New Jersey’s Unofficial Kickoff Of The Crabbing Season
Story by Tom P.
It’s crabbing time!
Traditionally, the Fourth of July Weekend is known as the unofficial kickoff of the “crabbing season” even though crabbing has been going full tilt since the first of this month.
New Jersey is blessed with hundreds of miles of coastline that includes the likes of Raritan, Barnegat, Great Bay, Great Egg Harbor Bay and Delaware Bay, in addition to tidal rivers such as the Shark, Manasquan, Mullica, Maurice, Egg Harbor and Tuckahoe, not to mention innumerable tidal creeks (“cricks” in South Jersey parlance) and ditches, all of which harbor robust-and-bustier populations of blueclaw crabs. Oh yeah…lagoons. These can be crab factories as well. No doubt the Garden State offers the best crabbing in the Northeast, and so far this spring into early summer, it’s been nothing short of phenomenal.
“Some of the best crabbing I’ve seen in five years. It’s on fire!” exclaimed Philly Dirt at The Dock Outfitters (732-830-8171) in Seaside Park where rental boaters were returning with three-quarter and full bushel catches, and those crabbing from the free pier adjacent to the facility were putting solid numbers of good size keepers in their bushels and buckets.
The best apart about crabbing, besides the eating, of course, is that it uncomplicated, making it the ideal outdoor activity for families with young children. All that is needed are a couple of drop (hand) lines fitted with weighted bait clips, maybe a crab trap (two or four door), a long-handled net and a bushel basket or five-gallon bucket to hold the critters after capture.
Bait is generally bunker, although some prefer chicken and still others chunks of bluefish or mackerel.
The drop line is the most interactive, as you will feel the blueclaw pulling at the bait. It’s then a matter of stealthily inching the line in until the crab is just below the surface. A careful and calculated sweep of the net is made, and the crab, if a keeper (4-1/2 inch minimum point-to-point across the top of the shell) is deposited in the bushel or bucket.
Traps work on the toss, let ‘em sit for 5-10 minutes, the pull rapidly to the close the doors and then swing onto the land, deck, dock or in the boat modus operandi. The pull closes the door and the hand-over-hand retrieve keeps them closed, thus locking in the crab. It’s then a simple matter of sizing up the catch and either shaking him into the holding cell or shaking him back into the water if under-sized.
For the “Gentleman Crabber” there are what are referred to as crab hotels or motels. These are classified as commercial traps and come in a variety of half and full sizes. Some even sport a lobster trap design. The trap is baited, lowered into the drink and then checked hours or even a day later. No muss, no fuss. A $2 license is required and it can be obtained at any fishing/hunting license agent or online at www.njfishandwildlife.com.
There are numerous boat rental liveries that cater to crabbers. Many of these are located on Barnegat Bay with others scattered far and wide around the bays and tidal rivers. Not to overlooked are the small creeks and ditches, many of these located within a short walk of the road. These can me teeming with blueclaws and are often ignored because they are narrow.
Many piers and docks are available for crabbers, some providing free access, others charging a fee. Google “Fishing Piers” by coastal county to learn where these are. Some of note in Ocean County include the Beach Haven Pier Island Heights Municipal Pier, the Mantoloking Bridge Pier, the Beachwood Municipal Dock, the Seaside Park Municipal Piers, the Crabbe Road Dock, and the Pine Beach Municipal Pier.
The daily limit is one bushel. Females bearing an orange sponge (an egg mass) must be released. In fact, it’s best to release all the blueclaw ladies. These are easily identified by the wide triangular flap on the bottom side as opposed to the thin tongue flap of the male counterpart.
Clean Before Cooking: Okay, this is a personal thing and at variance with many who enjoy eating crabs the ol’ fashioned way by steaming whole with Old Bay and/or other seasonings, then cleaning them, then picking the meat. I don’t know about you, but cooking something with the guts still intact is wrong. Disgusting. Nasty. Deplorable. No doubt the entrails and “mustard” affect the flavor, and to these taste buds and palate in a negative way. Besides, it’s messy as all get out.
It’s easy enough to clean before cooking. About a half-hour prior to getting ready to enjoy a blueclaw repast, toss a bag of ice over the crabs. In about 30 minutes they will be numb enough to be able to move (still, watch out for the hardier ones who may still have enough senses to put a pinch on the finger(s). Flip over, slip a thin blade under the flap, and pull over the top, thus removing the shell and exposing the gills and innards, these can be pulled off and removed under flowing water, thus rinsing the carcass clean. Now, the crabs can be steamed or fried in butter and garlic (great on top of linguini) or set to rest and simmer in a pot of tomato sauce, again to be served over a bed of linguini. No guts anywhere but in the trash, not on the table.
But that’s just me…