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Crabbing, Fun for the Whole Family  at Cabela's

Crabbing, Fun for the Whole Family

Author: John N. Felsher

Every summer, families gather along coastal roads paralleling beaches, bayous, canals and coves, hoping to catch enough crabs for a good boil. Catching them can be as easy as throwing a line in the water.

Nichole McIntosh, 14, holds up a female crab she caught at Sabine Pass near Lake Charles, La.
To start crabbing, buy heavy cotton or nylon twine, a long-shafted, wide net with small mesh and something to hold the catch. Now, find a choice spot.

"Crabs tolerate such a wide range of environmental conditions," said Vince Guillory, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries marine biologist. "Blue crabs will tolerate everything from completely fresh to highly saline, but they will be more abundant in brackish environment."

Nearly every brackish or salty water body contains a population of blue crabs. Some better places in Southwest Louisiana, include Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, canals along Highway 27, the Cameron Parish beaches, canals along Highway 14 or along the lakeshore of Lake Charles and Prien Lake. Cypremort Point in Iberia Parish is another place to try.

A shallow, sloping relatively snag-free shoreline best suits hand-line action. A sandy beach or shelled shoreline makes an ideal location. If possible, go where people throw food scraps into water, such as near waterfront restaurants, off fishing piers or by docks where shrimp boats land their catch. Crabs swarm a long way to gobble up such freebies.

Crabs readily devour any type of meat. Fish heads, chicken or turkey necks, old ham bones with a little meat still attached all make ideal crab attractants. Oily or bloody baits attract crabs from long distances. Bait must be hardy, though. Crab pincers rip apart soft bait, such as crawfish melts, wieners or liver, too quickly.
A crabber admires a blue crab that is still clinging on to the bait.
"Fish, according to data we have," Guillory said, "is not as productive as some other baits. Crabs will eat fish, but recreational fishermen do better with chicken necks or turkey necks. Crabs can smell chicken and turkey better than fish."

Almost like fishing, hand-lines provide enormous fun. Cut twine into 15- to 20-foot lengths, enough to reach the bottom with plenty of slack. Tie one end to a solid structure such as a piling and tie bait to the other end. Unless crabbing during a swift tide, drop a few tidbits into the water to attract those armored morsels, but not enough to feed them. If bait doesn't sink to the bottom, attach a small weight or rock to the line. A weight should hold your bait on the bottom, but not prevent crabs from moving it. Greedy, solitary beasts not inclined to sharing, crabs take bait in their claws and attempt to haul it away from their cousins. When a crab stretches a line, place a scoop net in the water. Pull the line slowly toward the net as the crab hangs onto the bait. Lift it gently toward the surface and place the scoop net under it.
Crabs latch on, and don't let go.
When the bait-clutching crab hovers over the net, scoop upward from the rear to cut off its retreat into the deep. Plop the crab into the holding container.

Crabs should be held in a sturdy container, impervious to sharp, menacing claws. Cover the top to keep your dinner out of direct sunlight and to prevent them from escaping. Crustaceans need to be kept moist, but not submerged, unless you have them in an aerated container, such as a livewell that pumps fresh oxygen into the water. If kept in a non-aerated water-filled chest, they quickly consume all available oxygen and may die. Boiling dead crabs could make someone sick.

Since crabs hold onto bait and don't spook easily, children can enjoy hours of fun catching them. They can make noise, explore the shoreline, shoot BB guns, skip shells, poke around in rocks and generally have a great time being kids. They won't scare crabs -- much. Something about being encased in an armored shell and protected by two ominously sharp claws gives crabs an invincible, if not sour, attitude.

Usually, crabs provide enough steady action in a good area to keep even the most impatient children interested. Let them haul in lines or use the net. If they miss a crab now and then, so what. Don't chastise a child for not doing it right. Other crabs will come around, but children remain small for such a short time. Catching good memories is more important than catching crabs.

Moreover, because hand-lining for crabs requires such simple, equipment, little hands can't foul or destroy complicated or expensive items. While nothing is childproof, hand-lines with no moving parts come mighty close. If children do hopelessly foul their lines, cut them off and re-rig more lines. A big spool of twine only costs a few dollars. It's important to make sure that you remove all lines from the shoreline, as they can become entangle in the legs of shorebirds and ultimately trap them in their roosts at night.

Although Louisiana has no closed season, size limits or harvest limits on crabs, people catch the most when populations densities peak in mid-summer. "A single female blue crab may produce more than two million eggs in a single spawning," Guillory said. "It doesn't take many female blue crabs to supply enough crabs for the entire coast if every egg survived."
A cooler full of crabs.
Crabs must reproduce rapidly since comparatively few reach adulthood. Although crabs can live up to three years, biologists consider them an annual crop because of excessive mortality. Almost everything swimming in or flying over coastal waters will devour crabs whenever they can catch them.

Even with such abundance, state law and good conscience dictate returning all "berry" crabs immediately to the water. Male and female blue crabs have distinguishing "tabs" on their abdomens. On a male crab, it is roughly shaped like a man's head and shoulders. Females have wide "tabs" similar in appearance to an antebellum skirt. In these "tabs", they carry and protect their eggs. Killing one in the "berry" stage promotes wanton waste, not conservation.

Once you've got a full pail of crabs, try these recipes for a savory feast.

Crab Casserole Crab and Spinach Quiche

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