Note: This is just a guide and my opinion, I welcome all suggestions and additions.
Larger the better with a good handle. You can modify the net to reduce the incidence of snoods getting caught with ½ or ¼ inch rabbit wire 6 in from rim to bottom around the circumference of the net rim. Also you can add a foot long piece of pool noodle to the middle of the handle so that if the net is dropped you will have a better chance of retrieving it.
Snood “proof” net:
Pool noodle on handle:
2) 40lb box of necks
3) Lots of salt, fine grain
4) Large cleaver or chef knife
5) Rubbermaid shoebox storage containers with lid ( wal-mart $0.97)
Approx appropriate size
Re-baiting the line
Use a LOT of salt to decrease the amount of time it takes to thaw the necks when re-baiting
When re-baiting it helps to have two baskets (see picture) and a discard pile for old necks
The freezer is sitting on bricks to keep the bottom from rusting as quickly and we keep a tarp over it with a bungee cord around it to hold the tarp down. If you don’t use a tarp then rainwater will get in creating a huge block of ice at the bottom which encases the line and anything else you might have in there.
*****Pull the line out well ahead of time or run copious amounts of water over it to ensure that the line is COMPLETELY defrosted before you deploy it. If you do not you will have real mess on your hands**********
Proper net technique
If the prop-stick is on the starboard side of the boat then the netter should be positioned so that they can see the crabs as they come up on the line and able to dip them before the line exits the water. Then angle of the line and water clarity may affect how close or far the dipper is from the prop-stick. The dipper should have their left hand closest to the net and the right hand positioned as far up the handle as possible to maximize the full handle reach. This netter should have their eyes on the line at all times in an attempt to see the crabs coming as soon as possible. This position allows for the most freedom of movement when going after crabs that are swimming away as well as when you are swinging in a netted crab.
When dipping the net should be held parallel to the line and the crab should be allowed to more or less “fall” into the net, the water pressure will keep them in the net most times. One of the biggest rookie mistakes is to go for the crab and to lift straight up causing the line to come off the prop-stick in the process. Another common mistake is to not put the net deep enough. Remember the crab’s first reaction is usually to swim downward to it is best to line the very top of the net up with the crab and sweep the net forward allowing the forward momentum of the boat to help push the crab against the back of the net. Continue the sweeping motion forward until well clear of the line. At this point bring the net out of the water and swing toward the cull basket. Many times the crabs will be hanging onto the net. The best way to dislodge the crabs is to firmly and sharply hit the rim of the basket against the HANDLE of the net close to the net. Do not hit the rim of the net itself or you can damage it. Often it is a good idea to leave the net in the water to catch a second crab on the line.
Proper net position
Notice the cull basket is in front of the dipper
If crabbing solo I typically steer with my left hand and dip with my right. Often if crabbing is good I will just leave the net in the water and support it with my foot and only bring the net in when I have a full net.
Most of the time I will dip from the boat side of the line but every so often it is necessary to dip on the opposite side if the crab has swung so far over that it is impossible to net the crab without hitting the line.
When using a snood line it is not necessary to ever touch the main line. By hitting the main line you are defeating the purpose of having the snoods and you are transmitting a vibration down the line.
Sometimes bait will get caught in the net, this can wreak havoc on the line. I have found that it is best to sacrifice the snood and just very aggressively rip the net forward, either breaking the snood of dislodging the bait. Sometimes it is best to quickly put the boat in reverse and untangle the snood before continuing on.
Rules and Regulations
1) How long can my line be? 1,200' baited portion
2) ) How many crabs can I keep if I am alone on the boat and have a consolidated fishing or a crabbing license? 1 bushel
3) What if I have a consolidated license and there is more than one person on the boat? 1bushel unless someone else on the boat has a crabbing license then it becomes 2bushels, 2bushels is the max any one boat can take regardless of the number of crabbers with licenses on board.
4) If I have traps out can a trot-liner run his line right down the middle of them? Yes
5) If I want to lay my line or traps out how far must I be from someone else’s line or traps? 100'
6) Can I keep females? Unless you hold a commercial license the answer is NO. This includes peelers unless you bought them from a commercial crabber/ retailer to use as bait.
1) How do I keep crabs alive the best? Crabs will live as long as the shell is intact and the gills are moist. This is far simpler then many make it. Just keep them in the basket, be it wood or poly and try to keep them in the shade. During crabbing it is a good idea to keep a wet towel or burlap sack over your keepers. When transporting your catch keep the crabs wet, or the wind will dry out their lung membranes. Once home keep them in the coolest place possible and sprinkle a large bag of ice over them. I have kept crabs alive like this for two days and had very minimal dead loss. Typically the lightest crabs die first. Some will recommend that you place the crabs in the cooler with ice but be very careful the crabs do not sit in ice melt water. The crabs in the water will die from a lack of oxygen very quickly so it is necessary to keep the crabs out of the water and the lid cracked for some ventilation. I find the cooler method to be more trouble than it is worth.
2) How Early/ Late can I crab into the season? I typically start around Memorial day in the warmer shallows and then in the fall I go until around the 1st or second week in November. I have caught crabs in 50 degree water in the second week of November. Typically they shut off with the first big NE blow. In the fall, deeper is often better and traps are often a good choice.
3) What makes a good crabbing spot? Typically I like an oyster or clam bar close to a drop off with a wide flat area close by.
4) When should I move the line? If your catch rate has slowed significantly and you are only getting 2-4 crabs per run consider moving. Crabs will often change depths throughout the day typically shallow early then a little deeper later as the sun gets up.
5) How do I de-bait a trotline? If you are using a straight line take off one anchor and attach this end to a boat cleat, then pull firmly on the line applying some throttle. You will see/feel the bait popping off. If you are using a snood line de-bait when you re-bait.
6) How do I keep from tangling? I like to store my line in a bushel basket placed in a haphazard fashion. When putting the line in the basket push the pile down several times. When letting the line out hold the line well above the basket so the line is coming out more or less straight up. Then as you are letting out the line hold the line to tighten it a few times as your letting it out.
7) What do I do if I have too much slack in the line or if it is too tight? If there is too much slack in the line it could mean several things. Make sure your anchor line is long enough for the given depth and that you are using enough weight. 15lb and approx 30-45 degree angle is typically good. Make sure you have the line pulled tight enough. To pull the line tight go to the end of your line and grab the anchor line. Then motor along parallel to your line while holding the anchor from this end. When you feel a good bit of resistance and you feel as if the line is stretched then release the anchor.
8) What direction should I run my line? Run the line with the wind and current if possible, and in a way that your shadow does not go over the line. I have found it difficult to fight against the wind and tide and maintaining a straight track. If wind is against the tide go with the one that has a stronger affect on your boat.
9) How do I pack up my line? Most do not have a line winder and if you do I am assuming you already have things figured out, so this is for those without. If you are solo there are two options. The first is to pick up the end that is down current / wind and let the line go into the water, then go back to the up current/ wind end and begin to bring in the line from the bow. It is a good idea to have a net ready when doing this for crabs that may be hanging on to the bitter end. Often it is helpful to have someone bump the boat in and out of gear for you while doing this. Another option is to point the boat in the same direction you are pulling up the line and run 25 feet or so to the side of the line as you going parallel with it. This puts a bow in the line and allows you pull in the line with less bumping the throttle in and out of gear. This method is faster and less tiring then pulling the boat toward the line.
10) What is considered a full bushel? 45lb with basket is usually a nice bushel
11) How do I get a nice packed bushel? Soak the top in water for a little while then use and old basket with the bottom missing inserted into your keeper basket. This allows you to really fill the basket without the crabs constantly escaping. Once the crabs are a little calmed down you remove the old bottomless basket and as your removing it bow the lid over the crabs.
12) What is the best bait to use? I have found that the easiest and most economical bait to use for the weekend warrior is chicken necks. Necks can be purchased from many locations in 40lb boxes and are easy to cut and store. The downside of the chicken necks is that they are often eaten very quickly by the crabs and in the heat of summer do not last the entire day. The warm water combined with the abundance of throwback crabs in the middle of summer lead to a shorter bait lifespan. In the fall or early spring I can often get 2 and sometimes 3 trips out of a chicken baited line. Note: always get skinned necks because crabs do not like fat or skin and it causes the bait to float. Crabs also seem to prefer a smaller neck that they can feed on by themselves, the exception to this rule is when using traps a slightly larger pice seems to work better. I tend to cut all of the necks to the same size and just place more in the traps when using them
Other popular bait choices are eel and bull-lips. Eel has become increasingly expensive since the export market has taken off but it can make to a very durable bait when salted correctly. To make a suitable brine take a 5 gal bucket and place a ½ inch layer of salt in the bottom. Then place a layer of eel and then liberally salt. Add another layer and repeat being sure to salt well. Leave some space the top. Let this sit and every day add more salt to the top. Bull-lips can also be used but are difficult to cut and remove from the line. The fat from the lip can become very slimy. To efficiently cut bull-lips you will either need a band saw or a VERY sharp knife. It helps to cut the lips when they are partially frozen. Cut the strips fairly small as a large waving strip tends to scare away the crabs. This makes for a very tough long lasting bait. When using either of these baits bring a large bag of salt with you so that when you are bringing in the line you can layer the salt. A well salted line will thaw more easily and keep longer.
Recently clams have become a choice bait and are a natural forage for crabs. Clams can be hard to come by and the prices are increasing as more and more are using them but they are a excellent bait that can be used several days in a row. To use clams they must be placed into bait bags that hang from the snood. Fill each bag with 3-4 clams and do NOT crush them. The object is to keep the clams intact. Bait bags are made with orange bag material and one end is closed with a hog-ring leaving the other end open. After placing the clams in the bag simply give the bag a little twist and place in the snood. Not knot is needed it will stay on the snood. In some areas cow nosed ray’s can be a problem when using clam bags as they will tend to crush the clams and suck them out of the mesh. To combat this some place a piece of PVC pipe in the bag to keep the rays from crushing the clams as easily.
13) How can I tell the difference between a Male, Female, Immature Male, Immature Female, Peeler, and Soft Crab?
Male- Notice the “GW” monument apron point
Female- Wide apron with long points, greener shell, red smaller claws
Immature Male- Red tipped claws
Immature female/Peeler- Notice apron is wider than the male but narrower than a mature female. Often found under a male as a doublers. This occurs when the immature female releases hormones indicating she is ready to shed her shell and mate. A male crab will only mate with the female when she is soft. He will flip her upside down and insert has calipers into the female. She can sore this sperm and use it for up to 7 batches of eggs or sponges. The male will protect the female while she is soft and vulnerable. Note in this picture the dark apron appearance. You can tell how close a crab is to shedding by looking for the “red” sign which is found on the last digit of the swim-fin. The redder the ring at the tip the closer the crab is to shedding its’ shell. Another method is to pinch the swim-fin, if you can see another layer then it is close to shedding. I do not like this method because I fear it can cause the shell to hang when the crab sheds.
14) What water conditions do crabs prefer? Crabs can reside in water from 3-35ppm and up to 91 degrees F. Males tend to prefer lower salinities and in the middle of the summer they can be found pushed way up in the creeks and as far north as Deer Creek in the Susky. Females tend to prefer higher salinities so they tend to keep a little further south and only come up to mate. Salinity also affects how frequently crabs shed and how much the shell expands when they do. The lower the salinity the larger the shell swells when the crab sheds due to osmotic pressure. This is why in Northern rivers balloon crabs are more prevalent but also why the largest crabs come from these rivers. The Wye river is known for its large crabs and this is likely due to the perfect salinity to maximize both number and size of the molts. Also this river has very deep sections that the males can reside in over the winter. Other areas also produce very nice crabs but this is the most well known.
In the winter the female crabs head south to produce their sponges which
produce larvae which only survive in the higher salinity locations. The females then burry in the mud in VA. This is why winter dredging was particularly devastating. Females typically make the trek south in what is known as the fall female run. They feed voraciously at this point and make for an easy target. If you are in an area in the fall and you are getting a large number of females try moving either deeper or further north/ up stream. Males hold out until they become very lethargic and then head to deeper portions of the river or bay to hibernate for the winter. If you are looking for good crabs early then try close to deeper rivers.
1) How do I seam them? Get a large propane burner with plenty of BTU's and a large pot ( 65 qt will do a bushel). Then get a type of rack to keep crabs off of the bottom. I have even made one from an old trap. Then add approx 1.5 in of water and add the crabs. Forget beer and vinegar. Beer foams up and vinegar adds another taste. Add crabs and spice. (You can’t go wrong with JO #2) then put the lid on and secure with a bungee or crabs will escape, crank the heat pop, a beer and drink while showering and the girls get the table ready. 35min later they are done. Yes I said it 35 min, no more, do not open the lid before to check. If you have doubts then flip the top crabs upside down, the apron should be just starting to pull up. If you would like a better presentation for the table sprinkle some more seasoning on and close lid for 45seconds or use a water spray bottle and spray a batch with water then add some more spice.
Steamer (Note metal lid under to protect deck from burning)
The Final Goal
2) How do I keep the claws on? If you would like to keep the claws on, the safest and easiest way is to fill a keg tub with lots of ice then add water and crabs. Give the crabs 20-30 min in the ice bath and then add to the pot. Another method is to electrocute them, do a search if you would like to use this method. A more time consuming method is to pith the crabs. Two methods work well here. The first method is to insert a ice pick just anterior to the point of the apron and wiggling it in the posterior direction. The second method is to insert the ice pick in the membrane surrounding the swim fin and move the pick toward the eye on the opposite side. Move the pick from side to side until most movement ceases.
Keg Tub with Ice
3) How can I tell if a crab is dead? When the mouthparts hang loosely or do not retract when pulled out from the mouth the crab is dead. DO NOT COOK DEAD CRABS!
4) What makes a good crab? A good crab is full of meat, sweet, with both claws, and steamed in front of me. To make sure you are keeping good crabs and not light crabs; or balloon crabs, paper-shells, buckrams, or trash crabs as they are sometimes referred to, you can use several methods. The most obvious method is to simply look at the color on the underside of the shell. A light crab will typically have a snow white underbelly whereas a heavy one will display a darker tint to the underbelly. This tint can vary in color from yellow to brown and even jet black. Often this color will reflect the type of bottom the crab as been spending time in. i.e. lighter color for a sandy bottom and darker for muck. This color rubs onto the belly over time so the more area that is dark on the underbelly they longer the crab has had the shell and therefore will contain more meat. If you encounter a crab that you are unsure of use the “pinch” test. The “pinch” test is performed by squeezing the crab’s shell in the point area to determine if there is any give in the shell. If the shell has any give then it is considered a light crab. Light crabs also have a more translucent appearance to their shells and if you hold one up to the sun the legs will appear almost translucent. My favorite crab is one that has a small area of brown just above the point of the apron. I find that these crabs tend to have a good amount of meat in them but also maintain the sweetness of the meat that heavier crabs sometimes lose.
A nice dark crab