Crabbing is serious business, well, as serious as scooping a tiny net underneath a crustacean hanging onto a piece of chicken can be. For the past 8 years, hardcore crabbers from 12 different states totaling nearly 100 boats and 270 crabbers have descended upon the little bay town of Somers Point, NJ to take part in the Annual Assault on Patcong Creek Crabbing tournament, which is by all standards, the nation’s largest crabbing tournament. If you think people don’t take the tournament seriously, just look at some of the boat names entered—Bushelled Out, Crab-Zilla, and Pheelin’ Crabby—clearly crabbers with a mission. The tournament recorded 25 bushels in 2016, and the after party is truly one of a kind with a BBQ pig roast, beer tents, hot dogs, and of course, bushels of deliciously steamed crabs.
“The number one goal of the Assault on Patcong Creek is to have fun with friends and family, both on and off the water,” says Organizer and Harbormaster of the tournament Ron Meischker, when describing the ultimate goal of the contest. “We hope this event will also help provide financial support to marine-based educational initiatives.”
This year’s winner Phil and Michele DiPietro of Norristown, PA, topped the field with a 7 3/8-inch blue claw crab; a crustacean with some serious shoulders.
Keep or Toss?
It’s quite simple to tell the difference between male and female crabs. Male crabs are affectionately known as “Jimmies” and females are called “Sooks”. It is recommended to only keep the males crabs and to release all females.
A proper pair of crab tongs allow for the delicate removal of crabs from the bucket, specifically to avoid the bloodcurdling pinch from a blue claw.
For All Ages
Dedicated crabbers come in all age groups, as the love for crabbing transcends age. Here, wizened crabbers uses a simple hand line baited with a piece of chicken to tempt a blue claw.
The Right Bait
The standard crabbing gear – Basic handlines and a frozen Menhaden (bunker) for bait. The bunker is simply poked through clean with the pin and clipped onto the weight, dropped down to the bay bottom.
Read Next: 2 Ways to Catch Fiddler Crabs—the Perfect Bait
A Good Haul
These Patcong crabbers show off a proud catch of “Jimmies” in the bucket.
Crabbing is a family affair. Many families pass down their crabbing intel from generation to generation, bringing kids, siblings and parents alike to sample the pure enjoyment that crabbing brings.
Enjoy the Outcome
The fruits of all labors—tables chock full of 24 bushels of steamed blue claws line the tables of the Patcong Creek Assault Crab Tournament where crabbers pick through the hard shells to elicit their delicious bounty.
Scoop It Up
When handlining, a proper scoop net is paramount to catching the crab. The netter drops the net in at the water’s surface, a good 2 to 3 feet away from the crab so as not to spook it off the line, then when the bait is a foot below the water surface the net rushes in to scoop up the crab hanging on the bait.
Crab addict Adam Bruno showcases the proper technique of handlining crabs – a very slow and steady hand over hand retrieve that does not alert the crab to any fast movement to jump off the bait. Patience is a virtue when hauling in crab lines.
Set Your Traps
A more mass approach to crabbing is to set out folding door traps baited with bunker or chicken and to deploy pots marked by buoys. Crabbers run a circuit every 15 minutes, picking up and checking each trap and unloading the keeper crabs into a cooler on deck. The trap’s doors close when the line is pulled up, containing the fooled crustaceans.
Size It Up
Crabs are measured from point tip to tip. In New Jersey and on the Patcong Creek, hard crabs must meet a minimum size of 4-1/2 inches with a one bushel limit. The NJ crabbing season in coastal waters excluding Delaware Bay runs from March 15th to November 30th.
The Sweet Meat
This particular Jimmie exhibits a “fat” or “heavy” characteristic. Locals say the “rust” on the belly implies that the crab is stuffed full of sweet meat.
Crab Cake Eating Contest
Festivities run amok at the Assault on Patcong Creek as participants challenge each other for the glory of winning the crab cake eating contest. Contestants had a 3 minute time limit to down 6 crab cakes. Everybody seems to be a winner in this contest.