Introduction: Crabbing

My roommate has a house located on the Rappahannock River that has a dock that is perfect for crabbing. I visit her house many times during the year and we are out on the dock every day fishing and crabbing. My roommate has been setting up crab traps her entire life so I had the opportunity to spend time with her and her family to learn more about this topic. I want to provide an instructable that is based on our crabbing techniques.

Along the Rappahannock River crabs are
harvested commercially as well as recreationally. Crab pots and traps are used to support the crabbing hobby to residents along the river. A license for crabbing may be required depending on the type of gear. If a resident is crabbing off of a boat, a license tag must be fastened to the boat. A license is not needed if an individual is crabbing from shore and the individual is gathering less than one bushel per person per day. The limit on crab pots, before a license is required, is two crab pots.

Blue crabs are located in the Chesapeake Bay, and are very likely to be found in your crab pot. Blue crabs get their name from the blue tint that is located on their claws. These crabs are omnivores are find their food along the river floor. Blue crabs are an extremely popular catch because their meat is very delicious. Some are types of crabs that are often found in the Chesapeake Bay include: Atlantic Ghost Crab, Chinese Mitten Crab, Common Spider Crab, Fiddler Crab, Hermit Crab, and Marsh Crab. All of these crabs can be found caught in a crab pot. Other river creatures may find themselves trapped in your crab pot, such as fish. My roommate and I would often find flounder caught in our crab trap and would pull them from the trap and throw them back into the river.

The crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay are rapidly decreasing. The decline in population numbers can be attributed to over harvesting and pollution. Fertilizer runoff from farms and homes is a big contributor to this population decline. The Department of Environmental Quality, non-profit organizations, and fisherman have come together to support legislation that will improve the overall health of the river. This support can contribute to an increase in the crab population and the preservation of the Chesapeake Bay habitat.

Step 1: Bait

The first step before you can begin catching crab is to bait your crab pot. The illustration shown depicts a typical crab pot. The section in the middle of the pot can be filled with any kind of bait. Crabs are not picky creatures and this section can be filled with chicken leg quarters or dead fish. Other types of bait could include bones, guts, chicken necks, or squid. The bait must be large enough that it does not slip through the crab trap material. The traps are typically made out of a wire that is folded into an octagon or square shape. Before dropping the trap into the water, ensure that the bait section of the trap is closed and secured.

Step 2: Release

Before releasing the trap you want to ensure that a buoy is attached to the line so that the trap is visible from the dock. After filling the bait pot, walk to the edge of the dock or to the shore and begin releasing the trap into the water. Be sure to drop the crab pot so that the bait section is facing down, this ensure that the crabs can access the trap. Hold the pot over the water and slowly release the line out of your hand. You want the trap to fall all the way to the bottom of the river, since crabs are usually traveling along the sand. When the line goes slack the trap has reached the bottom of the river. You can tie off the trap to a section of the dock or to a rock if you choose to do so. These traps can be left out for multiple hours.

Step 3: Caught

A trap can catch crabs as soon as ten minutes, but may take longer. Once you think there is a crab in your trap, you can pull it in to check. Grab the line and begin pulling in the pot. Make sure that you are pulling the line slowly and smoothly so the crabs are not able to escape. Once the line is all the way in, grab the pot and set it on the dock or on the shore. Be careful when grabbing the pot so that crabs do not have the opportunity to pinch your fingers.

Step 4: Measure

Once you have pulled your pot in, begin measuring the crabs. There are size limits on the crabs caught in the Chesapeake Bay. There are body characteristic differences between male and female, these are important to know before deciding which crabs to select. The male crabs typically have a pentagon shape on the center underside of their bellies while females a pyramid shape. In Virginia it is legal to keep female crabs but if there is a sign of eggs, you typically want to throw these crabs back. The crab population, as mentioned earlier, is declining and saving these females will contribute to population growth. Make sure the check these size requirements before deciding which crabs to keep, and which to throw back into the river. It is important to note that dark sponge crabs must be returned to the water still alive between March 17 and June 15. These regulations can be found on the Virginia Marine Resources Commission website.

Step 5: Cook

The last step is to select the crabs you would like to take home. These crabs can be transported in a cooler or a bag. Since my roommate lives on the river, we used a bucket to carry the crabs back to the house. My roommate’s family brings home crabs and typically kills and cooks them on the same day.