By Rose Talbot
Nine-year-old Luke Boone of North Beach loves crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay. He looks forward to "guy time" with his dad, Carl, his older brother, Issac, and his uncle on summer weekends.
"We go fast on the boat sometimes," he says. "When you catch crabs, sometimes they get loose on the boat, and you have to chase them."
Crabbing is a great activity for kids. It's easy and more exciting than fishing, according to Chesapeake Bay native George Klein. And Klein should know, he started crabbing as a boy, later became a commercial crabber and now runs Tyler's Tackle Shop and Crab House in Chesapeake Beach.
While crabbing from a boat can be great fun, it's not necessary to catch a pot full of crabs. All you need for a bare basics day of crabbing is a sturdy string with bait tied at one end, a net and a dock or pier from which to drop the line in. To make things a bit more exciting, a simple manual crab basket can be used to pull up multiple crabs at once, Klein says.
Rebecca Feibel of Odenton says her two boys began crabbing when they were about 3 years old. They went out with her husband's uncle who is a professional waterman, and their first time out, they both caught crabs.
"They loved it," she says. "If you ask my older son Joey [now 6], he'll say crab is his favorite food."
You don't have to look far in this area to find a great location for crabbing—although many of the best spots are on private property. For hand lines and crab pots, Klein says a private dock, pier or bridge is the best choice. When crabbing from a boat, the Boones like the Kent Narrows area and the Potomac River side of Solomons Island for setting a trotline. The Feibels' favorite spot is the Wye River.
The list below offers a number great public places to crab with kids using a hand line or crab pot.
29761 Bolingbroke Point Dr., Trappe
This lighted pier features crabbing and fishing 24 hours a day. Picnic tables, hiking trails and a bike path make it fun for the whole family.
Fort Smallwood Park
9500 Fort Smallwood Rd., Pasadena
Closed Wednesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas
Recommended by Fishbone's Bait & Tackle in Pasadena, this 380-foot fishing pier is wheel chair accessible. Run by the Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation, its amenities include picnic areas, walking trails, playground, historic gun battery and old barracks (Battery Hartshorne), horseshoe pits, volleyball courts and beaches (no swimming). Parking $6. Free for military families/veterans.
1525 Flag Ponds Parkway, Lusby
Run by the Calvert County Department of Parks and Recreation, this facility has plenty of parking, a nature center, restrooms, trails, a sandy beach and cliffs. If little crabbers tire from checking the crab pot, they can hunt for sharks' teeth and fossils along the shore. Easy to find off Rt. 4. April—October: $4 county residents, $6 non-residents.
1990 Governor Ritchie Hwy, Annapolis
Adjacent to the U.S. Naval Academy Bridge on Route 450. When the new bridge was built, they retained a portion of the old bridge as a fishing pier. The pier and parking lot is located on the northwest side of the new bridge (across the Severn from Annapolis). This spot is popular and can be crowded on weekends; it's ideal for weekday crabbers.
3255 Kings Landing Road, Huntingtown
Along the shore of the Patuxent River, King's Landing Park features a T-shaped 200-foot pier and crabbing with hand lines or traps is permitted on the inside portions of the pier. Wheelchair accessible. There are restrooms, hiking trails and a picnic pavilion. Free.
Matapeake State Park
1112 Romancoke Road, Stevensville
Luckys Tackle in Stevensville recommends this fishing pier because of the friendly atmosphere of the fishers. It was a ferry landing site before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was built. This three-acre park offers an excellent panoramic view of the bridge and the pier reaches 100-plus feet out over the water. Restrooms and picnic tables available. Parking $10.
Broomes Island Road, Broomes Island
Recommended by Len Kwiatkoski of Len's Marina in Broomes Island, Nans Cove is little more than a boat launch for kayaks and canoes. It's small but not often crowded as it's a little off the beaten path. Open dawn to dusk.
9032 Bay Ave., North Beach
Part of the lure of this pier, recommended by Klein, is the nearby offerings for children. There is beach access with an enclosed swimming area, restrooms, a playground, boardwalk, bike and paddleboard rentals, bakeries, candy shops and restaurants nearby. Free for county residents. Up to $8 for crabbing for non-county residents. Plenty of free parking available.
1100 East College Pkwy., Annapolis
Fishbone's Bait & Tackle also recommends the fishing and crabbing pier at the south end of the boat launch ramps at Sandy Point State Park. There is also swimming, boat rentals, a marina and restrooms. Weekends/holidays $7 per Maryland resident. Non-holiday weekdays $6 per Maryland resident.
14195 Solomons Island Road South, Solomons
Crabbing allowed. Restrooms available. There are restaurants within walking distance.
To catch a crab, all you need to do is drop the line into the water and raise it every few minutes or when you feel a tug on it. Then scoop up any crabs with the net. A baited basket can also be dropped off a boat or pier. Crabbing can't be done easily from the shore because the crab will fall off the line when the line is pulled sideways, according to Bay native George Klein.
Hard-shell keepers will have a "rusty" or dirty looking bottom, according to Judy Colbert, Crofton resident and author of the cookbook "Chesapeake Bay Crabs." Crabs with clean, shiny undersides have recently molted and haven't grown into their new shell, she advises. They may look big on the outside, but the amount of meat will be disappointing.
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, recreational crabbers do not need a license to crab with hand lines and dip nets. Property owners may set two crab pots per privately owned pier on their property. The limit is two-dozen hard crabs or 12 soft crabs per person per day.
A license is required for crabbing with trotlines, crab traps (baskets) or eel pots. Crab season runs April 1 to Dec. 15 and size restrictions apply. It is illegal to harvest female crabs according to the DNR's website. See www.dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/regulations/regindex.asp?page=bluecrab for details on size restrictions.
Once a crab is caught, quickly transfer it to a bucket with a lid. Once you are done crabbing, you can cover the crabs with a damp cloth to keep them from climbing out when you open the bucket.
Feibel taught her boys early how to hold crabs from behind. She also makes sure they wear life jackets and sun block on the boat. Frequent hand washing is also important when crabbing with children, she says.
String or crab pot/basket.
Long-handled dip net.
Padded work gloves because you'll need to give your catch a quick inspection.
Ruler for measuring crabs.
Bucket with lid.
A damp hand towel to cover the crabs to keep them in the bucket.
Closed-toe shoes, especially for youngsters. Escaping crabs have been known to try to take a finger or toe with them, although Luke Boone says he's never been pinched. The rising fourth grader says, with a glint of mischief in his eyes, that it's that threat of danger actually makes crabbing more fun.
Bait. Klein swears by using chicken necks, but Boone also recommends bull lip and cow tongue. The Feibels use either chicken necks or salted eel. "A crab will eat just about anything," Klein says.
Once you've hauled your catch in, the traditional Maryland way to cook crabs is by steaming, according to July Colbert, Crofton resident and author of the cookbook "Chesapeake Bay Crabs." She recommends using a three-piece pot, with the liquid (water or beer) in the bottom, the crabs and seasonings in the top pot and a lid that fits securely so the crabs can't climb out. In a pinch, a single pot can be used with aluminum foil wadded up at the bottom to keep the crustaceans out of the liquid.
Crabs are steamed live—never cook dead crabs, Colbert says. Use long-handled tongs to grab them from behind near the swimmer fins to avoid being pinched by the claws. Unlike lobsters, crabs don't "cry" or make noise when they are steamed. She recommends dunking the crabs in ice water or popping them into the refrigerator before putting them in the crab pot. The shock will prevent them from losing their claws in a futile attempt of self-preservation.
Layer the crabs with seafood seasoning in the pot and steam for about 20 minutes. The crabs will be done when their bluish-green shells have turned bright reddish-orange.