I like outdoor activities that let you fall asleep while doing them, so naturally I’m a fan of crabbing off a dock. I learned the basics from my mother in the summer of 1967, during a family beach vacation in Biloxi, Mississippi. Mama, as I unfailingly addressed her back then, announced one morning that we were going to catch blue crabs off a nearby pier that jutted into the Gulf of Mexico. I was skeptical, but before long she had me and two siblings geared up—collapsible metal basket traps, chicken parts, long pieces of twine to raise and lower the rigs—and hauling them in like crazy. I was nine and trigger-happy, prone to checking the baskets too often. (You have to wait for the crab to say, “Hey, chicken parts!” and skeedle into position.) Following her example, I took it down a notch and settled into a pattern of snoozy vigilance.
After college I lived in Washington, D.C., for several years, so I was able to crab during weekend trips to Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic backwaters of Maryland and Virginia. Once, a friend and I caught a bunch using the demanding handline technique: you attach bait to the end of a line, toss it out, and pull it in real slow until a feeding Jimmy or Sook (waterman lingo for males and females) comes into net range. But that required staying awake, so I drifted back to the old ways—lying on the dock while the traps did their thing, fogged out in that perfect summer blend of sunshine, salt-muck smells, and the sound of tidal water lapping against dock pilings. Oh, and don’t forget the ice-cold beer, which keeps you both hydrated and half asleep. It’s crabbing’s performance-enhancing drug.