I’m a big fan of Charlie White! I bless the man every time we sit down to another crab dinner. He’s the author of a series of books on fishing. Of the several that I own, his book, Living Off the Sea (Check your local independent bookstore) has been most helpful.
We’ve crabbed for about 17 years with average success, sometimes getting more than we could eat, sometimes getting “skunked.” We didn’t have much success the first two years we tried crabbing Mud Bay. The first year we caught two crabs the entire season. Both were female, making them illegal, and both would have been too small to keep had they been males.
Then I found Living Off the Sea. Before I even got home, I read the section on crabbing, and learned two lessons that have changed our luck completely.
First, and most surprising, is his advice that crab traps should be baited with fresh bait. This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that crabs like rotten bait, the smellier the better. White says that while smelly bait will catch crabs, they will generally be smaller, and will often be missing arms and legs. He says all the big, healthy, muscular crabs are in the traps with the fresh bait! He suggests oily meat if possible, like herring.
Second, he recommends aligning traps so that the doors line up with the tidal flow. This is vital, because crabs follow scents on the tide. They aren’t smart enough to find their way into traps that they can’t walk right into as they follow their nose. They may blunder in eventually, but with the doors aligned correctly, the crabs can’t help but get caught.
We changed rotten bait for fresh, and dropped pots in line with the tide. The next time we checked, the trap was full!
We can now choose the very best, and free the rest. The next year we ate so much crab we got tired of it, and gave away so many that some neighbors didn’t bother to put out their own pots at all. I wish I’d learned what Mr. White had to teach me years ago!