Chesapeake Bay blue crabs can be caught recreationally by a number of methods. Some techniques for catching blue crabs are effective only in specific habitats while other techniques are related to seasonal events. Although recreational crabbing is done throughout the day, crabbing is usually most effective in the early morning or evening. Throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, recreational crabbing is restricted by a number of state regulations.
The most common method for catching crabs recreationally in the Chesapeake Bay region is by using a baited line and dip net. The method is often called “chicken necking”, in reference to one of the most popular crab baits. To rig crab lines, all that is required is a spool of nylon twine, some weights, a supply of bait, and a long-handled dip net.
Because of their low cost and availability, chicken necks were a traditional crab bait for decades. As chicken necks became harder to find in stores, enthusiasts have resorted to a variety of baits for catching crabs. To be effective, crab baits must be tough, produce a strong scent, and be shaped so that it will remain tied on a line. Chicken backs, fish scraps, or other baits are among the most common.
Crab lining is done from piers, docks, or shorelines, where crabbers have access to saltwater. Crabbers often set up a series of lines over a wide area. Some crabbers prefer to watch a single line, while others continually move among the area, checking each line every few minutes. When a crab locates the bait, it will usually move the line. By slowly lifting the line, crabbers guide each crab to the surface, where it can be netted.
For catching greater quantities of crabs, recreational crabbers sometimes use trotlines. These rigs use the same principle of crab lines, only on a larger scale. A trotline consists of one or two anchors, a main line, and a buoy. Baits are added to the line every few feet, either by knots or some form of slip ring.
To fish a trot line, crabbers place the rig in a suitable location, aligning the line with tidal flow. As the boat idles along slowly, the line passes over a special arm, which gently lifts the trotline and crabs. As crabs near the boat, they are dip netted, measured, culled, and stored. In the Chesapeake Bay trotlining for crabs is usually done in the early morning. As the sun moves higher into the sky, crabs become more wary and often drop off the line before it reaches the boat.
Crab traps are popular for catching crabs. Basic crab traps are made of wire mesh, with doors that fold upward when the trap is lifted. Crab traps work well in many of the same areas where baited lines are used. Like crab lines, traps are baited to attract crabs. When the crabber sees or feels a crab enter the trap, he or she quickly lifts the unit, trapping the crab inside. Once the trap is out of the water, crabs can removed, measured, and if large enough, kept for the table.
In some areas, crabbing regulations allow landowners to set crab pots along their shorelines. In some areas, the use of crab pots is the most efficient method for harvesting crabs. Unlike other methods, crab pots work with almost any bait and require less supervision. In most cases, landowners or their guests simply haul their pots every 1-3 days, remove their crabs and re-bait for the next catch.
One of the least known methods for catching hard crabs is by dip netting. Using this technique, oldschool crabbers move quietly through shallow areas with a shallow draft boat. As the boat is maneuvered, the crabber scans the shallows for crabs. When a crab is sighted within range, it is simply scooped up with the net. Dip netting is by far the most difficult to master of all the crab-catching techniques. Despite its challenges, dip netting can be extremely effective under the right conditions. In addition to hard crabs, dip netters catch peeler crabs, soft-shelled crabs, and doublers (a male crab clutching a soft-shelled female).