Fishing & Boating News
Soon the air was fractured with screams of fright as children fled once playful waters, now splashing and screaming in sheer panic. One child, crying from fear and pain, splashed out of the surf with a crusty, crawly creature firmly clamped to his big toe.
Crabbing, A Joy Of Summer. A hank of twine, a neck of chicken, and a long handled dip-net is all that's needed to enjoy some "crabbing" fun during these long hot days of summer. Kids, parents, and friends alike can have fun right now catching crabs and enjoying a family outing that really doesn't require a whole lot of experience or expensive fishing equipment.
Dozens of crab species thrive in Texas coastal waters, which are found in just about every type of habitat from the saltiest of the Gulf to the freshwater flows of the river systems. Although crab favor muddy bottoms to lie in wait for prey, crab also live around jetties, Gulf passes, shell flats, piers, pilings, and bulkheads of our bays and bayous.
The Blue Claw Crabs (Callinectes sapidus) are the most popular crab for eating along the Gulf coast. Blues are also found along the East coast, South America and in coastal waters of France, Holland, and Denmark. Blue Crabs have five pairs of legs with the first pair being pincer claws, the next three for walking, and the last pair as "paddles" for swimming. Their backs are brownish green with blue tipped pincers (hence blue claw) with their sides drawn out into large spines (or points). When fully grown, this spine may be more than 8 inches from point to point. The abdomen and lower legs are grayish white. The blue claws of the females are tipped with red which are called red-tips. Sexes can be identified by the belly flap or apron. In the male it is shaped like an inverted T, with the apron of the female being much broader.
The blue crab molts, or sheds, its hard outer shell in order to grow and increases in size. When its body grows too large for its shell, a new soft shell is formed beneath the hard shell, which are called "peelers" when the hard shell splits, and the crab starts to back out of it. After freeing itself the crab engulfs large amounts of water to expand its soft body. During this soft shell stage they are highly sought after as a delicacy among crab fanciers who fry and eat them whole. But after shell hardens, within 2-3 days, the crab resumes its normal life cycle, but may molt up to 20 times during its life span.
Blue crabs become sexually mature while living in the estuaries of our coastal bays and salt-marshes. Although the female mates only once, just prior to molting for her last time, the males will mate often. When mating the male carries the female beneath him by holding her with his walking legs with pincers free for defense. Mating pairs remain coupled for two days until she sheds her shell, where the male then transfers his sperm to the female. The male will then hold onto and protect the female until she develops a hard shell where they then go on their separate ways. Sperm from this mating will live up to a year and is enough to fertilize all the eggs produced in her lifetime.
After mating, females migrate to saltier areas of the lower bays and Gulf, while the males remain in the estuaries. Spawning occurs within two to nine months of mating; with most females spawning only twice in their lifetime. In Texas the spawning season lasts from December through October, peaking during the hot summer months. When females are ready to spawn they fertilize their eggs with the stored sperm and place them on the hairs of her appendages beneath the apron of her abdomen. This egg mass, which may cover up to a 1/3 of her body size, is called a "sponge". During this time they are called "berry-crabs" and are illegal to keep. An average egg mass contains about two million eggs and requires around 14 days to hatch. Of the millions of eggs spawned, very few survive to become adult crabs.
The young, or larvae, look very different from adults and pass through eight stages of growth in two months before forming crablike appearances. Young crabs migrate back toward less salty areas in the back of bays and mature in about a year. Crabs will eat almost any vegetable or animal matter preferring freshly caught food and will often crush and eat young oysters, clams, minnows, and other crabs.
Most Gulf Passes offer excellent crabbing for the summer months as the females move from the back bays towards the saltier areas of the Gulf. Other prime spots would be fishing piers along the coast near these passes, or around the rip rap of dikes, jetties, or around marina pilings and docks. Not more than 5% of your catch of undersized blue crabs may be possessed for bait purposes only and must be placed in a separate container.
All that's needed for crabbing are several lengths of twine cut in 10ft to 12 foot sections. Simply tie a chicken neck to one end, tie the other to a stick in the ground, then throw the chicken neck out into the water. Sometimes a small weight may be needed to weight the chicken neck down during tidal currents. Have a cooler with ice nearby and about every five or ten minutes began "slowly" pulling in your twine. IF you feel extra weight or a tug from the other end, this usually means a crab has attached itself and is feeding on your chicken neck. Have someone place a long handled scoop net in the water first, then slowly pull the line in towards the net. When the crab appears, and is situated over the net, just scoop it up. Either release the crab into the cooler, or drop it on the ground where MUCHO fun can be had by chasing something that is chasing you! But remember, crab pincers cause acute pain when pinching fingers, toes, or other body parts!.....OUCH!!
Other methods for catching crab involves triangular wire mesh traps where crabs can enter but not exit. Nylon net type traps are also popular as are metallic star type traps that lay open when dropped to the bottom then close when pulled up trapping the crabs inside.
After catching crabs be sure that females with egg sponges on its belly along with those measuring under 5 inches across from shell-point to shell-point are released. All female blue crabs with eggs, or crabs under the 5 inch limit requirement, are illegal to keep and must be tossed back into the water. Sport-crabbers must hold a valid Texas fishing license with a saltwater permit. There are no daily bag limits. Not more than 5% of your catch can be undersized blue crabs can be used for bait purposes and must be placed in a separate container.
The blue claw crab is the most important crab species in Texas, which are sold live to processors, fish houses, supermarkets and restaurants for sale over the counter or for menu items for meals. The yearly commercial catch ranges from 10 to 12 million Lbs, with a value of 9 million dollars.
It is suggested that Crabs be cleaned quickly as possible to prevent meat spoilage. Dead crabs should be discarded, but live Crabs can be boiled before cleaning. To clean crab, remove the claws by holding the body in one hand and twisting the claw off with the other hand. Next, hold the legs in one hand, insert the fingers of the other hand under the shell at the back, and pull the shell up and off. Scoop and discard the internal organs in the center of the crab. Slice the top of one side of the body with a knife and repeat on the other side. Now scoop out the meat from the exposed chambers within the shell.
The most popular way to prepare crab is simply boil crabs alive in a large pot of salted water with "crab boil" seasoning, which can be bought at any food store. Bring water and seasoning to a full boil and place crabs in the pot. Then, after bringing water to a full boil again take off the heat and allow to set for 15 minutes, allowing the seasoning to be absorbed into the crabmeat. (the longer they set the stronger the flavor) Meanwhile, cover your table with newspaper or other throw-away wrap. Remove boiled crabs from the pot and place in a pile on the covered table. Allow guests to serve themselves. Small bowls of melted butter with lemon and garlic will help enhance the flavor of the crab meat by dipping. Serve with plenty of ice cold beverages of your choice and your seafood banquet is complete.
Blue claw crab meat is excellent table fare and its tasty meat and can be prepared in many ways. For recipes, write Texas A & M Extension Service, A & M University, College Station, Texas 77843.
Phone:903-882-8877 or 903-882-8878 — Fax: 972-619-8776