Story by Tom Pagliaroli

Depending on where you’re dropping a trap or hand line, crabbing has been fair to excellent. As the summer progresses, figure it to hit good to super status, again, predicated on the venue.

To be sure, be it from boat, pier, bulkhead or muddy sedge bank, whether in a bay, tidal river, creek or ditch tributary, or lagoon, chances are you’ll put more than a few in the bushel or five gallon bucket to bring home for an Old Bay steam bath or a slow, bubble-popping simmer in a pot of garlic-laced spaghetti sauce to be spilled generously over the al dente linguini.

Hit it right, and it’s almost certain that you’ll top that bushel or bucket.

Be it hand line (“drop line” to us gray beards) or trap, the Great Debate continues as it has for decades. What is the most productive crab catcher: bunker (menhaden) or chicken?

Photo by Tom P

You’ll get as many different answers as crabbers you ask. Suffice to say despite the rumors spread by the Menhaden Mob, there is no definitive proof, at least from all the digging yours truly has done, that the use of chicken degrades the habitat it is utilized in. In some areas, it works better than bunker; in others, bunker rules. Frankly, these carnivorous crustaceans will put the claws ‘n jaws to pretty much any kind of meat, fish or fowl. We’ve caught them in numbers using mackerel fillets, bluefish fillets, a trio of snapper blues festooned to a trap or hand line clip, sea robin heads, chunks of carp or pickerel, and turkey wings. Go figure.

On occasion, they can get finicky and display a preference of one offering over another. This proves frustrating if you don’t have that particular meat, or enough of it. This problem was solved for us late last June in, of all places, a WalMart, when, piqued by the curious blue color, I picked up a quart bottle of “Blue Crab Fuel” displayed on a bottom shelf. I’d never heard of it, but knew the parent company very well, fishing scent giant Pautzke, via using its salmon egg products for trout fishing Jersey’s stocked streams, rivers and lakes for many years.

Photo by Tom P

Following the directions, and working some traps and hand lines with and without the bait pre-soaked in the Fuel, it proved an eye-opener: an almost a three-to-one catch ratio. Trying it on another venue a week later with different bait, the results were nearly identical.

Indeed, it proved a game changer and the effectiveness really hit home when, as per the pitch on the bottle “Soak a Rag, Catch a Crab”, immersed a couple of rags in it for a few hours, affixed them to the trap clips...with no bait. In charged the blueclaws.

Now believers, we always have a couple of zip locks loaded with the Fuel for every trip to the bay or creek.

The minimum length for a keeper crab is 4-1/2” point-to-point across the top of the shell (carapace), and the daily possession limit is one full bushel.

Ding-a-Ling: The big catches of ling continue, and it’s looking like it should continue for the next couple of weeks at least. No doubt this homely bottom feeder is proving a go-to safety valve for the party and charter boats that are saddled with two-fish and three-fish sea bass and fluke limits respectively.

“They just keep coming and coming, and we’ve been catching them to 3-pounds,” says Capt. Willie aboard the Dauntless out of Point Pleasant.

From this corner, the red hake, as it is properly known, is easy to catch and makes one of the best fried fish dinners known to Garden State rod ‘n reel gourmands, rivaled only by the triggerfish and maybe the sea bass.

The best part? No length or bag limit.

In addition to the Dauntless, the Paramount (Brielle) is another frantic fling o’ ling party boat platform. A charter float that will but you into the ling thing is the Mary M IV (Barnegat Light).