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September Is for Crabs

They’re big, fat and catchable

The four of us were remarkably restrained as the first bunch of steaming, fiery-red crustaceans was deposited in the middle of the well-protected tabletop that evening. There were several monsters in the pile, and pains were taken to ensure everyone got two or three to start.
    It was a group effort, after all, with my son Harrison and I capturing a bit over a half bushel of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs that very morning. Harrison’s long-time girlfriend Jerrica and my wife Deborah took care of providing the proper utensils and our traditional side dishes: steaming sweet corn and thick slices of big, local, red tomatoes. Cold tinned adult beverages were also distributed.
    The table was ringed with small bowls of melted butter, apple cider vinegar and white vinegar and extra portions of J.O. No. 2 seasoning. There were small crab knives for each of us, handy wooden mallets and lots of paper towels.
    The mallets, of course, were not intended for cracking open the crabs; that would be wastefully clumsy. They were intended to drive the knife blade through part of the thicker crab shells on the claws and body parts to allow our tender fingers to more easily crack them open and access the most delicious sections of meat inside.
    There is no comparison to eating just-caught blue crabs; their sweetness and delicacy is unequaled. As we started in on the crabs, not a word was exchanged for easily 20 minutes before anyone paused. At that point, my son and I began arguing over whose efforts had been most productive.
    The disputes were all pro forma to remind ourselves that everyone’s participation had been critical, but lots of good humor was essential for the whole effort. I had gathered the gear and prepped the skiff, and Harrison and I had baited the line with chicken necks the night before. With excellent eyesight and reactions, my son manned the crab net the whole of the morning while I maintained the skiff’s course and speed, more or less to good effect.
    We had set our 600 feet of snooded trotline just after sunrise at the mouth of a nearby creek, ignoring a light crosswind that would affect our direction the rest of the day. It is always best to lay the line in the same or opposite direction to the tidal current and the wind. Any hard angle is undesirable, as it can blow the boat about, pulling on the trotline, creating slack and causing crabs to drop off.
    As it had been some time since we had crabbed intensively (the numbers have been poor the last two season), we were rusty. Both of us were somewhat gear clumsy.
    We were anxious during the first run on the line. I’d had no recent information as to crab concentrations and was operating on pure guesswork as to where and what would work that overcast day. I had heard reports that crabbing had finally improved in the area. But it was a big river.
    That first run allayed our fears. Within the first 100 feet, we had a half-dozen lovely jimmies in the basket. By the end of 600 feet, we had an even dozen, some of them veritable giants and all big enough that they didn’t need to be measured. By 11am we were headed for the ramp with more than enough in the basket for four hungry eaters.
    If you’ve waited out the season, I assure you that now is the time to crab. September is probably the best month every year, but especially this year. You’ve dodged the uncertainties and wild winds of springtime, the punishing heat of the summer, and by now the crabs have begun feeding up for the winter ahead. Almost all of them will be fat to bursting and sweet beyond belief.
    A trotline is the most productive method if you’ve got any kind of boat, though crab traps will also get the job done. If you’ve got patience and a particularly good location, a cotton string baited with a chicken neck and a crab net will even do. Chicken is the handiest bait overall, though razor clams will draw more crabs and quicker. Keep a good measuring stick handy, as five-and-one-quarter inches is a minimum size for the males. Sooks (females) are prohibited.
    You’ll need about a half-dozen jimmies for each person eating.
    Store crabs in a covered bushel basket with ample exposure to air; a solid-sided basket will eventually suffocate a crab. Keep them in the shade. Assuming they’re reasonably cool, they will keep overnight. However, the sooner they are cooked and brought to the table after capture, the better the flavor.


Fish Finder

    The rockfish bite remains decent. Trolling is more effective each day as long as you’re dragging smaller baits, as the rock are on the small side. Jigging them up and chumming will continue to improve as temperatures drop. The top-water bite is developing as we speak. Spot can still be easily caught on their way back to the ocean, so live-lining bite remains consistent.
    Spanish mackerel are still bounding about. White perch are schooling up nicely, but they are on the small side. Crabbing has been wonderful the last two weeks, and it’s about time.