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Catch your own for a sweet beach treat (just donít get pinched)

Catch your own for a sweet beach treat (just don’t get pinched)Posted on Fri, Jul. 14, 2006
Crabbing 101

Crabby: adj., cross or ill-natured
Crabbing: v., the cure for crabby
For many who visit the South Carolina coast each summer, crabbing is as much a part of the ritual as reading a good book or walking along the beach. Those who haven’t tried it are missing the thrill of scooping up an angry-looking blue crab, the screeching of children when a little crab escapes from the net near their toes, the taste of fresh crab meat hot from the pot.
If you’ve never tried it, here are some pointers:
Crabbing gear
Cotton or nylon string, several yards
Metal weight
Long-handled net
Chicken neck, chicken back or turkey neck for bait
Large bucket for holding your haul
• Tie bait and a metal weight to the end of the string. It’s a good idea to tie the other end to a small piece of wood. You can stand in the water holding the wooden base or anchor it in the sand on the water’s edge. Once you feel a tug on the line, pull it in slowly. When the bait with crab happily munching away reaches shallow water, dip under the bait with a long-handled net and scoop up the crab.
• One alternative method especially popular in saltwater creeks is to use metal mesh drop nets or collapsible traps. Secure bait in the net or trap and drop it to the bottom, where it will flatten out. After waiting a while, pull up the trap, which will close around the bait and capture any crabs munching away.
You can catch crabs anyplace with calm salt or brackish water, but novices need to be aware of the dangers of pluff mud (it’s dark brown and gooey stuff that sucks up shoes and stains clothing) and sharp oyster shells along creek banks. The best way to avoid those concerns is to stick near public boat landings or fishing piers. A few of the best spots in the Charleston area are Brittlebank Park (off Lockwood Boulevard behind the minor-league baseball stadium), James Island County Park (off Folly Road) and the north end of Folly Beach (just turn left at the island’s only light and drive as far as you can, then walk the final quarter-mile to Lighthouse Inlet). For a list of public boat landings, go to saltwaterfishing.sc.gov/boatlandings.html.
The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission offers crabbing outings at its James Island and Mount Pleasant Palmetto Islands parks; (843) 795-4386. And there’s a crabbing program every Tuesday at Myrtle Beach State Park; (843)238-5325.
• The trickiest part of crabbing is getting the crabs from the net into the bucket. Often crabs clamp onto the net and refuse to drop into the bucket. That means you have to extract them yourself. Remember, crabs are quick and can pinch with their claws. If a crab escapes the net and is on the sand, press lightly on the top shell with a shoe, stick or other device. Then pick up the crab by the base of the back two legs (the swimming paddles). If you hold on tightly, the claws can’t reach your fingers.
It’s best to keep the crabs in a dry, cool bucket. If you’re planning an extended crabbing trip, you might want to put the catch on ice. In general, though, they will survive several hours in a dry bucket.
• Crabs can be caught at any time of the day, but they often are more active early in the morning or late in the afternoon during hot weather. They also are most active during moving tides, the last few hours before high tide or low tide.
• Crabs are in the water year round, but they are inactive during cold months. Usually, you can catch them from April through November. They grow throughout the year, with the largest crabs usually are caught in the fall.
• Crabs can be steamed or boiled. The easiest method is to simply dump the crabs into a large pot of boiling water. Just make sure the water completely covers the crabs. Sprinkle seasonings into the water. Cooking generally takes 20 to 30 minutes.
• Some people prefer to clean the crabs before cooking, but it’s easier to do after cooking. To clean, pluck off the legs and throw away all but the claws, pull off the shell, scrape the guts out of the middle of the body and rinse until you have just a clean body full of white meat.
• Picking the crabs involves pulling the white meat from the soft internal shell and breaking open the claws — you’ll need a hammer for the larger ones — to take out the darker meat. Crab meat is great to eat plain, dipped in butter or cooked into any number of dishes.