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Pinch off some late-summer fun

By RICK FRAZIER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 26, 2001


It was always the "pinchers" that were most intriguing in my youth.

It wasn't that we were having fun catching these critters or that we were taking them home for a delicious crab boil. It was that if you didn't get those blue crabs out of the trap and into the bucket, there was a good chance they would get you with one of those huge pinchers. Crabbing is a sport families can do together for very little cost. It's paced fast enough that children won't get bored and slow enough that they can be in control of their situation.

One of the easiest and most popular ways to catch blue crabs is with a hand line with a piece of bait tied to the end. The bait is tossed into the water while keeping a little slack in the line. Once the line tightens, the crab is gently pulled in and the crab is swept up in a dip net. Blue crabs are defiant and won't give up their meal. They'll usually hang on as long as the line is pulled in slowly. This hand line method is a great way to catch crabs from shore or from a sea wall. The law allows a person to use as many hand lines as he or she wants so long as the lines are manned.

Another method of crabbing is metal traps. There are several types of traps, including large star or pyramid folding traps, commercial pots and box traps. Piers, bridges and docks are great places to deploy these traps.

Commercial traps are built from plastic-coated chicken wire and designed to be baited and left alone. When the crab crawls inside to get the bait, it usually is unable to escape the wire maze. These pots come in several sizes and cost $20-$30. Good tackle stores usually sell them.

Unlike commercial traps, folding traps have to be manned to be effective. When the folding traps are lowered to the bottom, the doors open and lay flat. If the traps aren't checked regularly, the crabs will eat and move on. There is nothing to prevent their escape until the trap is pulled up and the doors close. Folding traps are relatively inexpensive and can be found at most sporting goods and tackle stores.

For recreational crabbers, five traps per person are permitted. The traps must have the owner's name and address on them unless the traps are tied to the owner's dock.

Chicken parts, usually discards such as the back and neck, are often used because of availability. Blues aren't picky and can be caught easily with chicken parts, but the best bait is oily fish such as mullet, mackerel or shad. Fish heads are secured to the end of the hand line or tied to the floor of the folding traps. Commercial traps have a bait locker. By the end of July crabbing is at its peak. Most of the crabs have moved to shallow water to feed, molt and reproduce. Blues prefer the brackish water of bays, inlets, tidal rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway. When looking for hot spots, search for an area where two bodies of water converge, such as a freshwater creek emptying into a bay or two saltwater creeks coming together. The current flow in these places carries more food for the crabs. Also look for areas where commercial trappers are working.

Recreational crabbers can harvest up to 10 gallons of blue crabs per day. There isn't a size limit, but no egg-bearing females are permitted to be harvested. Females are easily recognized by the red coloring on the tip of their claws; males do not have red on their claws. Females have a triangular apron where the spongy-looking egg mass is carried. In the fall the mass of eggs will distend this appendage, making the females easy to identify.

-- Capt. Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 448-3817. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with readers, contact the LUBBERLINE at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail captrick@luckydawg.com

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