Life cycle of the crab lover

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

By Susan and Biff Andrews

Virginia is crab heaven. Maryland’s may be bigger ($100 a dozen?!), but nobody has more.

Much has been written in the news recently about the stocks, seasons, commercial crabbing culture, and so on. But what about the average Virginian? Recreational crabbing, the consumption curve, and culture around normal crabbing are rarely examined.

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Herewith, an analysis by age:

Ages 5 to 10: The first stage of the crab culture involves a parent taking a young kid out crabbing for the thrill of the hunt. You’ll need bait, a ball of twine and a nut and bolt for a weight.

Chicken necks are the key. Tie on a piece (or five pieces) and scoop out the crabs that answer the invitation off a beach or dock. All that’s needed are a dip net and patience. A folding trap will also do — with less skill required.

The hunt is everything at this age; the culinary experience is negligible.

Ages 10 to 15: The second stage involves the same skills and materials, but they can be used from a boat. Now you can actually go and find the crabs where they are, and the kids won’t fall overboard.

Again, it’s about the hunt and the numbers. Advanced waterkids may get to check the pilings of docks or bridges with a dip net, but the food value is secondary, though crab cakes beckon.

Ages 15 to 50: For functional and vigorous young and mature adults, crabbing is best done from boats, using standard crab pots as used by the pros. Rentals can be found.

A recreational license is required, but the rewards are worth it. Waterfront owners get five pots free, last I looked. In other states— especially Maryland— folks use trotlines: 100 yards of chicken necks used with dip nets. Back and forth. Back and forth.

When I lived on saltwater, I would fish an hour for 10 spot or croaker, then pull my pots and rebait with my catch. Note that summer crabbing comes with stinging nettles and slime from old baits, as well as mud.

Oh, well. Crabbers earn their catch.

Eating is primary at this age. Steaming, cleaning and picking crabs all take time, and the process is best accomplished in front of a baseball or football game. For some reason, women seem to have little energy for these tasks.

But crab cakes, crab salad, deviled crab, crab Norfolk … oh my!

The Bible says the laborer is worthy of his hire. The crabber is worthy of his dinner.

Ages 50 to 65: “Active older adults” are more likely to visit their local crabber for professionally caught crabs. It’s time to go to the ATM, get some cash and call the local source. The password is “Save me a bushel of No. 1 Jimmies.”

One can still cook, clean, and pick the crab in front of a ball game. And — a tip from me — crabs are cheaper after Labor Day.

I treasure Johnson and Sons Seafood in Eclipse. I do a bushel or two in summer to share with friends and relatives and then do three bushels or so in September and October to freeze the meat for the winter.

Deviled crab in January is a treat, as are crab cakes. The crab tastes delicious, though there may be a bit more shell.

Ages 65 to death: Get the Johnson and Sons folks to cook the crab for you. Ball games still beckon. The fingers don’t work quite as well, but the patience with shell fragments increases. Appreciation of the taste is probably at its peak.

After death: You’re still in crab heaven, literally.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at