It’s no mystery that the 2022 crabbing season has been difficult throughout the the Chesapeake Bay watershed—not just for commercial watermen, but also those who enjoy the sport recreationally. After the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ annual winter dredge survey results were announced (a dismal and declining population recorded), it seemed a dark spell was cast over the fishery. Those that depend on the blue crab to earn a living have been toughing it out and the market price on a bushel of crabs has skyrocketed this summer. That said, there have been positive recreational reports, here and there, on nearly every river. Tide, time, and place have made for more than a few lucky strikes. And I was ever-hopeful that my latest rounds of crabbing—my first of the season, in fact—would be fruitful. Truth be told, I was simply hoping for “no whammies” (a.k.a. skunks).
So, of course, I decide to set my traps on two of the hottest days forecasted this year. But hey, it’s the dog days of summer and during August, you simply have to grin and bear the heat if you want to catch crabs. My method for doing so—setting a line of collapsible traps in 7–10′ depths anywhere from 10 yards off shoreline to 50. In my neck of the woods—the upper Severn River on Maryland’s Western Shore—I’ve marked several spots that fit this bill. This is simply my Plan A. On a wide- and far-reaching river, however, one needs to be ready to make adjustments between depths, distance, and adjacent cover (grassbeds, docks, etc.) to find the crab. Plan B and C often come into the fold. It’s not easy. It’s definitely not easy during 100-degree “real feel” temps. So how’d we do?
The first run of crabbing season, for me, was a family trip during the morning hours of a Saturday (August 6th) predicted to reach 90-plus Fahrenheit by noon. The evening before, I purchased enough razor clams from the wonderful Anglers Sports Center, which were going for $7.99 per half-gallon bag. I need two bags to bait 15 traps. Good deal considering what fuel and labor costs are these days. I stuff the clams a handful at a time into the reusable orange-mesh bait bags and secure the open ends with snares I’ve made from paracord and push-button cord locks (materials purchased on Amazon). Do the prep the night before so you’re ready to roll out of bed and hit the river.
By 9 a.m. (a late start by my standards), we had our run of traps loaded and set at a spot where we’ve traditionally done well. After letting the traps sit for a 1/2 hour, we ran the line, pulling up each trap aggressively so as to not allow a crab to escape if, indeed, any had found the clams. We repeated this process several times but…the crabs were not at this location. I should say, keeper-sized crabs were not here. There were plenty of undersized juveniles, but no bigguns, which meant no crabs for dinner. With the heat index rising, we called it a day, hauled the traps one last time, unhooked the floats and lines (I use cut sections of pool noodle and poly-string), and saved our bait bags with clams for another outing.
This was a solo trip in my smaller jon boat, which barely has enough room to hold all the gear needed for crabbing. This includes a bushel basket, the aforementioned traps/floats/lines, the cooler of bait bags, my thick, rubber handling gloves, and other essentials (like fishing gear for the downtime spent waiting for the traps to soak and attract crabs). Going solo allows me to rise before dawn and get on the river before most folks’ alarms have even rung. This trip was just two short days after the first run, and I had a different spot located to start the day’s adventure. It’s a remarkable time of day to be on the river. Pre-dawn and into the first hour of sunrise, there’s stillness, quiet, solitude, and the emerging beauty of the first rays of light that crest the horizon. I love this time.
The calmness also makes for easy setting of the traps, and I had a perfect line resting in the water by 6 a.m., just minutes before sunrise. For this soak, I allotted a solid 40-plus minutes and tried my hand at fishing walking baits and poppers on topwater for striped bass along a nearby sandbar (no hits, darn it). The return to the traps was highly-anticipated. The conditions seemed perfect: early morning temps in the high 70s, a high ebbing tide, gentle breeze, and water temps in the 80s (maybe that last variable is less than ideal). I pushed along the line, pulling up trap by trap, but only managed a couple keepers. Again, lots of throwback babies. After two rather unproductive runs, I decided to change location and ran directly across the river to another flat with similar depth, nearby structure, and spacing for traps and maneuverability. During the first soak, I tried light tackle trolling for stripers and had a couple hookups, which were fun. Nothing over 16″ mind you, but pullage nonetheless.
During the first return and with each and every pull of a trap, I kept singing the same phrase in my head and aloud…”No whammies, no whammies, no whammies,” the familiar refrain from the early-’80s gameshow Press Your Luck. And thankfully, there was some fortune—just enough to start filling the bushel basket and feel good about prospecting this particular spot. During subsequent soaks, I fished the adjacent docks for white perch. My go to lure for dock fishing is a silver, 1/4oz Kastmaster. I replace the stock treble with a feather-dressed Berkley Fusion19 treble and add a Spro swivel as the leader connection to avoid line twist (I use spinning gear). Working the lure in the shaded areas under and around each dock, letting it sink toward bottom, and jigging/twitching the lure back up produced perch on nearly every cast. It’s a great way to while away the time when waiting out the crab traps.
After two more runs and having exhausted this crabbing spot, I began the return to my home creek and revisited the original go-to area, where my family skunked on the first trip two days prior. I made a couple soaks/runs and pulled up four keepers, just enough to fill out a baker’s dozen in the basket and have a small supper of Maryland’s favorite crustacean. By 11 a.m. I had to call it quits because the sun became unbearable. Out of an abundance of caution, I called it a day and got off the water.
During clean-up at home (I trailer my boats to and fro), my marine mechanic neighbor and I discussed the morning’s endeavors. I lamented the tough conditions and he confirmed what we’ve both known all along—this season is a clunker overall, the crabs are hit or miss at best, but I was fortunate to finish with more crabs than when the day started. No whammies, after all. See y’all on the water again, real soon!