Crabs get bigger, crabbing gets better

On the Outdoors

July 21, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Three weeks into July, and finally hard crabs with some size to them were beginning to show on the pilings and bulkheads at the community marina -- and a few hours of sport crabbing seemed in order.

Nets, light line and an assortment of small lead weights were retrieved from the shed. Cold drinks and ice were packed in a cooler, and a package of chicken necks was purchased at the neighborhood grocery.

As luck would have it, the community docks already had been staked out by a troupe of pre-teen chicken-neckers, so the Woodpile was motored around the point, where, hopefully, the competition would be light and the crabs hard and full.

So far this season, commercial and sport crabbing has been slow throughout Maryland's portion of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, but according to the Department of Natural Resources, crabs and crabbers are rounding into form.

"There are parts of the bay where more crabs are starting to show up, even though it is kind of late this year," Dorothy L. Leonard, director of fisheries services for DNR, said last week. "All season long there have been very many crabs, but most of them have been small.

"Now many of those small ones are reaching legal size."

Leonard said an interesting phenomenon this year is that, based on reports from commercial crabbers, the better catches are coming from the "upper bay, with fewer in the lower bay."

And that is welcome news for sport crabbers in the Baltimore area, although Leonard said the bay "is still very fresh, and it doesn't seem to add up."

But the kids on the piers had hard crabs in their buckets, and with the tide falling, the edge of the entrance channel to the creek held possibilities.

On other days a trot line -- several hundred feet of nylon line baited every dozen feet with salted eel or bull lips -- would be the way to go, but the crab monger in the family was away at baseball camp, and hand lines seemed easier.

With the Woodpile anchored so its sweep in the light wind carried the stern along the edge, a couple of chicken necks were cut into two-inch segments and a half-dozen lengths of line were cut.

At one end of each length of line, a quarter-ounce bell sinker was tied on along with a piece of chicken. The other ends of the lines were tied off on a handrail, and the baits were dropped to the bottom.

Within a few minutes, a few of the lines were pulled taut by crabs taking the baits, the lines were retrieved and the crabs, clinging to the baits, were scooped up with the net.

Even with the crabs coming on, the ratio ran about three keepers in 10, usually a poor ratio for this time of year, but perhaps a harbinger of a good late season.

As crabs grow, they shed their shells in a series of molts, increasing incrementally with each molt.

"What they do is take in large amounts of water to enlarge the new shell that is forming," said Leonard. And once the new, larger shell is formed, the water is expelled by the growing body mass of the crab.

So it is possible that many of the crabs that are smaller than the 5-inch minimum now will be of legal size by late August or early September, which, Leonard said, has some people worried.

"Some of the people in the [crabbing] industry are already saying there will be too many crabs late in the season," Leonard said, "and they are worried prices will drop."

But if you are a sport crabber, it is not the price of crabs that is important. It is the opportunity to catch a dozen or a limit and then to steam up a snack or a feast.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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