Crab Fishing 101
I don't quite have the patience for most fishing, but crab fishing suits my restless personality rather well. Fishing for the mighty Blue Crab is rather action packed, a quick paced sport utilizing the most basic of means and technology.
Like oysters, Blue Crabs need brackish (a mix of fresh and salt) water as a habitat. While the Chesapeake Bay might be the most iconic place for the Blue Crab's environment, they are found up and down the eastern seaboard anywhere that a source of fresh water meets the sea. The crabs also need a temperate climate, which limits their range from southern New England down to northern Florida. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with my family on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, an island embankment chain that shelters the Currituck Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. Sheltered and shallow, it is an ideal place for the crabbing.
The gear and setup for crabbing is quite simple. First, you need a dock or pier to cast from. The crabs like to be in relatively shallow waters, however the chop of the shore as well as the increased exposure to sunlight (and hence to predators) makes a safer distance off shore more desirable.
Next, you will need a bit of bait, some butcher's twine and a weight to allow the bait to sink. A cheap metal net is the only other gear needed. Chicken necks are the traditional bait, which I allowed to putrify for a few days to make them more attractive to the crabs. The necks are simply skewered onto a piece of wire with a weight attached, followed by a few knots to secure the bait to some string. From here, you secure the other end of the line to a spot on the dock, then toss the chicken into the water.
In just a few moments, you begin to notice the line slowly start to stray from it's original course in the water. The crabs grab on to the chicken and begin to pull it away, so as to hide it from other hungry crabs. Once you have one on the bait, you slowly pull the line back in a touch at a time. The crabs are greedy, stubborn animals and will continue to hold on and pull back at the chicken as you slowly drag them towards you. Even when the bait begins to rise from the the floor of the Sound towards the top of the water, they will continue to grab hold. At about 2 feet from the surface however, the crab gets wise to what's going on and will let go.
Here's where the net comes in. Just before the crab sees the surface and lets go, you quickly swoop the net underneath the crab and snatch it out of the water before it escapes. If you are patient with the reeling of the line, and swift on the netting, you will find yourself with an angry but delicious Blue Crab in the net.
While we bring in hundreds of live Blue Crabs every week into the restaurant, It is a far more satisfying experience to be pulling them directly out of the water. When they are just out of the water, and while their gills are still filled with water, they are incredibly alert and agile. We captured about 25 or so over the course of an hour, keeping them in a pot on the dock. When we were done, we decided to put them back into the water. We were happier knowing that they will become bigger (and tastier) crabs to eat some other day. It was wonderful to spend some time with my family doing something that we are all nostalgically connected to. A great day.