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Chicken necks beat laser lances


By late afternoon, the task force had been organized -- drafted from in front of the television set, on which a metal-jacketed figure armed with explosives, magic ropes and laser lances was battling the ultimate Nintendo demon.

The conflict had held a foursome of kids from 11 to 14 entranced for an hour or more, and threatened to hold them captive until the millennium, or at least until the ultimate demon had been dispatched.

But the tide was changing from flood to ebb, the community marina would be uncongested because it was a weekday and there were real monsters to be captured -- blue crabs, the delight of tidewater kids of all ages.

Members of the task force were dispatched to garages, storage sheds and freezers to gather buckets, twine, small fishing weights, long-handled nets and frozen chicken parts.

Shortly, the crabgobblers had descended on the docks, set out their lightly weighted baits and dispersed to check out pier pilings and bulkheads. Within minutes, the first of many crabs had been netted and the electronic wizardry of Nintendo forgotten, replaced by the workings of the natural world.

In our creek this year -- for the first time in more than 10 -- submerged grasses are flourishing, and the chain of life is flourishing with them.

Clouds of young silverside minnows fill the pockets of the grasses, or school in the shadows cast by docked boats. Groups of five-inch rockfish circle in and out of the grasses and among the pilings, seeming to herd the silversides and feeding off the edges of the pack.

Purples martins swoop about, catching mosquitoes. Ducks paddle and feed. A muskrat slinks along the bulkhead, making its way from one marshy drainage cut to another.

Mating crabs, doublers, rest on pilings close to the surface, where the sun warms them and the first movement of the tide flushes the cradle.

A crab line goes tight, pulled uptide, and two 11-year-olds plop down on the dock, one holding a crab net, the other ever so slowly retrieving the line. Between them there is silence. Anticipation.

The net is scooped under the crab, which, as usual, has come up on the underside of the bait. And the cry goes up: "Hey, guys, got another. That makes 14."

Or 15. Or 19. Or 24. Or 36.

It is simple sport, chicken-necking. The cost is minimal. The effort can be as great or small as you choose, and it is a great way to spend time outdoors with your kids. For chicken-necking, you will need:

A ball of light twine.

A small weight (a three-eighth-inch washer, for example, will work fine) for each line you plan to set out.

A two-inch section of chicken neck or back for each line.

A long-handled crab net (wire is best).

A cooler or large bucket in which to place the catch.

To get started, tie the weight to the end of the line, tie the line tightly around the bait and trim the line so its length is a foot or two longer than the distance from the dock to the bottom of the water.

When possible, set a line so that it rides with the current out from the dock to the shaded side. When a line goes tight, a crab could be on the other end. When a line is checked with a slight pull, a crab usually will respond with its own tug.

Bring the line steadily toward the surface, and scoop as soon as you can reach both the crab and the bait.

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