?”
The crab surely can’t tell the difference between a chicken neck and a
chicken thigh! People tend to use them because they slide on the crab throw
lines easily and are the least expensive part of the chicken. A crab rarely
pulls off the bony joints in the neck. If you use a piece of chicken with
too much skin or meat hanging off it, the crab will pull off a hunk and
retreat to some private place to eat its snack!

But besides that occasional problem, almost any piece of chicken will work
fine. Turkey also works. Crabbers also use salted eel, fish heads (slide the
pin on the crab line thru the eye sockets), bunker, and whole California
squid. The later doesn’t last as long as chicken but as every fisherman
knows, crabs like squid!

“How many crab lines should I take?”

I’d take at least three lines for each child to keep them occupied. Buy a
long handled crab net (also a very inexpensive item to buy), and a pair of
crab tongs. (Or you can use any kind of tongs you have in the kitchen.)
Instruct the child to pull the crab line in very, very slowly so the crab
will not fall off. The bigger the crab, the more “spooky” it will be. If the
crab falls off, drop the line, and it will likely come back. As soon as you
see the crab on the line, slowly get the net ready and get the net beneath
the crab. Try not to hit the crab with the rim of the net. You don’t have to
act “fast and furious” when netting a crab. Take your time. The crab is
hanging onto that line because it is eating that chicken neck. It will
likely stay hanging on as long as the children do not pull it out of the
water. Wait till you visibly see the crab, about four to six inches from the
surface, before lowering the net.

Hint: If there is a current or tide, place the net so if the crab lets go,
it will fall into the net! (You’ll catch more and bigger crabs on the higher

Be sure you have a measurer so you can measure the crab. In 2004 the
measurement in the Coastal Bays is 5-inches tip to tip of its shell. Any
mature female crab can be kept.

How do I keep the crabs while I’m crabbing? The very best way to keep crabs
is to take a cooler and put a layer of ice in the bottom. If you have an
icemaker, fill a couple plastic grocery bags with ice before you go. Put a
layer of wet newspaper over the ice. When you catch the crabs, simply put
them in the cooler on top of the water newspaper. Be sure that you place
them with their top shell up. (Dark side up!) Crabs lying upside down are
more likely to die. Steam them as soon as you get home.

How long do I steam them?

Pour a beer, a ¼ cup of cider vinegar, and some water in the bottom of the
steamer pot so the level is 3 or 4 inches of liquid. Sprinkle the tops of
the crabs with Old Bay or any kind of Crab Spice and put them on the stove
on high or medium high. Once they start steaming, lower the heat to medium
or medium-high and set the timer for 25 minutes. (You want the crabs to keep
on steaming, but it’s usually not necessary to leave the burner on high.)

One of the most frequently asked questions is: “Do I need a license to crab
with hand lines or collaspsible traps?”

As of 2004 you do not need one in the Coastal Bays of Maryland or Delaware.
This means you can crab in Ocean City bay, Assateague Bay, Assawoman Bay,
Sinepuxent Bay, Little Assawoman Bay, or Indian River Bay without a license.
Rules and regulations can be picked up at most tackle stores or you can go
online at:
http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/crab/2003oceancrabregs.html. This site
says 2003 since the regulations have not changed since then. Delaware’s
Crabbing Regulations are located at this site:

(Note: Property owners are allowed to set two commercial crab pots out into
the water in Delaware but NOT in Maryland. In Maryland, the pots must be
kept at the property or within 100 yards of the water front property. In
Delaware there is no size restrictions on collapsible crab traps. In
Maryland there is (12 X 12 inches.)

Crabbing is lots of fun, and crabs are wonderful to eat! If you don’t get
as many as you want, stop by one of Ocean City’s Crab Houses and buy a few
more to add to the pot!

Next week, more on crabbing…


· 127TH Street and the bay-- a public pier behind the Recreational
Center. One can crab from the pier or in the saltwater pond.

· 41st Street and the bay-- a small public pier behind the Convention
Center. Vacationers can also clam here.

· Isle of Wight-- public bulkhead and pier. (This area was still
closed as of 6/15/04 but should be open soon.) Cross the Route 90 Bridge at
61st Street and travel west. In the center of the bridge is an island. At
the light, make a left. There is a sign designating the “Isle of Wight.”
(Note: Some crabbers take a right at the light, and park beside the side of
the road, walk across the marsh, and crab.)

· Assateague—cross the U.S. Route 50 Bridge going west. Make a left on
Route 611. Travel this road until you see the bridge going to the island.
To the left, you will see a public pier. This is best on the higher tide.

· Assateague National Park—cross over the bridge going into Assateague
and take a right at the sign for the National Park. Travel down this road a
few miles and follow the signs. There are several crabbing and clamming
areas. There is a small fee to get into the National Park.

· South Point Public Boat Ramp-- Take a left on Rt. 611 as if you are
going to Assateague. Rather than veering left to go to Assateague, follow
the signs and go straight to South Point. There is a public boat ramp that
is excellent for crabbing.

· Ayres Creek—As you travel Route 611 towards Assateague, make a right
on Route 376. A few miles down this road, you will come to a small bridge
crossing Ayres Creek.

· Herring Creek—Go west across the U.S. Route 50 Bridge. A few miles
out of town you will see a small bridge crossing Herring Creek.

· Public Landing—Going South on Rt. 113 just past Snow Hill, take a
left at the sign for Public Landing. (About 27 miles from Ocean City.)
Very nice crabbing pier.

· Derrickson Creek—Traveling north through Ocean City, you will see a
sign for Route 54. (Where Ocean City ends and Fenwick Island, Delaware
begins.) Make a left on Route 54 and travel approximately five miles out of
town. Make a right on road 381 (there is a sign pointing the way to “Camp
Barnes”) and you will come to Derrickson Creek.

· Camp Barnes—Continue to follow the signs for Camp Barnes and there
are crabbing piers there.

· Holt’s Landing—Going North on Rt. 1 towards Bethany Beach, take a
left on Route 26 and go west. You will go through Ocean View and Millville.
Just past Clarksville, you will see a sign for Holt’s Landing. Follow the
signs. It is part of the Delaware Seashore State Park. There is a crabbing
and fishing pier there and it is also a good area to clam

· Cape Henlopen Pier—Part of the Delaware Seashore State Park—One must
use crab traps at this location.

· Another famous crabbing place in Delaware is Love Creek Bridge. From
Rt. 1 in Rehoboth, go west on Rt. 24 (McDonalds intersection) approximately
5 miles. Also, at the end of the same road is the Oak Orchard (pay)
crabbing pier.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 June 2009 18:11