You have a passel of family and friends due in 12 hours, they all know you enjoy trot-lining for crabs almost as much as you enjoy Chesapeake Bay fishing, and everyone’s depending on you to fill that bushel basket to the brim — but the deck is stacked against you. Sometimes it’s tough to catch crabs, and there are a slew of problems that can make it even tougher. You say there’s no way you’ll eat your pride and head for the seafood store? Start defrosting those chicken necks, and watch out for these potential pitfalls.

blue crabs in a bushel basket
You'd better work harder and catch more crabs, because this pitiful bushel basket doesn't come close to feeding the whole family.

Bubba Dumped Ya

You wake up at 4 a.m., roll out of bed, and see that there’s a text waiting to be read on your phone. It’s from your brother-in-law Bubba, who’s supposed to meet you at the boat ramp in 45 minutes. Uh-oh… he can’t make it, and that means you’ll have to do all the setting and scooping single-handed.

Don’t worry, this is totally doable. Thing is, it does take some preparation. For starters you’ll need the right net because swinging a standard wood-handled net with a large, heavy hoop is impossible to do with one arm. Hopefully you have a lightweight aluminum net on standby in the garage. The telescopic type is best, since you can’t scoop from the usual spot in the bow and instead must stay at the helm to drive.

Speaking of staying at the helm: you may need to adjust the position and/or height of your stick to allow for scooping from afar. Try to rejigger it so the line breaks out of the water three or four feet behind the new scooping position. If that’s not possible, when you set the line leave it looser than normal so it droops a bit.

Thar She Blows

You wake up at 4 a.m., roll out of bed, and hear the wind whistling in the trees. A check of the weather shows that the forecast was as accurate as ever and the five-mph winds they were predicting when you went to bed have evolved into near-gale conditions. Whatcha going to do?

Look at the wind direction, look at a chart, and head for the spots that are in the lee. Sure, the north side of the river might be holding more crabs, but if the wind’s out of the south you’d bounce around so much you wouldn’t be able to catch them anyway. So choose your location based on the conditions — not your wishes.

When you arrive at the spot don’t start setting out the line willy-nilly. Instead, sit there and drift for a moment or two until you have a good read on exactly where the wind’s blowing and how it’s funneling through the river or creek that you’re on. Then go upwind to your starting point and set your line out as close to parallel with the wind as you possibly can. Run the line with the wind on your stern, which will help keep you going in a more or less straight line and will be a lot easier than trying to fight it with the bow.

Flotilla of Frustration

You wake up at 4 a.m., roll out of bed, and… everything goes smoothly! A little over an hour later you lay out your trot line, and soon start dipping Jimmies. Unfortunately, it’s a sunny Saturday and by the time you have the bushel basket half-full a steady procession of boats running down the river has you rocking so hard that all the crabs start dropping off.

Speeding up will help sometimes, since you won’t give the crabs as much shake-time to decide to skedaddle. And if you’re running your line towards all the traffic, try changing directions. With the stern being hit by a following sea as opposed to the bow bouncing up and down and smacking waves there’s a good chance you can smooth out the ride significantly. This is also another scenario where loosening up the line so it droops a bit can be helpful, since the slack will help absorb the motion. If none of this works, however, you may need to pull the line and find a calmer spot.

girls with a bushel of crabs
Play your cards right and your bushel basket of blue crabs could look like this!

The Great Deflate

You wake up at 4 a.m., roll out of bed, and… everything goes smoothly! At least, it does until you deploy the line and realize one of your orange polyballs has gone flat. Don’t worry, a life jacket can save the day. Lash it onto the line under the polyball and it’ll provide plenty of buoyancy. Just remember that you still need to have enough life jackets remaining in the boat for everyone aboard.

Life’s a Snag

You wake up at 4 a.m., roll out of bed, and… everything goes smoothly! At least, it does until your line snags bottom and you can’t get it free. What you do next is critical. DO NOT lose your patience, cleat the line, and try to power it off. Sometimes this will work but more likely you’ll drag the line through the snag and in doing so, strip off your snoods and/or baits, and/or break the line.

First, pick up the line at the opposite end and see if you can work the snag free going in the other direction. It’s a longshot, but it might do the trick. If not, sigh deeply and cut the line. Tie something that floats like a spare buoy or a life jacket to the free end, then go to the opposite end of the line and run it until you get close to the snag. It’ll usually come free on its own as you run it (and hey, you might pick up a few more crabs along the way) and if not, should be easy to pull free when you get close to the snag. When you reach the cut section you may have to float it (it depends on how far away your first cut-end float is at this point), retrieve the other cut end of the line, and tie them together. All this will take some time and you’ll have a big knot in the line forever more. But you shouldn’t lose more than one or two baits and will still have an operational trot line.

steamed crabs in a pot
WOOHOO! Now, that's what we're talking about!

Remember, you really don’t need to fill that basket all the way to the brim each and every time you go crabbing. But when the big crew is due to arrive and your crustacean reputation is on the line, these common crabbing conundrums will never shut you down again.