It’s go­ing to be a good sum­mer for crabs

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake

Even with loom­ing thun­der­storms in the fore­cast this past week­end, it was a gor­geous time to be out­doors. My fam­ily and I headed down to Point Look­out State Park on Saturday morn­ing.

I read re­cently that park at­ten­dance across the United States is at all-time highs, and some pop­u­lar parks soon might need to limit the num­ber of daily en­trants. My hus­band and daugh­ter went to Mount Rush­more re­cently, and even as it was get­ting dark and rain­ing down pretty hard, the park­ing lot was over­flow­ing with cars and no empty spots.

Lucky for us, Point Look­out wasn’t teem­ing with cars. Many peo­ple were out and about — a few fish­er­men were al­ready set up by the side of the road when we got there and some kayak­ers were pad­dling out near the ma­rina — but the park was still as serene and pic­turesque as ever.

Down by the ma­rina a fam­ily crab­bing from the float­ing docks caught my eye. As I’ve said in the past, I can’t pass a pier pil­ing with­out look­ing down for a crab hang­ing on. And this morn­ing didn’t dis­ap­point. That crab re­port was right. It’s go­ing to be a good sum­mer for crabs.

There were crabs dan­gling for many of the pil­ings and a few climb­ing around the rocks on the shore­line. They were nice and big, too. I may have even seen a dou­bler (a rare sight these past few years) that un­cou­pled right as a peered down. It might have been my hope­ful eyes play­ing tricks on me. The fam­ily had al­ready netted half a dozen beau­ti­ful male crabs in the 20 min­utes they had been there.

It’s a good thing school is al­most over be­cause my girls and I have a lot of crab­bing to do this sum­mer.

New crab trap

A new kind of crab trap is on the mar­ket. Sold un­der the name “Crab Alert,” this col­lapsi­ble trap has doors that close au­to­mat­i­cally when a crab tugs on the bait. Then a float rises to the sur­face to sig­nal a crab has been caught.

Any crab trap that closes with­out man­ual force is il­le­gal to use in Mary­land. Ac­cord­ing to Mary­land reg­u­la­tion, a col­lapsi­ble crab trap must close man­u­ally, have no more than four sides and have a flat bot­tom no big­ger than 20 inches by 15 inches.

I don’t know about you, but a mech­a­nized crab trap sounds like it would take all the ex­cite­ment out of recre­ational crab­bing. One of our most mem­o­rable crab­bing trips as a fam­ily was the time we pulled up our col­lapsi­ble trap and found a big floun­der in­stead of any crabs. We pulled the trap up a lit­tle while later and had caught a sec­ond big floun­der off the bot­tom. We didn’t have crabs for din­ner that night, but my kids en­joyed plenty of gig­gles that day.

You don’t need li­cense to catch crabs in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay or its tidal trib­u­taries. A recre­ational crab­ber may crab with­out a li­cense 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from docks, piers, bridges, boats and shore­lines us­ing only dip nets and any num­ber of han­d­lines. If you de­cide to use a man­u­ally-clos­ing col­lapsi­ble trap, you’ll need a recre­ational in­di­vid­ual crab­bing li­cense that’s just $5 or only $2 if you al­ready hold a Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and Coastal Sport Fish­ing Li­cense. The min­i­mum size to keep a crab is five inches and you can only keep males.

Many places have blue crabs

When some­one men­tions lob­ster, the rocky coasts of Maine come to mind. Try­ing to hook a cham­pion large­mouth bass would prob­a­bly turn your thoughts to a state down south, maybe someplace like Alabama. And when you hear the words “blue crabs,” you un­doubt­edly think … New Jersey?

I’m bi­ased, of course, but I usu­ally think of Mary­land and turn my nose up to Vir­ginia. Ac­tu­ally the nat­u­ral range for blue crabs

along the At­lantic coast stretches all the way from Nova Sco­tia to Ar­gentina. So I sup­pose New Jersey has a right to claim them, too.

And New Jersey has one-upped our state by hold­ing an an­nual crab­bing tour­na­ment that’s been go­ing on nearly seven years now. This year, the As­sault on Pat­cong Creek is tak­ing place on June 25 near Somers Point, N.J.

I’ve been to all sorts of tour­na­ments held here in Mary­land — rock­fish, cat­fish, and even joust­ing. And I’ve even wit­nessed an in­for­mal crab race a few times in my ten­ure work­ing at a wa­ter­front restau­rant as a teenager, but I can hon­estly say I’ve never been to a bona fide crab­bing tour­na­ment be­fore.

Teams can par­tic­i­pate in one or two days of the tour­na­ment and they can use recre­ational traps, han­d­lines, or even bring a boat and run a trot­line. The win­ner doesn’t have to catch the most crabs or even the pret­ti­est, just the very big­gest to win. Length is mea­sured from point to point and I’d ven­ture to say that Mary­land’s nine-inch record would beat out most New Jersey crabs.

Last year, over 120 crab­bers from nine dif­fer­ent states com­peted in the event. This year, all the slots are filled up al­ready and there’s a wait­ing list to get in on the tour­na­ment at www. as­saulton­pat­con­gcreek.com. And I can see why so many peo­ple want a spot.

The win­ning team gets their names etched on the cov­eted As­sault on Pat­cong Creek tro­phy. And the win­ning crab is taken to a taxi­der­mist and spends the next year on the wall for the vis­i­tors to the At­lantic City Bass Pro Shops to marvel at.

The money raised at this tour­na­ment helps to spon­sor ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for youth. In 2014, the tour­na­ment pro­vided tu­ition as­sis­tance for two eighth-graders to at­tend the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife’s sum­mer camp. In 2015, it cov­ered a por­tion of the cost to send more than 100 sixth-grade stu­dents on an en­vi­ron­men­tal field trip aboard a lo­cal ves­sel to trawl with marine bi­ol­o­gists.

I can’t think of a bet­ter way to make a dif­fer­ence in kids’ lives while pro­mot­ing the im­por­tance of our nat­u­ral re­sources.

It is tra­di­tion for all of the crab­bers to con­trib­ute their haul to the steam pot for a big crab feast that takes place after the tour­na­ment. The record is 17.25 bushels of crabs caught dur­ing the morn­ing on the wa­ter. Nearly 300 peo­ple came out for the after-party last year, which also in­cluded fresh roasted pigs, clams and, of course, lots of beer.

Clearly this crab tour­na­ment thing needs to catch on in Mary­land. It sounds like a lot of fun and the crab feast af­ter­wards would be de­li­cious be­cause ev­ery­one knows Mary­land crabs are the best eatin’ crabs around.

jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

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