Now that another New England Summer is upon us (well technically it won’t be for another five days), it’s time to start thinking about the most delicious time of the year in the Northeast. That’s right, it’s time for shellfish season once again and for the next few months we’ll all be gorging on all of the tasty clams, lobsters, mussels, scallops, oysters, and crabs that we can get our hands on. However, sometimes eating is only part of the fun. In this article, we’ll take you through a quick guide on how to go crabbing in southern New England, particularly concerning one of our greatest local taste treats, the blue crab.
Blue crabs generally won’t travel much further north than Cape Cod, so they are a species that is especially abundant in the southern portion of New England. While there are many different ways to hunt for Blue crabs, the method we’re going to focus on today is known as “hunt and peck”2. In order to do this effectively, there are a few basic supplies that you’ll need. You’ll want to have some wading shoes (sneakers can be easily ruined in the mud), a bucket, a flashlight, a net, thick gloves, ice, a cooler, and bait.
You will also want to be sure that you’re searching in the right area, or else you won’t get very far. Blue crabs live in saltwater areas, so beaches, tidal pools, salt marshes, bays, inlets, and under-bridge areas are all good locations to seek out. You’ll also want to go crabbing at the right time of day. Crabs are largely nocturnal and while you may spot some during the day, once the sun goes down it will be NOT bumping into some crabs that will prove to be a challenge.
When it comes to bait, you have many choices. Chicken drumsticks are popular as crabs love them and due to their texture, it’s not easy for crabs to quickly rip off a piece and then swim away. Cutting up chunks of fish into 1-3 inch pieces1 is another good way to go with bait. A cheap source of bait is hot dogs. Crabs love them, but the downside here is that they are soft and easy for the crab to rip apart without getting caught. In reality, most any kind of meat will do for bait. You just have to weigh your options based on cost, convenience, and inconvenience when it comes to the crabs’ attempts to escape.
We’ve already discussed some of the best places to go in search of blue crabs, but there’s one thing we didn’t mention. They love to dwell in muddy waters. This means that if you have a favorite spot to go digging for steamers, then you’ll likely be able to use that same spot to pursue your crabs. If the water is shallow, salty, and muddy, it will likely be ripe with crabs. Generally speaking, blue crabs are at their highest level of population during August, but will begin to appear around the end of May. We felt it was good to post this article in June, as it will give you a bit of a jump on the other crab hunters out there. One important thing to remember is that blue crabs can move very quickly, but will almost always move in a straight line either to the left or right2.
Ideally, it’s best not to go crabbing alone, as you’ll have several objects to carry and manipulate. Considering this fact, it’s quite handy to have a friend or two come along to assist you in your crabbing fun. This way, there will be somebody to hold the flashlight and bucket as you manipulate the net(s). An ideal net will have a handle that is between six and eight feet in length and will have wide mesh to cut down on water resistance. You will want a net that you can move swiftly and quickly both in and out of the water. Remember that once you’ve scooped up some crabs into your net, they’ll cling to the webbing with all their might. Gently shake your net over the bucket until the crabs fall in. Don’t try to shake too hard or pry them out, or you’ll risk detaching the delicious claws too early.
When you’re ready to start going for your crabs, you’ll want to wade out to where the water is about three feet deep2. When it’s both low tide and after dark, it’s a prime time for crabbing. Just have your friend turn on the flashlight as you hold the net and before long you should see several crabs scurrying about in the mud below the water. Have your friend try to get behind the crabs and get them to move closer to you and your nets. Once they’re in the optimum position, you’ll want to the flashlight beam to shine directly on the crabs. This will stun them briefly and give you the perfect opportunity to swoop your net and bring in the catch.
Make sure that your bucket (and the cooler that you’ll eventually transfer the crabs into) is cool and filled with ice. You’ll also want your bucket to have a good amount of seaweed in it to immobilize the crabs once they’ve been deposited. This is because crabs who are kept in close quarters will almost invariably start to fight one another, and you don’t want them to be killed before they can be cleaned and cooked. When a crab is killed too early, it will release a poison throughout its system that will ruin the meat2.
Once you have your crabs in the bucket and you’re ready to transfer them into the cooler, there are a few things you’ll want to be aware of in terms of precautions. A threatened crab is always more than ready and willing to pinch anyone who it sees as a threat. A pinch from a crab can be quite painful and you’ll want to avoid it whenever possible. The best way of doing this is to pick up the crab by its hindmost leg and hold down the back of the body by the top and bottom. This will put the crab in a position such that pinching will be very hard to do. In the event that you don’t get this quite right and the crab does pinch you, the best way to get free is to pull the crab away with your other hand until it either relents or its claw breaks off. Another important thing to remember is that it’s illegal to catch a crab with an egg sac1 so if you see one, return it to the water as quickly as possible.
Once you get your crabs home and cleaned off, you’ll be in for a true taste treat. Blue crab meat tastes very similar to that of lobster, although it is a little bit sweeter and the exoskeleton is a bit tougher to crack. Worry not though, as your standard lobster crackers should be enough to get the shells open and free the delicious meat waiting to be eaten within. Both the claws and the body cavity hold delicious meat that you can enjoy either as part of a recipe or just simply dipping them in melted butter. If you want to take the recipe route, we’ve provided a recipe for Corn and Crab bisque below, courtesy of AllRecipes.com.
Corn and Crab Bisque
Ingredients: 1/4 cup of butter, salt and pepper (to taste), 4 ears of corn with the kernels sliced off freshly, 1/2 cup of half & half, 3 tbsp of flour, 1/2 cup of cream, 1lb of fresh crab meat, 3/4 cup of chopped onions, 3 14 ounce cans of chicken broth, 3 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper, 1 tsp of cumin3.
1. Heat the butter in a large pot on medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook them until they are clear and soft.
2. Add in the chicken broth, and bring the mixture to a boil. Then stir in the garlic, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, cumin, corn, and bay leaves. Simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes.
3. Stir together the flour, half & half and cream in a mixing bowl. Add to the simmering mixture and simmer for 2 more minutes, and then slowly begin to stir it all together.
4. Change the heat setting to low and add in the crab meat and cook for five more minutes.
5. Serve and enjoy3.
1. Chris 1205
Crabbing for Beginners
2. Nobreski, Andy
Blue Crabbin’ Basics
On The Water, September 5, 2013
Corn and Crab Bisque