A crabbing lesson in South Carolina

Okay, I get it that not everyone vacations at the seashore, and given a choice I’d pick Black Lake and a week of bass fishing over a week at the shore any day.

It was last March when my daughter announced she had rented a large old home at Murrell’s Inlet, S.C., and she couldn’t wait for Grandma and Grandpa to spend time fishing and crabbing with the kids. Going to South Carolina in late August isn’t something I looked forward to doing, but what’s a grandfather to do?

The property she rented was right on an inlet, and because of a hurricane last season it had a nice new dock from which we could crab, swim and fish. If it wasn’t for the 90-degree heat and almost 100 percent humidity I could almost enjoy myself.

Another family rented the place next door and they had a new dock as well. Every evening a father and his 20-something son would leave the comfort of their house and head to the dock, fishing rods in hand. I paid no attention, but after the second day I ventured down to talk to them and to see how the fishing was.

“How are they biting,” I asked?

“Terrible,” came the reply. “Haven’t had a strike in the last two days,” the younger neighbor shouted.

“Rats,” I thought. How am I going to entertain a 4- and 10-year-old if they can’t catch a fish? In a moment of inspiration I went to a shed on the back end of the property and discovered a commercial crab trap. It would save the day. I’ve found kids don’t care what they catch as long as it’s alive and comes out of the water wiggling at the end of a line or scurrying around the bottom of a trap.

Make no mistake, when it comes to catching crabs, I’m a purist – no traps for me. Give me a net, a few handlines and a half dozen moss bunkers and I’m set for the duration.

In my opinion, only rookies and lowlifes resort to catching crabs in traps. I look at it as fishing a fly-only stretch of stream with live bait. However, after our stay at the same place last year I learned a valuable crabbing lesson. This year I was about to discover yet another.

Last summer, I learned that attaching bait to a handline was a waste of time. The water was full of small minnows, snappers and who knew what else, and they feasted on any fish I lowered into the dark water. After a few minutes, all I had left was the completely denuded skeleton of my bunker. The crabs never had a chance to get on the bait. These were desperate times.

The commercial crab trap would allow me to place bait in the bait cage and it would take some time for the smaller fish to devour it. This gave the crabs a chance to enter the trap and feed on the bait placed there. The guys at the local fish market were great and gave me all the fish carcasses I needed to bait the trap. I stuffed as much of a filleted snapper into the pot as I could and now all that remained was to throw the pot into the water and wait.

It didn’t take long for the 10-year-old to say, “Grandpa, can we check the trap?”

“Sure, go down to the dock, pull up the trap and if there are crabs in it let me know and I’ll get them out,” I instructed.

The walk to the dock was a short one and in no time I heard him yelling that we caught five big crabs. I don’t know who was more thrilled, me or my grandson. With crabs going for $40 a dozen at the local fish market I was elated at the prospect of catching a few dozen for dinner.

That was the good news. The next two days we caught nada, zippo, zilch. However, the neighbor did.

“You’re using the wrong bait. Use turkey necks; they work better than fish carcasses,” he said.

“Nonsense, this bay is full of fish not turkeys and I won’t resort to such a thing,” I shot back.

My wife and daughter besieged me to get some turkey necks to try but I would have none of it.

“He’s just in a better spot,” I told them.

“But he’s only 10 feet away,” my daughter argued.

“I don’t care. No turkey necks,” I told her.

The next day, despite my reluctance, my daughter came home from the grocery store with a package of turkey necks. “Don’t be so stubborn. You think you know everything,” she said.

“Well, I do, sort of, when it comes to crabbing,” I told her. “But, as long as you bought them I’ll give them a try,” I said with little confidence in my voice.

I am embarrassed to say the turkey necks worked. We caught another 15 crabs and I’m still not hearing the end of it. I told everyone it appeared the minnows in the inlet had a harder time stripping the meat from a turkey neck and that the crabs had a better chance of entering the trap for a meal. They would hear none of it.

“It doesn’t matter what you think. Turkey necks work better than your fish heads,” my wife said.

She may be right.

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