BY: Charles Sacchetti
One of life’s many mysteries: How can an animal eat nothing but disgusting things in its dismal habitat, but still taste so good? Such is the mystery of the blue claw crab. To me, it’s one of the tastiest of God’s creations, which explains my many (often comical) attempts to catch these delicacies with friends and family.
My first recollection of crabbing, when I was about five years old, involved my father and his cousins in Rhode Island. One of the guys had a little rowboat, so we tried our luck in the Narragansett Bay. We used the hand-line method: tying a fish head onto a string and dangling it into the water.
Crabs hate to let go of food once they have begun eating, so you hold onto the line, and if you feel a crab bite, all you have to do is slowly pull up the string to net that sucker. Unfortunately, all we had to show for our efforts that day were three crabs and a couple of stitches in my father’s hand. A hungry flounder yanked the bait so hard that the line cut deeply into the finger he was using to feel for nibbles.
Flounder - 1, Sacchettis - 0.
My next notable crabbing experience was with my father; his brother, Fred; and Grandpop. I was a college freshman, and my uncle guided us to a “sure-fire” spot near Millville, NJ. The boat rental cost us $45 for four hours. After one hour, we had no bites. I was getting a tad bored, so I started singing pop songs. Uncle Freddy wasn’t amused and told me that I was scaring the crabs away. I said, “What crabs? If there were any around, we would have caught one by now.” Unimpressed by my logic, he threw a fish head at me, which I dodged. Freddy looked at my father and asked, “Is this kid really in college?” Neither the act of throwing the fish head nor my adept juke to avoid it surprised Grandpop or Dad, as they were blood relatives who shared many of the same genes.
About a year later, my cousin and I took a trip to Smyrna, Delaware. He had heard from a guy at work that this was a great place to go crabbing, so we drove over two hours and rented a boat for $25. It was quite marshy at the dock, and we rowed out about 100 yards to drop our lines. Within 10 minutes, we were attacked by a swarm of dreaded greenhead flies, which are famous for relentlessly biting ill-prepared city boys. I urged my cousin, “Quick, get out the insect repellent!” He said, “I thought you brought it,” so we rowed back in, cut our losses, and drove all the way home.
Years later, I took my five-year-old son to Cedar Run, NJ. While working on Route 9 at the shore, I noticed a sign that said, “Cedar Run Dock Road.” I figured, if it was called Dock Road, it must lead to a dock. Docks are on the water, so why not take a look? It turned out to be a good spot. We crabbed right from the shore and caught about a dozen “keepers,” enough to make a nice pot of crab gravy to be enjoyed with a dish of spaghetti. When we arrived home, my wife set up the pot for us to cook the crabs in, but they weren’t too thrilled with the whole idea. In an apparent attempt to run back to the shore, a couple jumped out of the bushel basket onto the kitchen floor. Mother and child ran screaming from the house, leaving good ol’ dad to round up the escapees for the inevitable. The gravy was delicious.
On a subsequent trip with my son to Cedar Run, as we started driving down Dock Road in my 1978 Chevy Malibu, I noticed the odometer was about to turn 200,000 miles. It was the first car that I had bought brand new. I stopped the car and picked up the little guy to put him on my lap so he could steer with me. I told him to watch the odometer and take heed because he was highly unlikely to see another American car reach 200,000 miles.
Several more trips ensued, with my son bringing a buddy or two on a few occasions. One such outing, when he was about 14, was his best friend’s first attempt at crabbing. I brought the video camera for posterity and filmed most of the day. At first, his buddy did an admirable job for a first-timer, netting and catching several crabs. He seemed to have a good feel for the line, too. If he thought he felt a crab bite, he was usually right. However, after lunch, he had about five false alarms in a row, saying he had one when, in fact, he’d only felt the tide moving out. This is a common rookie mistake. We soon dubbed him “the boy who cried crab,” a name he accepted magnanimously. I laugh every time I view the video.
As I look back, I realize that, like many events, these crabbing trips were simple treasures given to me. Spending time with loved ones and having fun are true gifts, and the only investment I made was time. I like to think that those who accompanied me also received a gift. I know my son did. “The boy who cried crab” was the best man at his wedding. He also remembers the 200,000-mile turnover from nearly 30 years ago. Despite the attack of the hungry flounder, Dad and Grandpop enjoyed sitting together on the boat, laughing and smoking their pipes. Uncle Fred realized he had to get his throwing arm in shape if he ever hoped to hit me with a fish head.
Another of life’s mysteries: How can the memories of such simple events mean so much and last so long?
Charles Sacchetti is the author of two books, It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change and his new book, Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets. Contact him at Worthwhilewords21@gmail.com