A Last Hurrah for Blue Crabs
By Dennis Doyle
Nothing gets my salivary glands going more than the clatter of a big blue crab dropping into the bushel basket in the bow of my skiff. Though it hasn’t been a sound I’ve heard much lately, this month and maybe the next look like a good time to get reacquainted.
Recreational crabbers have allowed their gear to lay unused the last couple of months and for good reasons. The male crab populations have been poor in many areas and hardly worth the effort to chase them. However, September has been quite different with some decent numbers of fat jimmies swimming Bay waters and early October has every indication of being just as productive.
Fall crabbing has few of the same downsides experienced earlier this year—the tasty buggers are as big as they’re going to get and while they’re still not generally numerous, they are fat to bursting as the last slough of the year is now past. For recreational crab charters, the run of fat fall sooks (legal for the charters to keep) is quite excellent.
One advantage of fall crabbing is the low overnight temperatures means you don’t need to be on the water early as crabs will not start moving until the waters warm up a bit. Plus the sun will not be nearly as fierce as it has been for the rest of the day.
The last and most important upside: the feisty crustaceans are at their sweetest and most delicious this time of year. That’s the real reason that we’re out on the water with crab nets in our hands in the first place. They’re still cruising around the 6- to 8-foot depths, easy to get at and the fall feed-up has got them eating all day long and eager to chomp down on trot line baits such as chicken parts and razor clams and glomming onto the menhaden baits in pots and traps.
This time of year it’s not a bad idea to also dose your trot line with menhaden oil or one of the commercial scent products that promise to attract a hungry crab’s attention. The smell will often have a noticeable effect on the number of crabs hanging onto baits since they are actively feeding, and though some will be undersized or the wrong sex, enough will qualify as keepers for one last big feast for family and friends.
The key to finding your bushel is staying flexible. Rigging your trotline for quick changes is a useful trick. It’s a lost cause this year to hope a line set will pick up action if you wait it out. Quick snaps on the chain sections under your floats allow you to quickly pull in your lines or move them short distances. While you can relocate without taking your lines out of the water, it’s convenient to simply pull them in the direction they are already laid, then reattach the floats and chains.
Another tactic is to set your lines in more than one area with shorter sections. Two licensed crabbers aboard mean you can have 1200 feet of line in the water but setting it in two areas of 600 feet each increases your chances of setting in a rich location. If one set is not doing any catching you can then pull it and reset it either in a new area of a set near where you are getting them.
Setting a few traps nearby or in areas where you’ve got them before can suss out superior locations to move your set. Blue crabs will begin to feed in deeper waters as the days get increasingly chill so its a good idea to fish transitional zones to cover your bets.
Fall is a great time to get in one last hurrah and your crab loving but non-catching friends will be especially grateful.
Catfish, unfortunately, remain the best news for big fish fans throughout the Bay but things should be looking up soon with cooler weather usually ushering in better conditions for our rockfish. Best bets continue to be along the Eastern Shore from Swan Point on down through Love Point and the eastern side of the Bay Bridge. Live spot are the baits of choice as these delicacies continue to hold out in the Chesapeake, though they are scheduled to begin schooling up and heading for the Atlantic in the near future. White perch are feeding up and some big ones are being caught both in the shallows of the tribs on spinner baits and in the mouths of the rivers in 12- to 15-foot depths on worms, clams, shrimp and crab. Trolling for stripers continues to produce the best fish with small to medium size bucktails tipped with white and chartreuse Sassy Shad near the bottom. Blue cats and channel catfish are getting their pictures taken after eating cut menhaden in chum slicks around Podickery Point and the mouth of the Magothy. Spanish mackerel remain the ticket and taking all sorts of shiny baits moved at 6 knots and above from Man O’ War Shoals on down past Poplar Island and the mouth of the Eastern Bay. Look for the flocks of seabirds picking up pieces of baitfish being left behind. Crabbing is improving for the fall with a flush of fat jimmies showing up as are lots of females, though the sooks are legal only for commercial watermen and their clients. Maybe next year DNR will offer the 300,000 Maryland recreational anglers some better sporting opportunities. In the meantime, fisher-people should get out on the water soon, winter is coming.