Ann Alas, 34, has her scoop net at the ready. On her first crabbing trip of the summer, she's hoping to net a mess of blue claws for her dinner table at home in the Bronx.
Standing at the railing of the pier at Captree State Park in Babylon, Alas scans the water for signs of blue claw crabs, with help from her three eagle-eyed children. If they see a crab in the water, the kids will "start screaming," Alas says.
But although they have yet to spot a crab, with the tide falling and the moon shining, there's still high hopes for a good catch tonight.
"It's a waiting game," she says.
A FAVORITE PASTIME
Crabbing along the shoreline or from boats has been a tradition on Long Island for centuries, says Nancy Solomon, an expert on maritime life and executive director of Long Island Traditions in Port Washington. Blue crabs, also known as blue claws because of their pale blue color, are generally the catch of choice. A native indigenous species, "blue claw crabs are one of the most prized delicacies of Long Island," Solomon says.
Fishing for crabs is permitted year-round in New York, according to the Department of Conservation. But the best time to catch them is from spring through early fall at docks and along the banks of marshlands, Solomon says. Blue crabs need to be more than 4 1/2 inches to be kept, and there's a daily limit of 50. At Captree, no permit is required, according to the state parks department.
At another spot along the pier, Milton Sanchez, 30, of Bay Shore, is holding a long-handled net. Sanchez and his son Frank, 5, are watching clumps of seaweed float by.
"The water is no good, it's dirty," says Sanchez, explaining why the crabs aren't biting. He still hopes to catch enough blue claws before the night is done to make crab soup with plantains and yucca.
Blue crabs can be turned into a delicious meal with little preparation and no seasoning, agrees Da Yang, 25, of Centereach, who is readying his own equipment at the adjacent Captree boat basin. A native of Qiqihar, China, who is studying math and physics at Stony Brook University, Yang likes to cook the crabs he catches in a pot -- no water or salt added. The salty water inside the crabs provides flavor and moisture. "It tastes great," he says. But he's waiting for low tide to start his crab grab.
Many say the crabbing's best during the full moon, others bring a flashlight to shine on the water to lure them to the surface, still others count on luck.
"There's a time when they all come up and you can catch them, but it's a mystery," says Giovani Gutierrez, 33, a Dominican immigrant who lives in Bay Shore. Using a handline with a bucktail lure baited with clam, Gutierrez hoots when he pulls two green crabs out of the water. He tosses them back when he learns they're considered inedible. He also catches a spider crab (so named for its arachnid-like appearance) -- it also gets tossed back, too.
Ray Lee, 34, of Queens is also getting "skunked," as fishermen like to say. He's just now hauled in two metal traps with no crabs but plenty of seaweed. Lee says he uses chicken carcasses, and usually brings home eight to 10 edible crabs. Even when the crabs aren't taking the bait, Lee says, "It's a great activity."
Second in the "Summer Moments" series about experiences that highlight summer on Long Island.