Maryland crab season starts in early spring which is fine if you like small, anemic crabs who have just groggily crawled out of the muck from their long winter snooze. Long-time residents know July is when the crabs start to get good and heavy. However, unless you’re not willing to fork out a substantial chunk of change for a bushel of crabs, you should consider catching them yourself. It’s easier than you think.
First, it’s very important to get a recreational crabbing license from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and understand the laws pertaining to crabbing. Depending on your circumstances, the cost is only $5-$10 and is a lot cheaper than the fines you might receive if caught crabbing without a license.
Next, visit K&B True Value for all your crabbing gear: crab pots (both kinds–for catching and steaming), nylon line, live wells, dip nets, floats, baskets, tongs, seasoning and mallets. Then find a patch of shallow water (less than 10 feet deep) preferably on the Chesapeake Bay or one of its tributaries. Otherwise, we can’t guarantee results.
Two Methods: Chicken Necking and Crab Pots
There are two basic ways to go about crabbing-chicken necking or crab pots–but with either method general wisdom says you get the best results early in the morning when the tide is high.
The most interactive and arguably most fun method of catching crabs is chicken necking. Go to the grocery store and buy a pound of chicken necks. Tie a chicken neck to the end of a 3-5 foot line with a small weight and tie the other end to a pier or bulkhead. Toss five or six of these lines into the water and then wait patiently. Or impatiently. You’ll see the line tighten when a crab grabs the chicken neck and tries to swim off with it. At that point, very slowly pull the line in inch by inch while someone stands by with a long necked dip net. Try to pull the crab as close in as possible and then have the person with the dip net SWOOP the crab up!
For those of you who are not enamored by the hunt, crab pots are the way to go. Bait a pot with chicken of some sort and just drop in the water–off a pier, out in the creek with a float, or just wade out to four feet of water and leave it there. Then check the pot throughout the day, being sure to measure the crabs carefully to determine which to keep and which to throw back. If you are feeding two to four people, your best bet is to crab over a few day period. As you catch the crabs, drop them in a floating live-well until you capture enough to steam. Feed your captured crabs every day with scraps from the freezer (old meat or fish are perfect) to keep them alive and fatten them up.
Be sure to hose off your crab pots and the live-well carefully after you’re done, as they accumulate sediment even after just a few days which will make them increasingly heavy over time. Experiment with times of the day and locations to find active crab locations in your area. Try chicken necking while having pots in the water for maximum productivity. Play Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet to see if that makes a difference. But have fun.
And watch your fingers. We’re serious about the finger part.