Crabbing on Long Island

It's blue crab season on Long Island. Crab

It's blue crab season on Long Island. Crab courtesy of Two Cousins Fish Market in Freeport. (Credit: Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

Catching crabs is fun, easy, uncomplicated and inexpensive. Here's everything you need to know about crabbing, along with hot spots on Long Island.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Blue crabs can be caught from boats, docks or shore in tidal creeks and bay waters using nets, traps and drop-lines. You can also skim them from bulkhead edges using a net during the day, or scoop them as they swim on the surface after dark.

Bait: You'll need it if you're using drop-lines or traps. Bunker ($1-$2 each) and chicken wings are the usual offerings.

Traps: Older pyramid and box-style traps with four doors open as they settle on the bottom, but two-door traps ($6-$15) catch just as many crabs.

Nets: Use a net to scoop crabs at the end of drop-lines, from the edge of bulkheads or the surface if crabbing after dark.

THE TECHNIQUES

Drop-lines: Well-suited to catching crabs in shallow water, these are usually a length of light cord or fishing line with a chunk of bait at the end. Toss the line in, and let the bait settle to the bottom. When the line moves, lift smoothly until you see the crab and scoop quickly from below with a net.

Traps: Wire bait to the trap floor, lower it to the bottom and wait 5 to 15 minutes before pulling it up with a continuous hand-over-hand motion that keeps the doors shut.

Late-night jacking: Blue crabs often rise to the surface and swim with the tide after dark, presenting an easy mark where there are light sources. Dip your net in the crab's path, scooping toward your catch.

Watch those claws: The safest way to pick up blue crabs is with a pair of crab tongs ($6). By hand, grasp either back flipper tight to the shell, keeping the crab's claws away from your body. This ensures you'll be eating crab for dinner - not the other way around.

THINGS TO KNOW

Regulations: Crabs should be at least 41/2 inches across the shell, and there's a 50-crab daily limit per person. Sponge crabs - females carrying eggs on their underside - must be released.

Permits: Some towns and villages require a shellfishing permit or have special regulations in effect. A parking permit may be needed to access the water. Call the town hall where you want to crab.

Note: Although heavy stormwater runoff has temporarily closed some L.I. beaches to swimming and shellfishing, crabbing is not affected. That's because, unlike shellfish, crabs are usually cooked, not eaten raw.

WHERE TO GO

Most of the better catches come from the South Shore bays and western Peconic Bay. Some decent action is available along the marsh edges of Stony Brook, Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson harbors. Hot spots include:

Bay Park, First Avenue, East Rockaway, (516-571-7245): Try from the bulkhead north of the launch ramp. Bunker is best bait.

Cow Meadow Park, South Main Street, Freeport: Mid-August to end of September is best. Traps, nets and drop-lines all work well.

Bellmore town dock, Bellmore Avenue: Use traps or drop-lines at mid-tide. Use bunker.

Tanner Park dock, Kerrigan Road, Copiague (631-893-2100): End of incoming and start of outgoing water is best. Bunker is better than chicken. Traps, nets and drop-lines all work well.

Babylon town dock, Fire Island Avenue: Bunker works well on any tidal stage. Traps work better than drop-lines.

Captree State Park, Babylon (631-669-0449): Crab from the east pier. Traps work when tide is slow; drop-lines are better when it runs. Bunker works best.

West Sayville dock, West Avenue: Traps, nets and drop-lines all work well. Crab off the west or south sides. Beginning of outgoing water is best.

Patchogue dock, South Ocean Avenue: Plenty of room and good crabbing everywhere. Traps and drop-lines during the day, nets at night. Bunker is best bait.

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