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Volume 15, Issue 6 ~ February 8 - February 14, 2007

The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle

Think Crabbin’ in February

A trotline will reward you in crabs, savings and satisfaction

This month brings the idea of summer more longingly to my mind than any other month. Nothing arouses that sultry feeling more than the thought of a Chesapeake Bay blue crab.

I’m starting now to go over my crabbing gear for next season. If you’ve never crabbed before, but would like to, this month is the ideal time to start doing something about it.

If you want to reliably catch enough crabs for a reasonable feast, a trotline is the way to go. My crabbing career definitely took off the first time I fished one.

Assembling the line is simple, but it can require some time to gather the necessary items and to put them together properly. You can run a trotline with a craft as basic as a canoe or kayak, although a small powered skiff will give you access to more water.

Essentially a trotline is a length of rope (up to 1,200 feet) with crab baits, such as pieces of chicken necks, attached by a simple slip-knot every four or five feet. Marked at each end by anchored floating buoys, the trotline is stretched out across the bottom in five to seven feet of water.

The line is fished by simply running it over a roller or similar device attached to the side of your boat. As the craft moves along slowly, the roller raises up the line from the bottom and allows the angler to net the crabs that are holding on to the baits.

With a reasonable amount of experience, during the summer season you can expect consistent catches of up to a bushel of excellent quality crabs. There is no more fun to be had on the Tidewater; kids especially love it.

Assembling a Trotline

The supplies needed for your trotline are sold at local sporting goods or boating supply stores:

•1,000-foot spool of 1⁄8- to 3⁄8-inch diameter line.

• 2 anchor weights of approximately 10 pounds each.

• 2 25-foot lengths of anchor line 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch diameter.

• 2 lengths of heavy galvanized chain, two feet each.

• 2 large, brightly colored floats.

• 4 large brass snap hooks.

The most common and economical line is Loktite #4 or #5. It is synthetic, very strong, won’t rot and will last many years. Buy it in 1,000-foot spools (buying in lesser lengths won’t save much money) for $30 to $40.

Start out with a setup 200 to 500 feet long. You can add onto the length as you become more proficient. When crabbing is good, you may not need the extra line.

If you’re going to use a canoe or kayak and make the runs by pulling the boat along by the line, get the #5. It’s more expensive but thicker and easier on the hands. Solo kayaks will also need to tow an inner tube with a basket in the middle for toting the extras and holding the crabs.

Stored line will not tangle as long as it is stripped or piled into a bucket or basket in a loose haphazard manner. If you attempt to coil it or arrange it in any kind of symmetrical pattern, however, it will tangle unmercifully.

Be sure the lengths of chain you purchase are galvanized; otherwise the rust from saltwater will stain anything and everything it touches.

Floats can be bought or made from large plastic jugs. Paint or purchase them in the same bright fluorescent color. Orange, chartreuse and red are good choices.

Keep in mind that smaller floats in white and yellow will quickly disappear from your sight in whitecaps from the slightest Bay chop. Darker colors are hard to see no matter what conditions exist.

Any weights of approximately 10 pounds can be used as anchors, but mushroom, or river-style, boat anchors will be the cleanest and most easily stored and maintained as crabbing is best over a silt or mud bottom.

The roller that you use to run the trotline can be fashioned from PVC tubing available at any hardware store. Use a large diameter pipe, at least two inches, for the section that will guide the line. This will minimize line vibration from the baits passing over it. Fewer crabs will be alerted to drop off.

Detailed instructions and alternatives for constructing a line roller as well as more specifics for setting up the trot line can be found on the website, Blue Crab ( Click on the section for hard shell crabbing. Information can also be found on the Crabbing Message Board at

Many options are covered in the information on these two websites, but keep it simple during your first season.

A complete trotline setup will cost anywhere from $75 to $95. You’ll recover your initial investment with the first three dozen crabs you catch next summer. The experience itself will be priceless.

Fish Are Biting

P ickerel are still there for those bold enough to venture out in the cold.

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