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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Crabbing Is Not Pretty!


Crabbing Is Not Pretty!

I love watching the reality TV show, “The Deadliest Catch.”  I think this is the only reality TV show that actually is mostly real.  The show follows several crabbing boats out of Alaska in the quest for crustacean gold, King and Opilio Crab.

I suppose part of my interest in this show is that my entire family and I were once crab fishermen.  Not exactly to the extent of the crabbers on the TV show, but I do feel a certain kinship.

My parents retired in the 70’s to a creek off of the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Anyone who lives on the eastern seaboard knows that the “Bay” is famous for its blue claw crab.  Steamed fresh with a generous dose of “Old Bay” seasoning, the blue claw crab is a tasty feast fit for a king.

Crabbing on the creek was similar to crabbing on the Bering Sea, except without that risking your life part. Our boat was a small skiff from which we laid out a string of baits, called a trot line, to catch the blue claws.  A chain on either end of the line kept the baits on the bottom, an empty Clorox bottle (bags on the TV show) floated on either end of the line.

The line was baited about every five feet with a piece of dried eel.  Loading the line with bait and placing it in a large bucket in preparation for running the line was rather sloppy.  Dried eel gets stinky and slippery and disgusting.  This is where I get this posts title.  Preparing a line with a friend who had never crabbed with a trot line before, the newbie complained about the eel mess.  He said solemnly, Crabbing Is Not Pretty.”  

It became a family mantra.

The crab line was slowly released into the creek, and stretched out a bit before letting it “soak” just like on the TV show.  After a good soak the line (100 yards was the legal limit for recreational crabbers) was pulled in.  It was not actually pulled in; it was lifted onto a roller and slowly brought up from the bottom.  As the line went over the roller, crabs (they are not particularly bright creatures) would hold onto the eel and we would net them before they dropped off.  The line then rolled off back to the bottom.  At the end of a run we let it soak again before running the line.

This process went on all day in order to catch enough crab for the entire family (often 16 or more) to enjoy a proper crab feast. 

An average trot line run would yield two or three crab.  A good run might bring in eight or ten.  My SIL, Judy, claims the record of 18 netted on a single run.  When the netting was hot it could get exciting in the skiff with crabs just flung into the boat and missing the bucket.  Crabs in the boat could get angry.  (We did learn interestingly enough, that if you turned a crab on its back and stroked its belly they would fall into a sleep state and be harmless to handle.)

The crabs had to be culled just like on the TV show. The shell had to be a certain size from point to point to be legal, smalls and females were returned to the creek to grow and or create more crabs.
Stolen from YouTube, here are some grizzled Chesapeake crabbers hard at work.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5gmvxg8d_Y   

After a day of hard work crabbing, they were steamed, seasoned and enjoyed with corn on the cob and a beer or two.  The crabs are delicious, but they are sloppy to eat.  Traditionally a paper is spread over the table so after the feast it would just be rolled up with all the shells and guts and lungs (gills) thrown out in one quick clean up.

Like I said, “Crabbing is Not Pretty.”

18 comments:

  1. I don't eat critters, but this was interesting.

    Some friends had a crawfish boil a few weeks back. I played with the crawfish before they got boiled but could not manage to save any.

    I would make a very poor crabber ("crabber?") but I think it's interesting to read about it.

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  2. It would be interesting to go crabbing at least once to see how it is done in person. I like to eat crab. I enjoy learning about where my food comes from and ways to prepare it.

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  3. Sounds messy, but I am sure it was delicious with the feast!

    betty

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  4. I tried crab at a restaurant in Maine but whilst loving the taste I found it fiddly to eat. Unhappily my crab now comes in a tin and I'm sure it's not the same taste as the fresh variety.

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  5. It may not be pretty, but it sure is good. Now I'm hungry.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  6. I love a good crab feast, but I do wonder how hungry the first person to try them must have been. They look like spiders that live in water.

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    Replies
    1. How about the first person to eat an artichoke?

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  7. Good memories! I grew up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, and spent lots of time fishing and crabbing there. Sometimes at the same time... we'd use the fish heads as crab bait. We mostly did it from piers though, with crab lines tied along their length. Lots of fun, and lots of good eating. We no longer go crabbing here in GA, but we can and do buy live crabs quite often. Once a crab-eater, always a crab eater. And we buy 7 1/2-pound containers of Old Bay through Amazon. :)

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  8. Interesting. I had no idea how this was done. Considering your history, I am a little surprised your blog isn't titled "Crabby old man."

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  9. I don't care if it ain't pretty, it sounds like something I'd enjoy. I have waded up creeks at night and pulled catfish from holes in the bank just below the water line.
    R

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  10. We used to tie chicken bones with a bit of meat left on them to a string and throw it off the dock, tying the other end of the string to the posts. As with crawfish and shrimp boils down here, we throw corn and potatoes in with some very spicy seasoning, and then use large round trays to eat it all on newspaper covered tables. It's not pretty, but it's delicious if you like seafood.

    You are right about being able to put a crab to sleep by turning it over and stroking its "tummy". My kids have done that many times when catching the white "ghost" crabs at the shore in Florida.

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  11. Oh man that sounds good. Living inland I never fished for crab, but whenever I'm near the coast I always look for a local dive seafood joint. And crab if it's the season.

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  12. I have never eaten actual crabs, but I do like crab cakes. I had no idea how they are harvested (caught? fished?), so this was interesting to read and see.

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  13. Must be a regional thing. I don't think we get much fresh crab here in Missouri.

    Never had a crab. Never want one. Imitation crabmeat in a salad or crab rangoon is tasty, though.

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  14. My wife visited her parents who lived, in retirement, on a creek off of the Gulf Coast in Florida. They caught blue crab right in their front yard, the wife brought them to her sister's house a couple of blocks away in a bucket while riding a bicycle. They were served up with guacamole made from avocadoes grown in HER front yard. Now that's farm to table food.

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  15. hard work for a delicious mess. :)

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