DOWNE TOWNSHIP — It’s a quiet and still mid-July morning on the creek at Beaver Dam as Scott Waterman tows a family of crabbers to a location he says is a good spot. The whirring of the tow boat’s motor is the only sound as it cuts through the mirror-smooth water, scattering the reflected clouds.
The scent of the incoming tide washing over the mud banks and the wafting of cut bunker fills the air.
“The best times for crabbing are when the tides are changing,” says Waterman, of Beaver Dam Boat Rentals, which has served this spot on the edge of the Delaware Bay since 1909. “The crabs love to follow the tide in and out and move with the flow in the main channel.”
Waterman gets his latest group of crabbers settled and then checks on Chris Urban and his wife, Jessica, of Williamstown. The Urbans, along with sons Luke, 5, Chris Jr., 8, and nephew Eddie, 9, have been crabbing since 7 a.m.
“Do you have any extra box traps and bunker?” Urban asks. “We lost a couple of ours, and do you have any string?”
Waterman hands over some fresh bunker and promises to return shortly with string and traps.
Urban has been crabbing at Beaver Dam since 1980. He went crabbing with his dad and is now carrying on that tradition with his wife and boys. “It’s just something we enjoy doing, and the kids love it,” says Urban. “It’s relaxing, and we are building memories with the kids.”
Blue claw crabs can be found all along the New Jersey coast, from the Hudson River to the Delaware Bay, in tidal creeks, rivers and the shallows of back-bay waters.
They account for nearly one-third of all recreational catches, according the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
There are just a few basic methods for catching blue claw crabs. A weighted hand-line baited with either bunker or chicken is preferred by most traditional crabbers. The weight of the crab can be felt on the line when it takes the bait. It is slowly pulled up to the boat and captured in a net. Another method is to use wire box traps with trap doors baited with bunker or chicken and left on the bottom for a desired time. When pulled up, the doors close, trapping the crabs. Some prefer using ring traps of wire mesh, again baited with bunker or chicken, but you have to be quick pulling them up because crabs can escape over the sides.
Urban said he uses all three but prefers ring traps.
“I like the ring traps because crabs can come in from all directions,” Urban said. “But the others work just as well.”
Urban’s nephew, Eddie, had just pulled in his ring trap with a keeper crab. Chris Urban Jr. pulled up his trap.
“I got two crabs, I got two crabs!” exclaimed Chris Jr.
By mid-morning, the family already had more than two dozen crabs in their basket.
Eddie said the secret is pulling the line in very slowly until he feels the weight of the crab in the trap, then he pulls it in fast.
Nearby, Mike Maltese, of Woodbine, and his children, Michael, 14, and Kate, 13, are closing in on a half bushel of crabs for their efforts.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid,” Maltese said. “I get to spend time with the kids, and the place has always been good to us.”
Peace and quiet, and the crabs, are the reasons people keep returning to Beaver Dam to go crabbing, according to Waterman.
“There are no other waters along the coast of New Jersey that are as quiet,” Waterman said. “There is no boat traffic or jet ski traffic. A person can go out there and actually meditate while they’re catching crabs.”
Beaver Dam Boat Rentals was established in 1909. Paul Waterman, Scott’s father, purchased the business in 2005 with his wife, Linda, in hopes of creating an aquaculture center.
Paul Waterman said he took over a business in disarray. But even as he was repairing the facilities, he said he saw the value.
“We had people continuously stopping in asking when we were going to be open for crabbing,” Waterman said. “That’s when my wife and I looked at each other and decided to give recreational crabbing a try.”
The company’s unique business feature is that it doesn’t offer its customers motorized boats but instead tows them to locations in the creeks and shallows.
“Not having motors is one less thing customers have to worry about while crabbing.” Waterman said. “All you need to do is show up. We can supply you with everything you need to go crabbing.”