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Thread: Calico crabs - call them irresistible

  1. #1
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    Default Calico crabs - call them irresistible

    Great Asbury Park press article by John Oswald.




    Call them irresistible

    By JOHN H. OSWALD • STAFF WRITER • August 1, 2008



    The calico crab was angry. It was in the basket at the end of the rake with its claws pointing skyward, looking for a finger to bite.
    "See how feisty he is?" said "Bucktail" Bob Hopkins of West Allenhurst.
    "I can tell you right now, without even touching him, he's no good."
    No good?
    According to Hopkins, if the crabs were energetic, they would be hard shelled and no good for striper fishing. It was just one of the secrets I would learn that evening.
    So began the lesson.
    Actually, it began several weeks earlier when Hook, Line & Sinker writer John Geiser told a tale of the pleasures of fishing for stripers on warm July evenings with calico crabs.
    It sounded great.
    I'm a big fan of warm July evenings and had fished with soft-shelled blue claws for stripers before.
    While a bit expensive, they always seemed to work.
    A guy I used to run into on the beach in Sea Bright fished almost exclusively with soft blue claws, claiming that to a striped bass, they tasted just like ice cream.
    How he knew such information was never clear to me.
    At any rate, it was July, there were stripers around, and all I needed was calico crabs.
    Therein lies the problem. Fishing with calico crabs is not for the faint of heart. It requires some effort.
    Nobody sells them. So to get them, you have to rake them. And that sounds like work to me.
    Not only did I have to rake them, I had to find a rake, learn how to use it and know what to look for in a crab. All that was before you even went fishing.
    It seemed like a complicated task for a simple mind such as mine.
    First thing was to find the rake. Not too many places sell those either, and they aren't cheap once you locate one.
    Before I made the big investment, I thought I'd take a suggestion from Bob Mathews at Fishermen's Den in Belmar who said a clam rake fitted with window screening over the basket would make a workable substitute.
    So armed with my clam/crab rake contraption, I ventured into the surf at low tide in Bradley Beach — the only time you can rake crabs — in search of soft or shedding calicoes.
    I waded out until the water was up to my waist, dropped the rake into the sand and dragged it backward toward shore with the long handle up over my shoulder. When I flipped the rake over, all I had was an empty basket and a slight pull in my lower back.
    Several more passes produced a couple of crabs, all hard shelled, and I had torn the screening on my rake.
    Undeterred, I returned the next day with a repaired rake and had much better luck. The rake worked and I got some crabs, but even better, I found a genuine crab rake.
    David Schechner, a lifelong resident of Bradley Beach, happened to be watching me.
    Turns out he raked crabs as a kid and sold them early in the morning to fishermen at Kelly's Bar in Neptune. He gave me a few pointers, such as raking parallel to the shore.
    He also put me in touch with his cousin, Peter Lowy, who still had one of the rakes his family used many years ago.
    This rake was the real deal, made in the 1930s with long, sharp steel tines and a wire basket. He was kind enough to lend me this heirloom as I continued my pursuit of calico crabs.
    What I really needed now was someone who knew what they were doing. Not only was it necessary to rake the crabs, but to know if they were any good. They are often in different stages of the shed and some make better baits than others.
    And that is how I came to know "Bucktail" Bob Hopkins, by way of an introduction from John Christenson of Scott's Bait and Tackle in Bradley Beach.
    Hopkins is known for his skill bucktailing for bass in the surf.
    However, in the last couple of years, he was looking for a new tactic to catch bass when things slowed down during the summer. That's when Brian Zimmerman, formerly of Steve's Bait and Tackle in Long Branch, suggested he try raking calico crabs.
    "They are deadly this time of year," Hopkins said. "You'll catch bass when everybody else isn't even getting a bite."
    Stripers are rooting around in the sand for them, attracted by the scent.
    I met Hopkins at a location that must remain secret on pain of death. He had agreed to teach me how to rake crabs and try for some bass as long as I remained tight-lipped. He even kept his promise after I backed into his truck. He looked at me hoping I raked better than I drove.
    After we inspected for damage, we headed to the beach, rakes in hand.
    In addition to his rake, Hopkins brought a netted shoulder bag and a neoprene glove.
    The bag was for the crabs we caught and the glove was for the crabs that bite — and that was most of them. He also wore surf shoes for protection from those underfoot.
    The evening was perfect: Clear blue skies, low humidity and the tide was just hitting dead low. We set to work right away.
    Hopkins waded into the little cove, set his rake into the sand and started pulling at a steady pace toward the beach. I did likewise just a few feet away. We were in luck and started turning up crabs in our rakes almost immediately.
    This was where Hopkins' expertise really came into play.
    Only soft, shedder, paperback and tinback calicoes work as bait. It's relatively easy to tell the soft, paperback and tinback crabs from the hard ones.
    The real trick is in spotting the shedders.
    "You have to look around the edges of the the claws and the body. When you see the dark purple color, they are getting ready to shed," Hopkins said.
    When we came across a potential shedder, Hopkins grabbed the crab in his gloved hand and broke off the tip of the claw. If there was a soft shell underneath, we were in luck.
    "Another indication that the crab is about to shed is that it is a little less active. Now that it's getting ready to shed, it's not as energetic as hard shell crabs " he said.
    After about 40 minutes, we had about 10 crabs in the bag, a good mixture of soft, tinback, paperback and shedders. Hopkins said we were pretty lucky.
    "I've raked for more than an hour sometimes with just a couple of crabs to show for it," he said.
    He also said that he only takes as many as he's going to use for that night's fishing.
    "They're only good for 48 hours. It's also important to protect this resource," he said. "I don't rake in the same area right away to give it time to recover. He also talked about the etiquette of raking, that if someone is already raking when he gets to a spot, he'll move on.
    Time to fish

    With the crabs collected, we moved on to the main event.

    "I smell bass," Hopkins said.

    Our rods were rigged with fishfinder rigs and 5/0 Gamagatsu baitholder hooks and two-ounce storm sinkers. Conditions dictate how much weight to use and the surf was a little high on this night.

    "I keep the rod in my hands, not in a sand spike," Hopkins said. "When the fish hits, I can set the hook so the fish doesn't swallow the bait. This way I can avoid gut-hooking the fish."

    Also, if the rod is unattended, when the strike comes, the rod may disappear into the surf.

    And these fish do hit.

    Hopkins rigged the crabs by first removing the claws and the apron on the underside of the body. He then wraps elastic thread from the back toward the front on a diagonal, five or six turns on each side and not too tightly. Wrapping the thread too tightly will distort the shape of the crab.

    He then inserts the hook into the back edge of the crab under the thread. Hopkins noted that there are several ways to rig the crabs and that some anglers leave the claws intact and just pass the thread over the claws to keep them close to the body.

    I tossed my first offering just about 30 yards off the beach into the breaking waves. The bait barely hit bottom before something was gnawing on it. The crabs, obviously, taste like ice cream to everything because this wasn't a bass.

    My second crab was cast was further down the beach. The wait wasn't long. The fish hit the crab like it was picking up takeout at a drive through without stopping the car. It made a short, powerful run, stopped to get its breath then started again. After a couple of more brief bursts, the fish came to the beach. The bass was short but full of fight and quickly released.

    "That was a bucket bait," Hopkins said. "You don't get to sit on the bucket before a
    fish bites," he explained.

    We then moved a little south to one of Hopkin's favorite spots close to a jetty. Before too long, he had landed and released two more bass and missed a third that leapt straight out of the surf.

    "I'd put that one at 15 to 20 pounds," he said.

    We called it a day when the light was just about gone. And a great day it was.

    It turned out to be one of those memorable warm July evenings John Geiser wrote about. And Hopkins, a retired state worker, Vietnam vet and passionate fisherman, was an excellent and patient teacher. He also is a very nice guy with a great sense of humor.

    I believe calico crabs work equally well on warm August evenings and I think I'll be raking again.




    With his trusted rake, Bob Hopkins explains the strategies behind fishing for stripers with calico crabs. (STAFF PHOTOS: DOUG HOOD)







    A crab rake basket full of calico crabs that have passed the test for striper bait.

  2. #2
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    he makes it sound so easy, but it ain't, lol. lotta hard work, but they do catch.

  3. #3
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    Full moon calicos are striper crack.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wish4fish View Post
    he makes it sound so easy, but it ain't, lol. lotta hard work, but they do catch.
    Yeah they are tough to get, but if they were too easy, everyone would be raking.

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    Good read thanks for sharing.

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    A bud was raking crabs with this supermoon and caught a few bass. nothing big but bass all the same. When the jetties are covered this will be a thing of the past. sad.

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    finchaser was talking about fishing mole crabs. This is a cool video where the only fish they catch are with those crabs aka sand fleas.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hookset View Post
    A bud was raking crabs with this supermoon and caught a few bass. nothing big but bass all the same. When the jetties are covered this will be a thing of the past. sad.
    Totally agree! We have some calicos in cm but it took 8 years for them to return.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for sharing this I might finally get a rake this year and give it a try. I don't know about keeping them in a tank though. That seems like a very big process.

  10. #10
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    You rake and fish them only on the full and new moon when they pop their shells and are softies, then in a few days they become tin backs and still are a good bait. After that the shell hardens they are useless for bait. They can be raked in tidal pools you don't need jetties

    Soft shell blueclaws work as good if not better and no raking involved
    Many seafood markets throw them out when they die and can be purchased cheap

    Pay attention to what history has taught us or be prepared to relive it again

  11. #11
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    Good tip on the soft shells at the fish market. I know a Spanish guy who does that all the time catching stripers in the summer.

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    Good read on calico and jonah crabs by Jay Mann of LBI at www.theSandpaper.net

    From a scientific angle, I can see the LBI replenishment sands ravaging the surfline crab population. Jetty-based species, such as rock and Jonah crabs, had their worlds sanded under. But far more ecologically significant, the calico crabs (Ovalipes ocellatus), aka lady crabs, had the world cave in on them – beneath up to 10 feet of sand.

    Calico crabs are one of the most common foodstuff for bass, based on countless stomach content studies. Might it be that stripers, which habitually venture into the surfline to load up on calicos, moved in for a customary meal but found a barren bottom, compliments of freshly dredged sand? Being crafty consumers, they would have quickly zipped seaward to go after bait balls and any deeper-water crustaceans.

    If my crabby theory holds true, it could take some time for the bass-attracting nearshore crabs to return. But return they will. Crustaceans are kick-*** when it comes to repopulating after taking a numbers-knocking hit, especially when not being heavily harvested by humans. Calicos have no yum-yum, eat-’em-up value.

    As repopulating evidence, there was a hubbub in Harvey Cedars when the initial replenishment seemingly killed off the much-adored sandcrab population. And they were, indeed, gone. I checked. And they stayed gone for maybe a year or two. But, apparently, not all of them perished since they came back with a vengeance, soon recovering to a point of eeriness. A couple summers back, the wet sand of Harvey Cedars came alive with katrillions of sandcrabs, so thick underfoot if felt like the sand itself was wiggling about.

    Trivia: Did you know sandcrabs run backwards after you dig them up? Yep.

    The sandcrab bounce-back reflects a population pendulum effect, which comes about after a highly-reproductive species is suddenly and drastically reduced. I’ll wager that calico crabs can perform just such a bountiful bounce-back, which might coax bass back to traditional, near-beach crab-fests.

    As for jetty-based rock and Jonah crabs, their return is on rocky ground. While many plowed under jetties will return to some degree, recruits to repopulate those rocks, i.e. survivors from the replenishment, will be in short supply. Any long-term recovery for such jetty/rock-based species will likely come from free-floating crab larvae.

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    Awesome read thank you 4 posting, dude.

  14. #14
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    Friend of mine is starting to rake calicos. He said they are harder to find with the beach replenishment so he is a bit secretive. Will let you know how he is doing. Too much work for me.

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