The Art of Crabbing by Jeff Stewart

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Growing up in Northeast Texas offered very few opportunities for crabbing. We enjoyed pulling monster crawfish from their holes with some bacon on a string, which I guess was a bit of little league practice for the big time of crabbing. 

My wife Shari is a Bridge City native and talked fondly of places like Rob Bailey’s where she spent many hours as a child catching crabs with friends and family. Over the past 18 years we have visited Bridge City and caught crabs in the bar ditches along the highway right before the “Rainbow Bridge” and down Old Bailey’s Road.

We’ve enjoyed many hours watching our children chase crabs at Rollover Pass as well. It’s such a disappointment and a shame that we may never enjoy Rollover Pass again as a recent ruling by a Galveston judge granted the county the authority to close down the pass and fill in the cut. It seems a tragedy to this writer and a travesty to allow such an iconic landmark and vacation destination to be shut down and filled in.

With the literally thousands of dollars in fishing gear I have, some of our most enjoyable memories have come from the most rudimentary of tackle—string and a bit of chicken. All you need is to tie a chicken leg, thigh, wing etc. to a string of just about any kind toss it in the brackish or salty waters near the coast and wait.

Within minutes you can feel the unmistakable tug of a blue crab. Slowly pull in the line and net yourself a crab. Repeat this process over and over. Literally we have filled a 48-quart ice chest with crabs with nothing more than a $4 roll of cotton twine and a $3 package of leg quarters.

If you find the crabs are being picky, just leave your chicken in the sun a little while, the stinkier the better. I like to let my chicken legs ripen a bit in the sun a few hours before we go crabbin’.

Be sure to wear latex gloves or wash your hands regularly as handling raw, semi-bad chicken can infect you with salmonella. I have also had great results by using my cast net and catching a few bait fish. Tie them to the line and slice them open along the midsection. Most crabs cannot resist.

I have seen folks catching crabs using bacon and even wieners. I don’t recommend wieners as they are not very tough and come off the string too easy.

I have used umbrella nets with great success down at Rollover Pass and other places with a dock or elevated position over the water. I have tied a chicken leg to the center of the trap and set it out.

Check it about every 20 minutes or less. I have sometimes caught as many as six to eight crabs, with three or fewer being the norm. (NOTE: It is illegal to have any crab traps in the water from February 17 to 27).

Crabs taken using a recreational fishing license cannot be sold in any way shape or form, and you must have a valid fishing license to crab in Texas. If you use traps you can only fish six traps with a recreational license. You cannot run your traps at night, and you cannot have a hook on your crab line. You must tag all your traps with your name address and date set out, and your tag is good for only 10 days. These are but a few regulations. There are dozens more.

For a complete list of regulations pertaining to crabbing in Texas coastal waters, check the Texas Parks and Wildlife Annual or the on-line web site.

I once took a trip to the Guadalupe River and racked up on crabs. I rented a trap from a local bait shop for a few bucks a day, bait included. I set the trap and went about my day’s fishing. That evening I ran the trap and lo and behold it was full.

Over the next few days I racked up so many crabs that we ate fried, barbequed, boiled, and even just soaked in some lemon and lime juice. The trap was made of rubber-coated chicken wire with four throats, which allowed the crabs in but not out.

Since that day I have built dozens of these traps for not much money. You can find dozens of plans for trap designs on the Internet. On several video sites you can even find great tutorials that you can watch to help you build them. Once you have a few traps, you can catch plenty of crabs with little effort. Bait and a place to put the trap are about the only problems a crab fisherman is faced with after that.

The art of catching crabs has a lot more to do with a place to do it than anything else. I have found that almost anywhere you find water in close proximity to the coast or a saltwater marsh, you find crabs. Some waters are better than others, but I have caught crabs in ditches that were not even 10 feet across and two feet deep.

Crabbing in Texas coastal waters is about as much fun as a family can have for almost no cost. An entire vacation can be had for a couple of hundred bucks, and that includes gas and food. You can get as fancy or as basic as you want. It’s totally up to you.

The most important thing is bring your kids and family and start building memories. This way of life is quickly disappearing. Rob Bailey’s is a mere shadow of its once glorious self, and Rollover is slated for being erased from existence by people more worried about it costing the county some funds.

Don’t wait until these places are but a memory and the years have slipped away to try to build great memories and family bonds. Texas is a treasure trove just waiting to be opened by you.


—story by Jeff Stewart


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