CATCH YOUR LIMIT OF KEEPERS
CLASSIC AMERICANA | CRABBING IS FAMILY FUN OFF THE COAST OF MASSACHUSETTS
(Originally posted October 2017, updated July 2018)
Come with me. Out to the Cape. Cape Cod that is. This is the East Coast. And it’s wicked awesome. Stick your toes in the big wide swaths of beautiful sandy beaches just beyond Boston. Swim in the ocean. The Atlantic Ocean. Stroll through darling little towns that will charm your socks off. Covet their classic flower-boxed wood-shingled houses. Have a lobster roll. Try the clam chowdah. Kayak through the wetlands looking for herons and egrets and turtles and otters. Spend the day crabbing for blue crabs.
CRABBING IS COOL FROM COAST TO COAST
Crabbing? Yes. Crabbing. You can here. It’s cool. As an Oregon Girl, I grew up crabbing on the Oregon Coast. On that side of the country, we hunt for Dungeness crabs. Under my family’s influence and with many opportunities to practice, my kids now know the ins and outs of how to fill bait boxes and pull up pots in bays all along the west coast. They can tell you the difference between a keeper and tosser, a male and a female and how not to get pinched by either. Most of the time anyway. But you don’t have to be an expert to catch crabs. On either coast.
RELATED: CRABBING ON THE OREGON COAST
THE EAST COAST EQUALS BLUE CRABS
On the East Coast, you catch blue crabs. Before I moved to Oregon at the age of nine, my family lived in South Carolina for three years. We spent many weekends in and around idyllic Hunting Island seeking out crustaceans in the coastal estuaries of South Carolina. I remember tying chicken bits to a long piece of string and tossing in our hand lines with feet firmly in the warm shallow water. Slowly we pulled in the piece, hoping for a crusty crab with chicken in its clutches. Deftly and delicately with a swoop and a scoop, the crabs would be collected in our net. Winner, winner! Crab dinner.
My kids caught the blue crabbing bug on travels to Delaware when they were little. Cheap nets and frozen chicken offered hours of entertainment on a nearby dock of a bay. So when we learned you could find them around Cape Cod, we were hooked and dedicated a day to crabbing.
Their scientific name Callinectes sapidus, means “savory beautiful swimmer.” – National Geographic¹
CRABBING ON CAPE COD
Unlike their Dungeness crab cousins, who crawl along the bottom, blue crab are swimmers. See those paddles in the back? So to catch them, you need to find moving water. Their natural habitats are brackish estuaries and coastal wetlands. Lucky for you there are many around Cape Cod. You’ll need double-ringed dip nets or a long pole net to scoop up catches from a weighted hand line and chicken on the bone for bait. Make sure your nets have wide holes so the water rushes out.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- Ring nets
- Weighted hand lines or drop lines with a hook for bait
- Bait (chicken on the bone)
- Long poled net
- Gloves to pick out crabs
- Cooler with ice
- Hand sanitizer
The equipment is not expensive and easy to find at tackle shops, hardware stores and some grocery stores all around the Cape.
Where to Find Blue Crabs on Cape Cod
- Crab Creek Conservation Area | Yarmouth MA
- Herring River Bridge | Harwich MA
- Swan River Bridge | Dennis MA
This list is not exclusive. These are places where we found success. Ask around for the best blue crab spots at your local fishing and tackle store. Someone is sure to have a secret location that will help ensure success.
WILD ABOUT WETLANDS
Our favorite spot on Cape Cod for crabbing had to be in the beautiful and serene Bells Neck Conservation Area outside Harwich, Massachusetts. Find your way to the pedestrian-only bridge that spans the Herring River for a perfect place to plop in your nets. Turn off Bells Neck Road onto unpaved N Road. Park at the end and walk to the bridge. We dropped our double ringed dip nets over the side of the bridge into the deeper moving water as it emptied into the more shallow and calmer bay beyond.
Crabbing requires patience. Make sure you’ve brought drinks and snacks to keep your crabbers uncrabby. Exploring the boggy wetlands down the path beyond the bridge in Bells Neck offers a diversion along with a lesson in biodiversity and coastal ecology. But don’t tell the kids that. They just loved finding tons of funny little fiddler crabs past the long grasses and all over the muddy shore. Fiddler crabs are feisty and cool with their dominant right front claw.
Did you know that wetlands are essential coastal zones that mitigate carbon from local environments? Making sure that we conserve, prioritize and protect these delicate ecosystems from pollution and development will preserve them for future generations. Teach your people to tread lightly and remember to pack out all the trash you bring in. Be a good steward and remove any other rubbish you might find.
GOOD TO KNOW
MASSACHUSETTS STATE BLUE CRAB REGULATIONS
- Crab season is from May 1st – December 31st
- Crabs must be 5″ wide measured from spike to spike
- It is only legal to keep male crabs, don’t take egg-bearers
- Daily limit = 25 crabs/day
- No permit required unless using commercial traps or SCUBA
These rules are current as of April 2018, but be sure to check with the State of Massachusetts to comply with current regulations.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Keep your keepers on ice in your cooler.
- Do not put them in a bucket of water. They will drown as they need lots of oxygen from moving water.
- Do not eat any crabs that have died before you cook them. Crabs have bacteria in their flesh that multiplies rapidly upon death and releases toxins that can make you sick.²
- Cook crabs alive at the earliest convenience to kill bacteria and prevent toxin release.
- The ice makes them sleepy and easier to plop in your pot.
- Steam crabs over water or water/beer mixture for 7-10 minutes or until shells are bright red. Old Bay Seasoning optional.
- Lay out newspaper and get your mallet ready to crack and pick and enjoy the sweet meat.
Did you catch your limit? I wish we had. Maybe not enough for a true Cape Cod crab feast, but we did have fun. For hours. Without phones. Or screens. Together. Outside. In a wicked beauty of a spot. A real reason to celebrate. Cheers to that.