While September signals to most people the dreaded end of summer, meaning a return to school and routines, autumn can be the most pleasant time of the year for the crabber.
Cool nights, warm days, decreased algae growth and limited boat traffic result in clearer, calmer water, so one can truly enjoy being out on the bay.
Crabs now become frenzied feeders, for they sense that they will soon be returning to the muddy bottoms to build fat cells in order to survive the winter. The next two months can be remarkably productive for the crabber who knows where to lay his or her equipment.
Crabs remain in the shallows until October, when they begin to move toward deeper water. September is generally the last month during which crabs may be found in crab pots tied to piers.
Because crabs are plentiful this time of year, you may want to stash some crabmeat for the long, cold months ahead. To prevent frozen crabmeat from losing its flavor, making sure it's quickly frozen is important.
Put freshly picked crabmeat, free of cartilage, into a one-gallon Ziploc bag. Flatten the crabmeat in the bag and seal, making sure that no air is left in the bag, and place it flat in the freezer. Once the meat freezes, you may stack the bags on top of each other.
Crabmeat can be kept frozen for up to three months. When ready to thaw, remove a bag and place it in on the counter for about an hour. Then, using about 10 paper towels, blot the meat until all the moisture is removed.
Place the crabmeat into a bowl, wait several minutes, and then fluff with a fork. You'll be amazed at how fresh it will taste.
Last weekend, I attended the annual Crab Derby and Fair in Crisfield, which features crab races, crab-picking contests and lots of good food.
The fair was shortened this year because of the rainy weather, with winds gusting up to 35 mph that cancelled fireworks, boat races and docking contests. By Sunday night, Crisfield's harbor was flooded, with many piers under water.
Despite the foul weather, the campground proved to be a paradise for crabbers. Its pier was great for hand-lining and a boat launch accommodated those who wished to try their luck farther out in the bay.
The crabs, some of the heaviest I've seen there in years, were plentiful but small, only 5-6 inches point-to-point, because many are in their first year of life after having been born in the ocean and not yet having migrated up the bay.
Surprisingly, even though we were so close to the ocean, we only caught several females per bushel. Steaming crabs at the campsite and eating them under the stars is a memory I cherish year to year.
Crabbing continues to flourish. I packed three bushels in four hours at the Wye River and even pulled a trap with three keeper crabs, which is unusual.
The rivers off of the upper bay have not been doing well this season, but from the Bay Bridge south this appears to be a banner year.
Crabbers in the Choptank, Potomac and Miles rivers, as well as those at the Kent Narrows, Piney Creek and Crab Alley, are all reporting better-than-average catches.
For more information, visit my Web site at www.members.home.net/thecrabman.
Pub Date: 9/09/99