My first crabbing trip was with a group of friends in late July 2008, long before I became an expert clammer. Crabbing is somewhat similar to clamming; you pack a cooler, go to Pollys, get advice from some drunks, pay $80 for your boat and then head out into the bay.
The difference is that it requires some gear (a long string with a weight and hook), and some rotten bunker fish to use as bait. Also, instead of knee deep water, you crab in 6-8 feet of depth.
After purchasing the gear and bait, we loaded into two boats to head out to the crabbing grounds.
The best place to crab near our house in Beach Haven is not far from where we go clamming. Its a bunch of PVC pipes sticking out of the water that mark where the commercial crab traps are set. You just go near them, drop anchor, and start cutting up the bunker fish.
Once the piece of bunker is on the string you lower it to the bottom of the bay, wait a little bit, then slowly pull it up and hope there is a crab on it. But, most of the time there isn’t, and the rest of the time the crab that is on the line is too small to keep.
After five hours confined to the boat we had caught zero keeper crabs. Every crab that was big enough to keep had a giant yellow baseball growing out the back of it showing that it was pregnant. Although a delicacy in some cultures, it’s illegal to keep pregnant crabs in NJ. So, after some sunburned drunken grabassing with the final few crabs we caught, we called it a day.
I can’t say that my first crabbing trip was my favorite thing I had ever done; it was frustrating and I stunk like bunker fish for a couple days. It was fun being on boats with friends, but I’d rather just drop the crabbing. Then I discovered clamming last year and swore off of crabbing for good. Or so I thought.
On labor day weekend, we finally bought a fishing rod for the beach house and headed down to Barnegat Light, on the opposite end of Long Beach Island, to go fluke fishing. Since brother Tim, Kristi, and I are pretty inept when it comes to saltwater fishing we were lucky to have Jason, one of the Hub Hollow gang, with us for the trip.
Fluke fishing seems simple enough; put some squid and spearing on a fluke rig hook, drop it to the bottom on a 2 pound weight, and keep tension on the line. Feel a bite and reel it in. After fifteen minutes or so Jason pulled in the first catch of the day: a shark.
It was a little over a foot long and, just because it was a shark, I got a little scared taking the hook out and Jason had to step in. I’ve never claimed to be a real man.
The next catch happened about a half hour later. A fluke, otherwise known as a summer flounder.
As we pulled it up over the side, I was positive it was a keeper. The minimum size requirement was 18″ and ours came in at… 17. I was heartbroken but had high hopes based on our early catches. However, in the following three hours we took an exciting tour of Barnegat Bay but didn’t catch any more fish.
What we did catch were a few crabs that were too stupid to let go of our bait before we reeled it all the way in. When the first one came over the edge, I was surprised to find that it was keeper size and reached out to grab it in the one place I thought it couldn’t pinch me. I was wrong.
The one on the nail didn’t hurt, but the one on the side hurt a lot and drew blood. It ended up taking over a minute to pry it loose using a couple knives. Once it was off, I dropped it in a bucket and began to taunt it verbally by telling it how much I was going to enjoy eating it. I don’t think anyone in the boat thought I was serious at this point. But when we pulled a second crab in, it sealed the deal and I decided we would keep and cook these little jerks.
The rest is pretty simple. We drove home with me staring at the two crabs while everyone else in the car wondered if I was losing my mind. Once we got home, they got rinsed quickly and went into a hot steamer pot that had white wine vinegar and saltwater in the base.
After fifteen minutes they were fully cooked and I got down to picking the meat from the claws and body and dipping it in drawn butter. There was no time to pause for fotos in this process but here is the aftermath:
And that was it. I hope to get down to LBI in May next year for the start of fluke and crab fishing since I think our lack of luck had to do with being late in the season both times.
Next week might be a weak-ish post like this one, but then I got some good plans for the following few weeks. Stick with me.