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How to Catch a Blue Crab

If you want to participate in one of the timeless forms of recreation on the Georgia coast—one that has gone on for thousands of years—you must catch, cook, and eat some Georgia blue crab. All along the coast there are thousands of places and opportunities to catch Callinectes sapidus—or “beautiful swimmer”—for supper. It has to be the easiest fishing on the coast and it is great family fun. Children are fascinated by these clawed creatures, which are raised from the murky depths of the estuary.

Many become fans of crabbing, which has a high rate of success with the application of rudimentary equipment and skill. The most basic is the “chicken neck” technique. You need a long-handled dip net—available at convenience stores or bait shops—and a short pole. Get a bucket and put a wet rag in the bottom. Tie a piece of line on the pole long enough to match the handle. Tie a chicken neck on the end of the line. Now all you need to do is find a place—creek bank, dock, bridge, pier or even surf—to crab.

Drop the chicken neck into the water and let it sink deep enough to where it disappears. Watch the line. When the line begins to move or jerk, you probably have a crab working on your chicken neck. Slowly raise the bait and swing the crab toward your dip net. More likely than not, a blue crab will hang onto the chicken neck long enough for you to put him in the net. Release the crab into the bucket. Be careful how you handle it because a crab’s pinchers can really hurt. Sport crabbers may catch a bushel of crabs a day, but crabs must be 5 inches long from spike to spike to keep. Crabs can survive for hours if shaded from the sun and if you keep the rag in the bucket moist. A popular fishing equipment alternative—good for use off a dock or pier—is hoop nets or collapsible traps known as crab pots. These are sold in convenience stores and bait shops.

How to Cook and Clean a Blue Crab

To cook your crabs, use a large pot. Some like to steam their crabs, whereas others prefer to boil them. Choose a method, add water to your pot, and bring it to a boil. Some people add crab boil, found in grocery stores. I prefer Old Bay seasoning, a red, Maryland-style mix that adds some spice to the crabs. Carefully add your crabs to the pot and dust them with the Old Bay. Remember: Dead crabs should never be cooked. When they turn bright orange-red, they are ready to eat.

Catching crabs is easy. Cooking crabs is easy. Cleaning crabs takes some effort and a tolerance for marine biology. With practice you will gain speed and efficiency. Your reward will be one of the most delicious seafood experiences you will ever have. You will need a table that can tolerate a wet mess such as a picnic table. Spread out newspapers and find a tool to crack the hard pincer shell, such as a nutcracker or hammer.

After cooking the crabs, drain them and let them cool for several minutes. Turn them over and examine their breastplate or apron. This part of the crab is hinged and easy to pull back. If it is long and narrow, you are eating a male crab. If it is much broader, it is a female. After lifting the plate, pry the top main shell part of the crustacean off and throw it away. Twist off the pincers and save them for cracking. Pull off and throw away the smaller pointy legs. Leave the last pair of flat appendages known as the backfins.

You may notice yellowish gunk in the center of the crab. This is part of the crab’s reproductive structure. Some crab lovers consider this material a delicacy and others are repulsed by the notion and throw it away. On either side of the bottom half of the shell are feathery structures known as the “dead man.” These are the crab’s gills and absolutely should not be eaten. Pull them off and throw them away.

Break the remaining shell in half, exposing the body and white backfin meat. With a pointed knife or your fingers, pick out your crab meat. If you are talented or experienced, you may be able to pull out the backfin meat by carefully pulling out the backfin appendages. If you are successful, you will have a large lump of crab meat dangling deliciously on the end of a leg, which you can use to dip into butter or cocktail sauce. When you clean the meat, be careful not to include the clear plastic-like divisions of the body, which are part of the crab’s skeleton.

Using your cracking tool, break the crab’s pinchers and enjoy the darker, firm claw meat. Now that you’ve picked one crab, you can reflect on the effort it took to produce several bites of yummy crab meat—and a mound of crab remains. Time for crab No. 2!

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