Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Dauphin Island Crabs gaga

        I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. “Let’s go crabbing tomorrow” said Arthur one day after night class in early July. The topic piqued my interest because crabs have been stealing my baits for some time now and it will be payback time. “Sure, why not” I replied. “Get Mike, Jacky and Yon along too”. They have taken more than their share of crab curries that I churned out with some make do local ingredients. Arthur later managed to round up Jacky and Yon, but Mike cannot make it as he had to keep a job appointment. Between the four us, only Yon had the experience catching crabs. “So, Yon, how do we catch crabs” I asked. “That will be easy”, Yon replied. “I still had some old crab traps from last season that we can use. As for venue he recommended the same Dauphin Island pier for our crabbing outing. "It is the summer months and blue crab spawning season”, he added. Problem solved and we are ready to rumble the next day. As it was summer it will be too hot to do any fishing in the day. We plan on to do night fishing.
        The next day after dinner, Yon showed us 2 flimsy string baskets that had two circle wires with string mesh for body. On the top of the basket he tied a rope nearly 50 feet long. We loaded our fishing gears and the baskets into the car without further ado. We took the usual road, paying heed to the smoke direction, everyone silent in their own thoughts, maybe salivating at the fresh crabs we may caught. We stopped by the bait shop to buy some dead shrimp, but in our haste to get to our destination, we forgot about bait for the crabs! We reached the pier at 8 pm. We set our gears and took our position in our favorite location beside the entrance before Yon called out that we had missed out the bait for crabs. Again we had to crack our head on this issue; whether one person had to head back to the bait shop to buy bait, or make do with just fishing. We decided to fish since bait shop do not sell chicken carcass anyway, while dead shrimps may fell out of the trap as it was too small. 
Ladyfish is attracted to 
light source at night
        During summer months the pier was opened whole night and day. The good thing about night fishing was the spot lights attached to the pier above water edge were switched on and it attracted scores of fishes. I hooked up a dead shrimp and threw the line into the water. Moment later the rod flickered slightly and I set the hook and the rod curved as the fish tried to make a run. A minute later I caught a lady fish, about one and a half foot long, but not a good eating fish. I retrieved my line and pulled up the fish using my bare hand against the fishing line. I examined the fish and was about to throw the ladyfish back into the sea before I saw Yon ran towards me, waving for me to stop. “Wait Max, we can use it as crab bait”, he spoke in an animated manner when he reached by my side. I gladly handed over the fish to him. I was curious to see how he catches crabs using the ladyfish. Yon cut up the fish in 4, tied 2 pieces to the bottom of one basket, and did the same with another. “Now, just throw the basket over the railing into the sea” he instructed. I picked up the other basket and copied what he did, throwing the basket over the edge with the long string tied to my left hand.
        The baskets floated on the surface as the current were too strong! “No can do, the basket needs to stay down at the bottom of the sea so that crabs can crawl in for their snack. We have nothing to weigh down the basket.” Yon said, shrugging his shoulder. Again an issue presented itself when excitement ran high. What now? Need to start cracking our heads again. My stomach growled. Necessity is the mother of invention. Later I remembered something I learnt in school of hard knocks. I put down the basket and murmured something to Arthur. Arthur’s face lit up with delighted emotion. He rummaged through the rubbish bin but came out empty handed. Then he ran off to the souvenir shop. Three minutes later he came back with 4 cans of Coca-Cola and asked us to drink the content but asked us to keep the empty cans. The four of us gulped down the cola in record time and handed back the empty cans to Arthur. Arthur gathered the empty can and swiftly walked down the pier to the beach. He came back with the four cola cans, a smile brimming across his face. “Of no, I do not want any more soda” Jacky moaned. As Arthur handed over the cans to me, it was full of sands to the brim! “Oh, they are to be tied to the basket so that it will weigh down the baskets” Yon said excitedly. I quickly tied 2 cans to my basket and helped Yon tied his. We plopped the baskets over the edge and waited for crabs to eat the dinner that we served.
Blue crabs a plenty in the 
summer months
           Five minutes on I pulled up my basket. There were 2 medium size blue crabs. Yon pulled his and got one. I had beaten him in his own game. "No need to do dirty dishes tonight", I told him. We gingerly brought the baskets over to the cooler box and emptied the crabs into it. The crabs stuck to the basket as their legs jutted through the basket. I took a pair of pliers and gripped a crab on its claw gently and remove the strings that enveloping it, taking care to avoid the claws. I managed to free one, and working on another one. Yon had plunged his basket into the sea for the second time. My second crab tried to flee but I step on its carapace.  By the time I settled the second crab, Yon was hauling up his basket, this time with more crabs. We counted 3, and 2 of them were big, bigger than our palms. I immediately soak my basket then tied the long string to the pier railing before helping Yon freeing his crabs. Arthur and Jacky were feeling squeamish about handling crabs, worried that they will get pinched by the crabs which waved their claws menacingly. I on the other hand, used my trusted pliers and shifted 1 into the cooler box while Yon did the rest. He dropped his basket into the water before I hauled mine. I had 3 crabs, and moved them to storage in record time now.
Crab with roe on its abdomen was 
thrown back to the sea
            The hauling and soaking goes on for many hours.  Our cooler boxes were starting to get full, and the crabs still coming in strong. We make it an effort to throw back female crabs that carries eggs on its under belly. Every basket hauls now yielded an average of 3 crabs. Yon signed a time out and wandered off down the pier. I turned my attention to the crabs. "Hey, how do you determine a crab a he or a she?" I asked Arthur who was standing nearby. Arthur and Jacky had forgotten about their fishing rods which were still standing against the pier railing since we had started hauling crabs. Their shrimp baits had since long gone to the crabs which picks them clean. It was Jacky who replied, "you flipped a crab over to show its abdomen. If a female the tip of the shell covering is round while the male is elongated". He showed me. For someone who was squeamish of crabs, he sure knew a lot.
Female crab (top) and male 
crab (bottom)
         Yon came back a moment later, with another Styrofoam box. We had filled up 2 cooler boxes and need more storage. We moved some ice and crabs over from the first cooler box, and continue crabbing. Arthur and Jacky quickly reeled in their line and put the rods away. We handed over the baskets to them and they threw them overboard with the long string attached to their left hands. They began the process of hauling and soaking, while Yon and I transferred the crabs from the baskets to the cooler box. In next 2 hours, we managed to fill up all boxes. The ladyfish baits by now were reduced to skeleton when we called it quit. We removed the bones and threw it into the sea for crabs to clean them off. We untangled the cola cans and emptied out the sand to the sea. I kissed the can before throwing them into a garbage can. The cans saved our day.
         It was closed to midnight when we were ready to go home. All of us lined up one after another, each person holding on to a box handle, and the first and last person taking fishing gears and fishing rods. We looked like a small procession in a Disney Parade, walk in a single file as we make our way to my car. Jacky remarked how he wished the boxes had wheel. How true. We reached home well after midnight. We sorted out the crabs and stuffed as much as possible into our refrigerator. We had to wake up some friends to give half away. We have a great time crabbing.   
          We had crabs for lunch and dinner for nearly 2 weeks in a row until we were fed up with them!
This is what happens when we have one crab 
too many (picture credit: Jobe) 
Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

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