The Ways of the Crab


It was 1952, or thereabouts and Bob Gregg and I weren’t very far from Ridge Road and down on the beach.  The sound of the ram pump in the woods above us echoed down the creek.  The creek-driven ram pumped water 200 feet up the hill,a tablespoon at a time, day and night, to a thousand gallon tank on a 20 foot tower providing a gravity feed to the families living on the ridge.  “Kerplunk” and five seconds later, “Kerplunk” as the ram pushed the water up the hill.

We were going crabbing as we pushed his Dad’s rowboat into the water.  The beach was relatively flat as we searched for dinner in the waving seaweed on the bottom.  Bob was in the bow with a 12-foot,trident-tipped spear.  The three points of the trident were sharp and barbed so the crab or flounder couldn’t get off.

“Go straight out,” Bob called from the bow of the rowboat.  “I think I see one in the grass.”  Timing was crucial, for a crab can scurry along the bottom almost as fast as a boy can row.  With the spear about halfway to the bottom, the light was refracted causing the spear to appear bent in the water.  It could throw your aim off if you didn’t remember to lead the crab or follow him,I can’t remember which.  Down went the spear as Bob jabbed it to where he thought the crab ought to be.  The crab scurried into a bed of sea weed where we couldn’t see him.  We did catch a flounder that day, but no crab. “Kerplunk, Kerplunk”

In the old days, the crab season was extended. i.e. you crabbed when you wanted crab. Modern day fishing for crab with a pot requires more knowledge and more gear, but can provide a lot more crab.  The kind of bait can be crucial, salmon scraps being the best choice, but clams from the beach were okay too. People also use old chicken that is next to rotting for the high smell it gives off. Cat food can work in a pinch.

The bottom of Quartermaster Harbor runs 30 to 90 feet deep until you get out to the buoy at Manzanita where it drops to 250 feet in a very short distance.  The crab come in with the tide and they push themselves off the bottom to be carried by the current for a foot or two.  Sometimes the trap is full of females, non-keepers, which must be put back in the bay, while the males may travel by themselves, a common phenomenon in nature. We throw the female back because one male can serve many females, mandating protection for the females.

The wire traps we use to catch the crab have one way gates that swing up to allow the crab in and close behind him to prevent the crab from getting out of the trap.  If your trap sinks to the bottom and lands on a slope, gravity will allow a gate to remain open, granting the crab free access to your bait and a way out of the trap. When your trap comes up light and empty and your bait is gone, you know this happened.

Another way to get crab is to wade at night in a minus tide when they are feeding close to shore.  With a gas lantern and a pitchfork, Dad would walk along the bottom at Ellisport and scoop the crab up and drop them in a wash tub he towed on a rope behind him.  His waders were chest high which allowed him to hunt quite deeply.  He filled his washtub with crab and was so excited, he began dropping the crab down the front of his waders, which turned out to be a very serious mistake. Crab pinching can break a finger, “Kerplunk”.