With exiting chill, seasonal hopes rise by bushel

Crab corner

Time to cast off shell, reach for the trotlines

May 06, 1999|By Mike Kobus | Mike Kobus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mike Kobus is a native Baltimorean, born and raised in Highlandtown. His interest in crabbing began when he was a child spending summers at a shore home in Pasadena. For the past 25 years, Mike has crabbed every nook and cranny of the Chesapeake Bay region, from the back bays of Ocean City to the C&D Canal. He has produced an hourlong video, "Crabbing the Chesapeake," that includes crab facts, crabbing tips and steaming instructions. For more information, visit his Web site at http: //www.members. home.net/thecrabman. "Crab Corner" will run every other Thursday from May through October.

It's that time of year again, time to put away those snow skis, uncover the boat, plan vacations, and -- oh, yes -- dig out that crabbing equipment.

If you're a crab enthusiast like me, and you've been dreaming of this time all winter, you'll know just where to find your gear. You may be digging out the crab traps, a trotline or a net. If you're lucky enough to live on the water, you may even be able to throw a crab pot off the end of your pier.

Crabbing season officially began April 1 and will end Nov. 30. Crabs are still scarce until mid-June, since they lay dormant in the sand and muddy bottom of the bay until the water temperature climbs above 50 degrees.

Your best bet to catch crabs early in the season is to find creeks, such as Crab Alley, Piney Creek or Shipping Creek off the Eastern Bay. Keep in mind that more shallow creeks warm sooner and the crabs there become active first. Rivers, which run deep and have strong currents, are generally the last place to find active crabs.

If you choose to stay on the western shore of the bay, try the Magothy River. I had good success at the Magothy early last year, and the crabs I caught were large and heavy. Another place to try is the South River. Forget crabbing the upper bay for a while, since my experience has been that crabs there don't usually become active until late July.

Crisfield, known as the crab capital of the world, also has an early season. Crabs can be caught there as early as April 1. Many market crabs are caught in this area by commercial crabmen, who crab in depths of 50 feet or more. Recreational crabbers can expect to catch a few dozen along the shorelines in more shallow water.

The back bays and rivers near Ocean City, such as Assawoman Bay, Isle of Wight Bay, the St. Martin's River and Chincoteague Bay all may yield an early harvest. Females are plentiful in this area because they must lay their eggs in the ocean. These crabs may be smaller, since they are generally younger than crabs found in the upper bay, who have spent several years migrating inland.

Expect to catch between a half to a full bushel in the early months of the season. Don't be discouraged by a small catch, since crabs caught early in the season tend to be heavy and full, because they haven't shed their shells to begin their first growing cycle of the coming year. A couple of these will be sure to satisfy those who have been waiting for the first taste of Maryland crabs.

While crabbing, you'll see commercial crab boats scattered across the bay. Keep in mind that while you're out there to have a great day, enjoy the Chesapeake and put a few crabs on your table, the commercial crabbers are out there to put bread on theirs. Maryland law states that your equipment must be at least 100 feet from any other crabber's equipment, so please give other crabbers room and respect.

As the season goes along, I will be providing information on how to catch crabs, where to catch crabs, crab facts, rules and regulations, and I'll share some of my favorite recipes.

Pub Date: 5/06/99

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