I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day and he said something to me that absolutely startled me. He mentioned to me there are other things to do on the water than fish. I of course answered immediately, saying in most sarcastic manner, “You think?” I then added, I knew that already because I sail and surf as often as possible. He countered in his most condescending voice and asked, “Don’t you like blue crabs?” The realization of what he said renewed my faith in his sanity and he asked if I wanted to go sometime, to which I immediately agreed.
Crabbing in Florida is about one of the cheapest, simplest, and most entertaining pastimes next to counting lost tourists and watching boating neophytes at the ramps. Not only do you get a mucho delicious dinner out of the deal, you get to spend time on the water. It’s not as exciting as latching into a fifteen pound snook, but then just how many things are as exciting?
Early in the seventies I was stationed in Biloxi at Keesler Air Force Base. One day my wife was throwing out a beat-up old clothes basket while one of my Air Force friends was over visiting. With an honest smile he asked her what she was going to do with the old plastic container with the broken sides. When she told him of its awaiting fate he asked if he could have it. She said no problem but added we had a spare hamper to which he refused. He then explained his need. He was going crabbing off the old bay bridge. He also added, “You got any chicken necks?”
He told me he would show me how so we took the old basket, lashed a line to it in three places, and tied a chicken neck to the bottom. Once it was set up we threw it into the water and waited about ten minutes, then raised it. To my amazement there were five large crabs in the basket doing their best to strip the chicken neck of every last scrap of meat. After about two hours we went back and boiled up a five-gallon bucket of crabs. Needless to say this became a nice little tasty pastime.
For some reason this passed into the back recesses of my memory and even when I did think of it, there always seemed to be something else very important to do…you know…like fishing. Although I have been back to that well a couple of times, I just don’t take advantage of that saltwater pantry very often.
The old clothes basket was about as basic as you could get, but bearing in mind crabs aren’t really the biggest mental bubbles in the water, it worked, and worked pretty well. Even though it did and still does work well, there are a few other better ways to get it accomplished.
As we all have seen, crabs love a dead mullet or shrimp and will hang on for dear life if they think there’s a meal involved. It’s pretty easy to finesse them into a boat or low bridge but they usually call it quits when they have to hang on to a hook for any real length of time out of the water, unless they are actually hooked, and that happens very seldom. But there are much better ways to come up with a legitimate crab boil.
The easiest way, and it allows you to fish at the same time, is the old basket trick, but instead of a clothes basket use a bridge net and tie your poultry, and poultry is far and away the best bait but just about any meat will work, to the bottom and toss it over the edge of your local bridge, preferably at night. Weigh the basket down to keep it steady. The water can be anywhere from brackish to salt, but just like any creature there has to be food for the crabs, so if you catch fish there, you can probably catch crabs. Crabs don’t like sandy bottoms so look for an area with a grassy bottom.
Always give them time to find the bait and get down to dinner. Pull up the basket quickly and be prepared for them to try to escape. That’s why I like the collapsible bridge nets. You can turn them upside down and dump the net easily into a cooler or other container. Make sure you have ice since just like fish, it keeps them fresh and it settles the down quickly. If you don’t have ice, add water.
Another way that can be very enjoyable is to use a dip net in the shallows. Again, nighttime is the right time so for this you’ll need a light on a head band so your hands will be free. Make sure the net has at least a four foot handle, close weaving, and some depth.
For tidal areas go out around low tide and find holes and drop-offs, along with setting up your bait. Find areas two to three feet deep and accessible with your net’s handle length. Always keep safety in mind. Drop-offs can be dangerous, just like wildlife, so understand the bottom topography you’re crabbing in. Don’t hesitate to wander around with your light for crabs in areas other than your baited ones, but again, make sure you know what’s there.
Once you find the tasty blue morsels move the net slowly until the crab starts to take off and then act quickly, scooping him into the net. Chances are the crab is not gonna be real happy about being in the net so he’s gonna do his best to crawl out. Shaking the net will get him back into the bottom until you can get to the storage container. If the crab decides he likes the net better than the impending confinement of the storage container you’re going to have to encourage the crab. Bear in mind, gloves will not prevent a crab from giving you an agonizing pinch, and trust me, they hurt.
You can use the handle to work the crab out of the net or you may have to take more drastic action. Put the crab on the ground while holding it down with a stick or the net handle after donning your gloves. This will keep the crab from flipping over and nailing your hand. Grab the crab on the very back of the shell with your thumb and forefinger firmly. Their pincers won’t be able to reach you no matter how hard they try. Toss it in the dinner bucket. Repeat until tired.
Once you feel you’ve gotten all you want, head home to thankful family and friends. Bowing is allowed but not necessary.