Although the memory is a little fuzzy, one of the first outdoor experiences that I can remember as a kid is crabbing. As I can best recall, my dad, brother and I were dropping crab nets from a bridge in Shell Beach in hopes of bringing up some fat blue crabs for a boil that afternoon. I can't quite remember how many we caught that day, but I do remember how much fun I had.

I can also remember running a crab line in the Grand Isle surf with a scoop net and catching a seemingly unending supply of crabs that quickly made it to the boiling pot one summer vacation.

Another memory I will never forget is dropping crab nets from a camp pier that my family would rent on Rat's Nest Road on the north shore each summer.

These cherished memories were the start of a lifelong love and enjoyment of the outdoors for me. Over time, these simple experiences were replaced with more extravagant and expensive outdoor pursuits and equipment, but the simplicity of crabbing is something to which I always return to rekindle those fond memories of the past.

Although there are still a handful of dedicated recreational crabbers, crabbing is not nearly as popular as it once was. If you are like many people, it has been years since you have crabbed. Your nets (if you still have any) are probably dry-rotted from time and neglect, and you may not remember the finer elements of the sport.

But have no fear: The crabs are still out there, and it is simple and inexpensive to start back up. You don't even need a boat. It's easy to be successful, and the reward is a beautiful pot of boiled blue crabs at the end of a relaxing day on the water.

Getting outfitted

If you have not crabbed for a while, you will have to get re-outfitted with some basic equipment and supplies. To find out exactly what is needed, I visited with Gus Maggiore at Gus' Tackle and Net in Slidell (985-643-2848), who was happy to explain what is needed, and even gave me some tips on how to catch crabs. Maggiore has run his family business since age 17, and his shop has everything you need for crabbing, trawling and fishing.

"To get started, you will need at least a dozen nets and a few extras to replace the ones that get lost or damaged," he said. "Running a dozen nets from a boat will keep you busy."

Maggiore makes the crab nets that he sells by using webbing that he buys and attaches to rings. He then makes a bridle with a cork and a line for the bait. He carries different types of twine and corks for each individual's choosing. Maggiore recommends using at least 10 feet of line.

"Use your depth finder to make sure that the water is no deeper than 8-10 feet before you put out your nets," he said.

He also has baskets, tongs and other supplies that crabbers need.

Maggiore said there are spots on the north shore that seem to produce every year.

"The best reports this year have been coming from Bayou Liberty and Bayou Bonfouca," he said. "Crab in the bayous near the lake or in the lake itself, close to the mouth. If you don't have a boat, you can crab off the roads around Salt Bayou and at the end of Rat's Nest Road."

Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne

Everyone knows "fat lake crabs" are some of the best crabs in the world, but they can be tricky to catch, and many who have tried go home with empty hampers. To put the odds in your favor, you many want to take lessons from some avid recreational crabbers who have crabbed in Pontchartrain, Borgne and the surrounding waters most of their lives.

Al Mayeur, who now lives in Mandeville, is one of those guys. Growing up, Mayeur's family had a camp in Little Woods, and he spent many summers crabbing in the Seabrook and Lakefront Airport area of the lake.

"Some summers we would catch 300 to 400 dozen crabs using only nets and a small skiff," he said. "More recently, the best crabbing has been on the north shore around the Carr Drive area."

Mayeur uses about two dozen nets, so there is no need to wait in between runs.

"The best time to crab in the lake is between June and August, with the peak around July 4," he said. "Some of the bigger crabs are caught in the fall all the way into November."

Mayeur believes that areas with clean moving water are the best places to try.

"Try to get around some deeper water like a pass or bayou, and put your nets on the edge close to (but not in) the deep water," said Mayeur. "Use your depth finder to look for the deeper areas, and set your nets on the shelf. That's where crabs like to be.

Crabs will eat just about anything, but Mayeur has some favorite baits.

"The best baits are either chicken necks or turkey necks," he said. "Fish heads will also work."

Mayeur not only crabs in the lake, but also finds lots of crabs in the Intracoastal Waterway around the NASA facility. He recommends setting nets on the edge of the deep water close to the shoreline. He also likes the Dike Canal (MRGO spoils canal) near Bayou Bienvenue.

Another avid recreational crabber is Dave Glaviano. You know a guy is crazy about crabbing when he has a crab insignia on his hat!

Glaviano crabs on a regular basis during the summer months primarily in Lake Pontchartrain near the Williams Boulevard boat launch.

"The best thing about crabbing is that it is so relaxing," he said. "I can get out here after work in the evenings, and it's like another world. Sometimes I'll stay until dark, if the crabs are running. It simply doesn't get any better than this."

I met Glaviano at his Kenner home, and after picking up a few things needed for the crab boil and some bait, we arrived at the Williams boat launch at 5 p.m. It was apparent that Glaviano had performed this routine many times. He was methodical and efficient, and before we knew it, his 18-foot Rockwell flatboat with a new Yamaha 115 four-stroke was launched, and we were headed for the lake.

On the way out, I asked Glaviano what the most important thing is he has learned about catching crabs in Lake Pontchartrain.

He quickly said, "TIDE, TIDE, TIDE. I have found that you will not catch many crabs unless the tide is moving. It really doesn't matter if it's rising or falling, but you must have movement."

Before each trip, Glaviano studies the tides. In addition to using the published astronomical tide charts, he uses real time tide data that is available at the USGS website at
http://waterdata.usgs.gov/la/nwis/current/?type=flow.
He uses the mid-lake Causeway location.

After a short ride, Glaviano slowed down and stood up looking in all directions.

"You want to look for lots of crab traps bunched in one area because if the commercials are heavily using an area, there has to be crabs there," he said.

We began baiting the nets with turkey necks, and tossing them over, slinging them like Frisbees, making sure the lines and corks were not tangled. We only dropped six nets to "test" the area.

"Once we start catching a few, I will put out 12 nets," said Glaviano. "That's plenty enough to keep track of."

With the nets out, we kicked back and each got a cool drink and enjoyed the beautiful evening on the lake relaxing and telling stories.

"No worries, that what's great about this," Glaviano said.

It was now time to run the nets. Glaviano expertly motored upcurrent to within inches of the float so that I could easily reach down to pluck it out of the water.

"Easy — just pull it up steadily — no rush — just keep it coming in," he instructed.

As the net reached the surface, I could see that we had a nice crab.

"Not a bad start," Glaviano said. "Now let's see what we caught in the other nets."

The crabbing was slow that evening due to poor tidal movement and murky water from the spillway, but somehow it didn't matter. That's what's great about crabbing, no pressure, just fun. Catching a few crabs for a boil with family, friends and neighbors is what it's all about.

We headed back around 7 p.m. A half-hour later, we were back at Glaviano's home with the boiling pot roaring, sipping beverages and sitting around telling stories that grew in magnitude as the night wore on.

Could life get any better?