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By Rich Johnson

One of the earliest memories I have of going on my own to “fish” the salty brine, was blue claw crabbing. Most kids start off this way as a sort of Independence Day type of fishing and I still enjoy it today, only now I employ my fishing platform to give me more mobility. Instead of being limited to the piers, docks and bulkheads of the Island’s South Shore, I can now take the boat and crab the flats and estuaries both day and night. The boat also allows me to ply the bridge abutments for “clinging” crabs and even the tasty soft-shelled blue claws.

When it comes to using a boat for crabbing, you must remember we are working shallow flats and grass edges. A flat bottomed or skiff type boat is best. I can get away with my 20-foot center console because I only draw about 18 inches of water. If you have a much larger boat, a rental station or livery skiff is perfect. For other tips, one of the premiere crabbers of our time was my good friend Jimmy D’Ambrosio of Smitty’s Fishing Station in Broad Channel who passed away a couple of years back.

KILLIE RINGS. For Jimmy and myself, the method of using a killie rings is the most enjoyable way to go crabbing. “This method is most like real fishing, in that you are actually baiting a crab, feeling the crab walk away with the bait and then gently hand-lining the crab to the surface to be scooped or netted. It takes some practice to master, but once realized, fast becomes the only way to crab. Besides, when using traps from a boat, the traps end up too close together and when you close one trap, you scare the crabs from the other traps away,” Jimmy said.

A killie ring is nothing more than wire bent into a circle or ring. As a kid I used a metal coat hanger, nowadays we use plastic or rubber coated tie wire. Take a 12 to 24-inch length of wire and put two small bends in the end. Now bend the full wire into a circle and hook together the ends to form a complete circle. You now have a killie ring.

For the most part, we use killie rings in water depths of 3 to 6-foot or so, sometimes up to 9-foot, but not much more. As we work the aforementioned flats and estuaries, find a likely looking hot spot and anchor the boat. Taking your killie ring, open the ends and slip on a light bank sinker, about 1-ounce. This adds just enough weight to keep the ring on the bottom, but keeps it light enough for a crab to take it for a walk. In shallow water you may not even need a weight! Now take the killies you purchased at the bait and tackle shop, slip a dozen or so killies onto the wire, connect the ends and make sure it’s attached to a length of light crabbing block line, kite line or heavy monofiliment.

Now place the killie ring(s) over the side of the boat, evenly spaced apart from each other. Now it’s just a waiting game. When a crab becomes interested in your offering, you will actually see the line come taught as it starts to “walk” away from the boat. Now the fun begins. As the crab pulls on the baited ring, you now start to retrieve the line and killie ring very, very slowly and gently.

It’s not unusual for a crab to drop the offering, only to come back seconds later when he feels the tension release on your side. This is a cat and mouse game if there ever was one and makes for some exciting fun and games for kids and adults alike, if you have steady enough nerves to succeed. There will be plenty of times where the crab drops the bait when he sees the boat, but if you are steady and gentle with the line, the greedy crabs will refuse to let go and a quick scoop with a net puts the tasty prize in the bucket.

SCOOP THE BRIDGES. Another method my late friend Jimmy D’Ambrosio employs in crabbing is scooping the bridges. If anglers work bridge abutments and dock pilings during the time of the last two hours of outgoing water, they will find hanging crabs. “Hangers are crabs that literally hag to the side of pilings and abutments, sometimes in doubles. This is where one can find soft-shelled crabs, as the underneath crab of a double is usually the soft-shell.

Just motor and work the boat around these places and scoop the crabs off their perch with a long handles scoop net. Another tip Jimmy passed along is to take the long handles scoop net and fill the entire handle with a spray can of Styrofoam insulation, you pick up at local hardware stores. Now if the net falls overboard it floats!

KIDS TOO! This is a great way to get kids involved and for first timers on a boat, it’s a great way for all to get their sea legs under them. Kids love the game of crabbing and what better way for a family to get out, then a few hours of crabbing, in the peaceful back bays of the tri-state area. See you on the water!

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