Blue Crab Bliss, Bigeye Bite

Short-tempered, feisty, and downright nasty in its demeanor
Catching blue-claw crabs is fun, but because diamondback terrapins can also be lured to crab traps by the scent of bait, the D.E.C. is offering free terrapin-excluder devices to install on the entryway to commercial and recreational crab pots. Jon M. Diat

For those who have followed my adventures in trapping lobsters over the past few months, I must freely admit that I have an even greater fondness (and appetite) for a rather close cousin of that popular staple of the summertime clam bake.

It’s the blue-claw crab. Ounce for ounce, nothing in our East End waters is more short-tempered, feisty, and downright nasty in its demeanor. Fast and agile swimmers, blue crabs are also blessed with keen 20-20 eyesight and are armed with a set of sharp pincer claws. If you’re not careful picking one up, the blue crab is more than happy to take a lightning-quick swipe at any careless fingers.

Trust me on this. I learned the hard way as a young kid when I made the immature mistake of teasing a large blue crab in a bucket with repeated waves of my finger. I underestimated its coordination and painfully learned the lesson that day to give the blue crab a lot more respect.

Since that close encounter of the crab kind, I discovered that the delicate meat of the blue crab, whether in hard or soft-shell form, is decidedly delicious, being both moist and sweet. To my taste buds, it is superior to lobster. When explaining this to my friends and family, I usually get a puzzled look in response. What could be better than lobster, most of them wonder?

While lobsters require a bit of work, it is easier to extract more plentiful meat from within their shells. Hard-shell blue crabs are smaller in size and require more effort and intricate knife work to get at all of the pearly white flesh, but the end result is a better payoff in my view. That said, I never refuse a chance to consume lobster.

Catching blue crabs is fun, too. There are a number of ways to pursue them, including the use of a baited wire mesh cage that’s usually left to fish overnight, when blue crabs are more active. However, the use of such traps comes with a significant drawback, as diamondback terrapins are also lured by the scent of the bait inside the cage. Once inside the crab trap, many terrapins can’t find the exit quickly enough to surface and breathe, resulting in death by drowning. Not good.

To reduce the mortality of terrapin in blue crab traps, this spring the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ordered that terrapin-excluder devices measuring 1.75 by 4.75 inches be installed on the entryways of commercial and recreational crab pots. The devices have been used in other states and have proven to prevent many terrapins from entering crab traps, without impacting the number of blue crabs collected. 

If you own one of these older traps and need a terrapin-excluder device, a small number of them (provided by The Nature Conservancy and Seatuck) are available free on a first-come-first-served basis from the D.E.C. More information can be had by calling the agency at 631-444-0429 or at NYBlueCrab@dec.ny.gov. 

In addition, the D.E.C. is encouraging recreational crabbers to complete a blue crab survey that will aid the agency’s efforts to manage the population. If you encounter a crab with a yellow wire tag across its carapace or upper shell, it should be reported to the blue crab tagging program.

While the blue crab season got off to a very slow start, activity has perked up a bit over the past two weeks as the waters continue to warm. Last season’s catch was exceptional in many of our bays, creeks, coves, and estuaries, and it lasted well into the fall. Only time will tell if history will repeat itself.

On the inshore fishing scene, striped bass action at Montauk continues to be good but has become a bit more dependent on the tides and baits used. Fluke, porgies, and sea bass remain decent in their usual summertime haunts in Block Island Sound and south of the Montauk Lighthouse.

Farther offshore, action on sharks — blue, mako, and thresher — remains consistent. The big news concerns the appearance of bigeye tuna, and the bite was solid until the winds came on strong over the weekend.

Lots of bigeyes were landed up until Friday, “when the bite turned off,” said Bill Campbell at Westlake Marina in Montauk. “With the strong winds this week, it’s doubtful that many boats will have a chance to see if they have returned.” Campbell added that bass fishing has slowed up a bit and that the fish have shifted their diet to sand eels. “Live eels are not the hot bait anymore,” he added.

“The weather was a bit tough over the weekend but there has been some really good fishing around,” said Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Lots of shorts, but Napeague has some really hot fluke fishing going on. Porgies are just about everywhere in either the bay or ocean, and stripers are still in the wash. The other day I weighed in a 41-pounder that was taken on a bunker chunk by an 11-year-old kid. He was thrilled. Snappers are in, too.”

Bennett was also aware of the bigeye bite offshore. “One guy I know landed 11 of them plus two white marlin,” he said. “Lots of bait and life out there, including whales and porpoises.”

An avid New York Yankees fan, Bennett continues his never-ending search for new and used baseball equipment that will ultimately be donated to underprivileged children in the Dominican Republic.

“The camp we donated to early this year is now in the playoffs,” he said, smiling from behind his counter on Monday morning, clutching a baseball that someone had just dropped off. “The pictures I have received the past few weeks from them wearing or using the equipment makes my day. Apparently, a scout from the Yankee system was there too. Wouldn’t that be something if one of the kids got drafted?” No word if Bennett will change careers to be a sports agent.

Beyond the baseball diamond, over at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton, the owner, Sebastian Gorgone, waxed enthusiastically about the porgy fishing around Gardiner’s Island and in Three Mile Harbor. “Fishing has been excellent and some big fish are mixed in,” he said. “Fluking has been good at Gin Beach in Montauk, too.”

Gorgone also heard a report that blue-claw crabs were crawling about in Georgica Pond. Sadly, on Saturday, the pond was closed to fishing and crabbing due to a blue-green algae bloom.

The warmth of summer usually heralds the arrival of fish not normally found in our waters. And last week was no exception as a dusky shark well over 200 pounds was caught and released from a commercial pound trap in Little Peconic Bay, while a 100-pound tarpon was landed from the east side of Shelter Island. A sheepshead was taken from the commercial dock in Montauk. And while surf­casting at White Sands on the ocean on Friday afternoon, Daniel Fry came across an Atlantic flying fish.

“It was cool to see and I followed him along the trough for a while until he broke the surface and flew off,” he said while casting bucktails and bluefish belly for fluke, where he caught a number of shorts along the beach. “Another guy there caught a 25-inch striped bass on a whole clam, but I had to measure it for him and tell him to put her back.” Anglers are allowed one bass per day over 28 inches.


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