Warm waters are just right for doublers

Crab Corner

August 26, 1999|By Mike Kobus | Mike Kobus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The sizzling weather and recent drought have produced ideal bay conditions for the Atlantic Blue Crab. The lack of fresh rainwater has allowed the ocean to permeate the bay, increasing the saline content, which crabs love.

And the soaring temperatures have warmed the water, resulting in very active crabs. Perhaps the drought of '99 was a welcome change for the crabs, because there is no longer mention of a shortage.

While crabbing on the Eastern Bay on Monday, I encountered a sight that commonly occurs in late August when the bay is at its warmest. I saw a crab fin rippling the surface of the glassy water as a jimmy swam by, cradling an immature female, waiting for her to slough before mating, since August through October is peak mating season.

As dozens of doublers passed us all day, I regretted that the only piece of equipment needed to catch these creatures was my net, sitting in the corner of my basement. In perfect conditions, I have netted up to a half-bushel of swimmers in an hour.

These doublers also may be found on pier pilings and bulkheads. A male will often linger on the pilings for hours waiting for its prized female to slough, a condition necessary for mating.

One day last year as I went to a St. Michaels restaurant for lunch, I spotted a pair of crabs on the bulkhead. They were in the same position when I returned two hours later.

Netting doublers takes some practice. It is best to use a wire mesh net, because a cotton or nylon net may get caught up on barnacles or bolts on pilings. Doublers along shorelines become most visible during low tide, when the water level drops.

With crabs close to the shallows this time of year, waterfront property owners, who are allowed two crab pots off their piers, should be doing quite well.

Please remember that the law requires openings in your crab pots to be no more than 1 3/4 inches high and 4 3/4 inches wide to prevent terrapins from being trapped in the pots.

Terrapins, inquisitive creatures, often enter crab pots with larger openings. Once inside, they are trapped, and they drown, because they need to rise to the surface to breathe.

The state Department of Natural Resources believes that once a terrapin is trapped, other curious terrapins may follow, compounding the situation. You can narrow the opening size in old pots with a simple wire clothes hanger or commercial equipment found at local marine stores.

Most of the Upper Bay is still producing good harvests, although the Gunpowder River has slowed to a few dozen a day. A crabber at Miller Island reported catching a bushel using 25 traps. The Chester River, after a slow start, is yielding normal catches of two to three bushels.

One crabber caught two bushels quickly in the Severn River last week, and the Choptank River is doing well. A trot-liner caught two bushels in the Patuxent River near Broom Island, while a friend near Crisfield is catching a few dozen a day in his pots. Crab sizes remain small to medium but should increase by late September.

For more information, visit my Web site at www.members.home.net/thecrabman.

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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