Crabbing at the shore a rite of summer
Anticipating our annual trip to the New Jersey seashore, my wife was busy packing shorts, shirts, sun block and whatever else a woman needs for a week’s stay with friends. While she packed what she considered absolute essentials, I packed with equal enthusiasm a Coleman stove, large pot, a big bottle of Old Bay and a cooler full of beer and ice.
I love seafood, and the anticipation of digging into a big, steaming platter of blue crabs is sometimes more than I can bear. I can’t imagine going to the shore without going crabbing. It's a rite of summer for me and I’ve done it for more than 40 years. Let others bake in the sun at the beach; for me, catching a mess of blue crabs is the highlight of my summer.
Crabbing is as easy as falling off the proverbial log because all anyone needs is several handlines (which can be bought at any bait store), some bait (Menhaden or mossbunkers work best), an inexpensive dip net and a basket to hold the crabs. The whole family can go if they rent a boat at one of the boat liveries, or it can be done on the cheap if you have access to a dock.
Our friend’s neighbor Al had a boat and loved company so he graciously took us crabbing to secluded backwater areas where he knew few others went, and we did this for the past 10 years or so. Al grew up in Avalon and knew the water as well as anyone. As a result, it was nothing to get a half bushel or more of blue crabs in a few hours. However, as with all good things, our annual crab fishing party came to an end last year when Al died.
Al may be gone but the tradition of steaming and voraciously eating dozens of blue crabs had to go on. This year my friends and I decided to rent a boat at nearby Corson’s Inlet, but when we got there, to our horror, there were no boats available. Apparently, the early birds got the worms – or in this case, the boats. We had other plans for the next two days so we couldn’t come back. What to do? Fortunately our host said he knew of a place a few miles away where (gasp!) we could buy several dozen crabs. With no other choice we headed the few miles down the highway and turned to a rural dirt, road.
About a mile down the road we encountered a hand lettered sign that simply said “Crabs.” A woman who looked 90 but said she was 71 came out to greet us, and with the vocabulary of a sailor asked us what we wanted. “Crabs,” we said. “How many?” she asked. “About three dozen,” we replied. Going to a large walk-in refrigerator, the crab maven quickly placed three dozen large blue crabs in a paper grocery bag and handed them to us. In short order we were on our way back to Avalon.
After getting home, I lit the Coleman stove, dumped the crabs into the pot, seasoned them liberally with Old Bay, put on the lid and opened a cold one. It wasn’t quite the same as catching them ourselves but the outcome would be the same. “This one’s for you, Al,” I said silently. Al was gone but I’m sure he would approve of us carrying on the summer tradition even if it meant getting them the easy way.