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Pulling In the Year’s First Crabs

You don’t need a license to catch a dozen, but you’ll need a little luck

    I had just set the last of my four lines when the first run occurred. Surprised at the suddenness but carefully fingering the cotton line, I looked out of the corner of my eye for the net.
    Despite my pressure on the string, my quarry continued to move away. My heart beat faster, too. One does not want to blow the first opportunity of a seemingly perfect morning.
    The crab bite at first light is almost always the best, assuming of course that the tides cooperate with a gentle and continuous current.
    Feeling the resistance on the line gave me confidence that this was a keeper: The pressure was strong and relentless. Retrieving my line finger over finger, I eased my net into the water until it was at last just under jimmy. Then, scooping strongly, I had him!
    Shaken out into the splint wood basket, the big male, easily over six inches, righted itself and rattled its big pincers wide and menacingly. The first blue crab of the season is a good moment, especially one of this size. 
     One of my other lines was already twitching as another jimmy tried to abscond with my bait. Big blue crabs do not like to share. Gently fingering the string, I reversed the crab’s run and began to inch it back toward my skiff.
    I was hand-lining out of my skiff at the mouth a small side creek with a freshly falling tide. Anchoring both fore and aft to keep the boat steady makes a great way to scout for concentrations of crabs in out-of-the-way places. If your needs are modest (a dozen or so crabs), they can be satisfied within a reasonable time, once you’ve found the right spot.
    Crabbing takes only minimal equipment: a ball of twine, a bunch of chicken necks, a crab net and a measuring stick. The minimum size for jimmies this year, once again, is 5¼ inches with only males legal. You can take up to a dozen crabs without buying a crab license. With a license, you can take a bushel. Other regulations are detailed on Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ crabbing website.
    The early word this year is that we should have a banner season. The blue crab population is reported as the best since 2012, which I seem to remember as one of the last really good crabbing years we’ve had. 
     The only problem right now is determining just where the best numbers reside. Some rivers could be teeming with them while other waters remain empty after last year’s bust, at least until the crabs redistribute themselves.
     Recreational crabbers have their work cut out for them, as the entire blue crab population seems to be managed to favor commercial access. Commercial crabbers get to set their trotlines first in the morning, and they monopolize the more productive areas of the waterways. Commercial trot-lines are sometimes so long that you can’t see the buoys on either end. It’s best to explore your choice of an area thoroughly rather than lay out 600 feet of baited line or two dozen traps only to find out that a fuming waterman has discovered they’re too close to his line or you laid your line over his setup.
    I quit that day at a count of 10, enough for a tasty lunch for my wife and me.
Fish Finder
     Rockfish are coalescing to the south, below Poplar Island and at Point Lookout. The stripers have been decent sized and taking smaller bucktails and Sassy Shads as well as hanging in chum slicks and tacking fresh menhaden. The eastern Bay is also holding some nice concentrations, but that’s all catch and release until June 1 when the tributaries become open for taking fish.
     Channel catfish has moved out of deeper water onto the 15-foot level. Inside the can at Hackett’s is reported to be holding some five- to 10-pounders as in similar depths around the Bay Bridge.
     Crabbing looks bright, but there are no solid reports as to concentrations or locations.