“John and T.J. – scoopers.” John and T.J. got to make the catch!
“C’mon, Dad, when do I get to scoop?” whined Joe.
“When you get older, son.”
Barbara, my mother, had the most crucial job of all.
“Barbara, you’re on patrol. Watch that they don’t get out of the bucket,” ordered Dad. But this really meant many other things. During the “catch” she fingered the belt loops of the jeans of my “scooper-brothers”. During the “release” she fingered the feisty crab out of the net. During the “escape” she fingered the speedy little critter returning it back to the bucket.
Dad always steered the boat serpentinely trolling in and out of the concrete bridge columns because he knew where those shifty crustaceans lurked.
Night crabbing required skill and cunning. It was a maritime art; a cooperative effort of every family member working completely in sync with one another. Strategy was critical, placement pivotal, the scoop vital!
The family night crabbing soiree didn’t compare to the day time wire coat hanger and string method that Dad taught us. He would decapitate a fish, slide the head on a coat hanger, attach a very long string to the hanger and drop it off the side of the boat. He would hand me the string and say, “Keep the string wrapped on one finger and if you feel something, let me know.”
One minute later, “Dad, I feel something!”
“No you don’t. Leave it alone.”
Five minutes later, “Dad, I feel something!” I said excitedly.
“No you don’t. It’s the tide. Leave it alone.”
Fifteen minutes later, “Dad, I KNOW I feel something this time.”
“Alright, pull it up, but go slow.”
I pulled the string up using a hand over hand motion; inch by inch, minute by minute. The hopeful anticipation of spotting those beady eyes inches from the surface was thrilling; only to be disappointed by the encroachment of the hideous spider crab feasting on what was now an eyeless fish head and sharp bones.
Yes, night crabbing is surely more mysterious, more productive and certainly more enjoyable than any other crabbing method. But, night crabbing has its drawbacks. In a split nautical moment a near disaster can occur when even one family member gets “out of sync”.
Usually, it was Dad who lost focus.
Joe and I were on opposite sides of the boat scanning the flashlights back and forth across the water. We both spotted a blue claw at the same time.
“Dad! Dad! I got one!” yelled Joe.
“Dad! Over here! There’s one over here!” I yelled, too.
“Laura Jean, keep your light on that one. I’m going for Joe’s, it’s bigger.”
“Okay.” I climbed onto the seat to cover more surface area with my light. Dad turned left as the boat crawled to where Joe’s crab was.
“John, get ready! T.J.! Get ready to back him up. Go deep!” Dad said excitedly.
Joe was frantic. “There it is! There it is! Get it!”
“Joseph, be quiet. Just keep the light on it. We gotta get a little closer. Get ready, boys!”
Meanwhile, I was still trying to keep a steady stream of beaming light on my crab.
Then Dad screamed, “NOW!” John scooped, he missed it.
“John! Whaddya doin’?!”
“It’s okay, John, I’ll get him!”
Dad continued to scream as T.J. scooped into nothingness. “Joe! The light! Keep it on him! T.J.! Go under him! He’s still there!”
Mom grabbed a belt loop. No crab.
“Gimme the light!” shrieked Dad, letting go of the wheel. He snatched the light from Joe, seized the net from John and scooped a big patch of seaweed floating on the surface.
The boat smashed against a concrete column.
“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!” I shouted! Dad dropped the net as he swiftly turned around to catch me. The black water swallowed the net in seconds. I managed to grab onto the window as Mom and Dad pulled me back by my shirt. Mom hugged me as we watched the gargling flashlight sink to the bottom of the bay.
“Boy, that was close, Lau! You okay?” asked Joe. I nodded.
“T.J.! Push us off!” screeched Dad as he violently turned the wheel. T.J. must not have known his own strength or the aluminum crab net was made inChinafor when he pushed off the concrete it bent right in half! John patted T.J.’s shoulder.