Trotlines can do the job, too, but baiting a drawback

Crab Corner

July 29, 1999|By Mike Kobus | Mike Kobus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One of the great things about crabbing is that you have your choice of methods, from the relatively inexpensive hand-lining to the more sophisticated use of crab pots or trotlines.

Although I'm partial to using collapsible traps, many commercial crabbers and sportsmen prefer the trotline. For a change of pace last week, I decided to pull out my line and try my luck.

A trotline consists of a 300- to 1,500-foot line baited every 3 to 5 feet, with chains attached intermittently to keep it on the bottom, and a float and anchor at each end.

When laying a trotline, drop a float and 20-pound anchor, and feed the line into the water, pulling it taut before dropping the other float and anchor.

Next, attach a roller to the side of the boat, approach the first float, lift the line and place it over the roller. Drive the boat parallel to the line at the slowest speed possible, being careful not to drag it, for it's very important that the line stay taut at all times.

The feeding crabs are lifted off the bottom and brought to the surface to be netted before the baits go over the roller and back into the water. Once you reach the other end, remove the line from the roller and return to the first float to repeat the process before the bait is devoured.

With up to 300 baits on a 1,000-foot line, trotlines can be very productive, catching up to three-quarters of a bushel in one five-minute run. Remember that for every 40 crabs caught, another 40 may have dropped off the line when lifted off the bottom because they felt the difference in water temperature or saw the sun's reflection.

A major disadvantage in using a trotline is the preparation time. Although many commercial crabbers use eel or bull lips for bait, salting the line after each use to preserve it, I prefer to use fresh chicken necks, as I feel these attract more crabs.

That means tying 300 chicken necks onto the line the day before, a job for which few volunteer, and removing the used necks afterward -- an equally unpleasant task. When using traps, there is no preparation time: The chicken necks are placed in the traps just before throwing them in the water.

With trotline on board, we started out for the Wye River last Monday -- throwing the traps into the boat as backup. After baiting and dropping 25 traps, we laid our trotline in 8 to 10 feet of water, approached the first float and pulled the line up over the roller.

We were tickled to find crabs hanging on the line, and after the first run we had 11 crabs; however, the first run of the traps also yielded 11 crabs, an interesting fact considering the huge difference in the number of baits.

By day's end, we had caught 1 1/2 bushels with the traps and three-quarters of a bushel with the trotline. Intriguing was the fact that many of the crabs caught by the traps were larger and heavier than those caught on the trotline.

The Upper Bay is picking up, with two bushels reported being caught at the Seneca Power Plant and an average catch of one bushel in the Gunpowder. But the Patapsco and Chester rivers remain slow.

An experienced crabber caught 4 1/2 bushels in the South River and two bushels were caught in the upper Severn. A crabber in Thompson's Creek caught two bushels of keepers by 9: 30 a.m. and threw back about 100 small crabs.

I'm looking forward to September because reports of abundant baby crabs indicate the fall will be productive.

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