Gone Crabbing: A Feast Fetched from Patcong Creek

Reminiscences from a summer day spent with Fun Time Crabbing, a crab charter in Somers Point.

fun time crabbing
Associate editor Shelby Vittek hauls in the day's catch last summer. Photo by Scott Lewis

I’ve called New Jersey home for most of my life, but I’m a proud Baltimore native. Naturally, that makes me a bit of a crab snob. I grew up throwing wire traps off my grandparents’ dock into the Chesapeake Bay. We’d steam the fresh catch and eat crabs by the dozen for dinner. It was a quintessential part of my childhood, something I lost touch with until recently—though there was no reason to. Maryland may be the state most associated with blue crabs, but Jersey also has an abundance of the prized crustaceans.

Last summer, I decided to give Garden State crabbing a shot. Anyone with a baited line and net can catch blue claws off a dock or in the shallows of New Jersey’s saltwater bays. You don’t need a license unless you are using large commercial traps.

Still, I felt I needed a refresher. Crabbing can be a frustrating hobby, especially if you don’t have the right bait or are unsure where to find the crabs. To get back up to speed, I booked a three-hour trip with Fun Time Crabbing, a crab charter in Somers Point.

fun time crabbing

Crewman Don Avery, left, and Captain Don Doherty navigate back to dock after an afternoon of crabbing. Photo by Scott Lewis

Owner Don Doherty—aka Captain Don—keeps two flat-bottomed skiffs at the Somerset Cove Marina. He started Fun Time in 2013 and welcomes back many of the same families year after year.

Doherty and his team provide everything you need for a successful crabbing run: life vests, crab traps, gloves, and most importantly, chicken necks. “Good bait is good fishing,” says Doherty. Trips must be booked in advance ($250 for up to six people). You get to keep whatever you catch.

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Our group of four set out for the calm, shallow waters in Patcong Creek, with Doherty explaining every step of the crabbing process. It’s pretty simple. First, I secured a chicken neck in a topless trap, attached a foam buoy to it, and then dropped it into the water when told to. After just a few drops, even the youngsters in our group were able to set traps without help.

fun time crabbing

Ari Lewis, 11, of Narberth, Pa. Photo by Scott Lewis

After setting about 20 traps, we circled back to pull them up and collect our catch. The foam buoys marked each spot. Before throwing any crabs into our keep pile, we checked their size with a special wooden measuring device, being careful not to get pinched while doing so. If the crabs were too small, they went back in the water.

We rebaited the traps and set them again, repeating the process until our three hours were up. By the end of the trip, we’d caught more than 60 keepers, close to a bushel’s worth. 

fun time crabbing

Margot Lewis, 8, of Narberth, Pa. Photo by Scott Lewis

Back at the dock, the captain will clean and gut your crabs if you ask. I decided to take mine whole and still alive, packing them in my cooler on a bed of ice that Doherty provided. At home, I dropped the crabs live into a steamer pot of boiling water spiked with beer, vinegar and a bit of Old Bay seasoning. Then I doused the crabs with a generous dose of salt and more Old Bay before putting the lid back on. Cooking time is about 20-30 minutes—until the crabs turn bright red. Some use a mallet or nutcracker to crack the shells; I pried mine open with a butter knife. The resulting feast was just as good as the ones I remember from childhood. 

Don’t have a steamer? Fun Time Crabbing will lend you one. You’ll have to provide your own mallet.

Fun Time Crabbing, 1810 Somers Point-Mays Landing Road, Egg Harbor Township. 609-736-3109.

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