Crabbing can be a fun vacation activity that is suitable for all ages of the family. In addition the time together, your family can share in some of the Chesapeake Bay's most delicious seafood. Among the favorite ways to catch Chesapeake Bay blue crabs is by using a trotline.
A basic crabbing trotline is several hundred feet long, with anchors and buoys on either end. Baits are spaced at intervals along the line which attract crabs. The captain maneuvers the boat along the line, while helpers use a special crab net to scoop up crabs that hang on to the baits.
An anchor and float is added on each end of the trotline. This may include a large 3 way swivel, a buoy or jug with adjustable line, a line to the anchor and a connection to the trotline. A main anchor holds the trotline in position while the other end is positioned down current and anchored by a lighter weight which allows the rig to move with the tidal flow.
The trotline can vary in diameter or length. Baits are tied to the line or special snubbers made from plastic hose pinch the baits on the line. When changing baits, the loop is opened, then the bait is placed in the loop and the line is pulled tight. This holds the bait on the line without knots and allows for fast bait changes.
Many baits are used and anything that attracts crabs and is durable is a candidate for bait during your crabbing trip. Baits often include brined eel, bull lips, chicken parts, pork or any tough fish. The entire line may be pre-baited, soaked in a salt solution, stored in a bait freezer, or rigged the night before and kept on ice. One needs to bring extra bait and replace baits as needed during the trip.
Fishing a trotline is fairly simple, even for beginners. Everyone will miss some crabs with the net, but crabs will
return to the bait and can be caught on the next attempt. Most crabbers prefer to be on the water early and finish before mid-day.
Crabs are most active in the low light of morning and less likely to spook when the line is moved. As the sun rises, the light enters deeper in the water, making crabs tend to swim away when the line reaches the surface. A windy day will actually help as it makes the water cloudy, allowing enthusiasts to catch blue crabs longer.
Teamwork is important while crabbing with a trotline. The captain or a guest steers the boat, while another helper
retrieves the line and dips the crabs. If several people are present, the job gets easier as there is always a bait to change, crabs to cull or a buoy to recover. This is where a family can excel, taking turns, switching tasks and enjoying the morning on the water together.
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