Seafood lovers don’t always have to rely on restaurants to satiate their desire for fresh seafood.
One thing all vacationers should experience is catching blue crabs in one of the many saltwater creeks of Edisto.
Here’s what you do: Wait for dead low tide. This is when the water levels are at their lowest and the pluff mud looks almost like chocolate pudding on the banks of the marshes. Pick up a tide chart for free at the Piggly Wiggly or rental agencies to make sure you’re going right at low tide otherwise the water will be too high (deep) for sufficient crabbing.
Before you drive out to Store Creek to catch crabs, you’ll need the following items:
- Six feet of rope tied to a stick. The rope should be thin, but not too thin so that it breaks. Grab any old stick in your yard and tie it to the rope.
- Purchase turkey or chicken necks from the grocery store and leave them out in the sun to get a good rot on them – but make sure that wildlife can’t get to them before you’re ready to go crabbing. Usually a day in the sun will get the necks to kick up a good rotten scent and they’ll be highly desirable to the palates of the blue crab.
- Take a fishing hook attached to your skinny rope and pierce through the meat of the turkey/chicken neck so that it is well-secured.
- Grab a couple of buckets for your rotten necks, your catch, and other finds you may come across out there in Store Creek.
- Scissors – in case you have to cut the line or net at any point
- Take a cooler with a small amount ice in it for the crabs to chill on.
- Bring a few fishing nets with long handles.
- Wear a pair of shoes that will hold up in the mud, but are able to become absolutely disgustingly filthy and possibly thrown out afterwards.
- Bring towels or a sheet to place your muddy items on once you make your drive home.
Once you have all the equipment, you’re ready to start catching crabs.
The most common area for crabbers at Store Creek is on the same side of Highway 174 as the Old Post Office restaurant, but on the opposite side of the creek. This area has the easiest access to the creek.
Making your way down to the water is one of the trickiest parts of crabbing at Store Creek. The first part of the trek down to the water (which you’ll notice right away as the area is well-traveled) is dry, but once the plough mud starts, each step could cause a crabber to slip. It is wise to try to step on cement blocks that have been in the mud for years or any other kind of rock, but avoid stepping on any area that looks like shells. These are oyster beds and they are incredibly sharp and could cause an injury if you were to fall on one. The best way to get down to the water is with slow, careful steps. (You’ll also notice lots of little crabs on your way down, these are fiddler crabs and they’ll quickly retreat back into their holes as you approach).
Once you and your equipment make it to the water, it’s time to start crabbing – or exploring. If you cross under the bridge, the water is deeper and there is less room to stand, but if you wander off down the creek, there are raised areas of land where many people like to crab and you’ll also notice remnants of an old bridge. Any of these areas are rife with crabs.
Cast a turkey neck into the water and hold onto the stick. Make sure you can see where the turkey neck is in the murky water because you will be able to see the crabs approach and start feasting on the rotten meat. When this happens, stand perfectly still and let the crab munch away on the meat. Take a net and slowly come at the crab from behind so you can scoop it up with the turkey neck. The crab will thrash around in the net and open its pinchers to try to escape, but don’t let it.
Dump the crab either into the bucket or on ice, but make sure it can’t escape or you’ll have to catch it again. Detangle the bait from the crab’s claws and the net. Note that sometimes it will take some effort to get the crab out of the net due to their claws getting tangled up in it.
Continue using the above method until you’ve caught the amount of crabs you desire. Remember, though, if a crab has an orange sack on its abdomen, that is a pregnant female and must be thrown back. It is generally the rule of thumb to throw back all females and just keep the male crabs.
You might be thinking, how can I tell what kind of bait and tackle my crab is sporting? It’s not as easy as eyeballing the situation on a dog, but it is easy enough. A male crab’s abdomen has a T-shape to it and its claws are blue. A mature female’s claws have an orange tip and the marking on her abdomen is rounded.
It is important to keep the crabs on ice and not in water as the crabs will die. A dead crab will spoil quickly and become inedible.
Once you’ve caught your crabs and gone home, you’ll need to cook the crabs immediately to prevent them from spoiling. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the following method is the best for cooking blue crab:
A large double boiler is ideal for cooking blue crabs because it allows crabs to be steamed and not boiled. When using a double boiler, wait until the water boils in the lower pot, then place the crabs in the upper pot. If cooking with a single large pot, crabs may be stacked to the top and a few inches of water added to the bottom. Or, the crabs may be completely covered with water. In either case, seasonings may be sprinkled on the crabs or into the water. Some cooks prefer to mix seasonings with cool water in another pot. After cooking, the crabs are moved to the cool, seasoned water and allowed to soak up the seasonings. This prevents overcooking and allows the crabs to become spicier. Cooking generally takes 20 to 30 minutes producing a well-cooked crab with an orange color and meat that has a firm white texture. Another common practice is to clean live crabs prior to cooking by removing the top shell, abdomen, gills and internal organs. Crabs can be chilled to reduce the handling danger, but with experience, a crabber can learn to hold the claws with one hand while removing the back with the other. This method of cooking allows the seasoned water better access to the meat and reduces the mess associated with eating whole, cooked crabs.
Cleaning the crab might seem brutal or just gross, but it is necessary. To do this, turn the crab on its back so the markings of its abdomen can be seen. Pry open the abdomen by using an oyster shuck or a knife and then clean out the lungs and other organs. A green substance most likely will be present, just remove it and continue on your way.
Once the crabs are cleaned and cooked, they’re ready to eat. Dipping the meat of a blue crab is best if it is spritzed with lemon and dipped in melted butter.
But no matter how you eat it, you’ll be happy knowing you can catch and prepare your very own seafood like a true Lowcountry local.