She was strong.  Unrelenting.  Her tenacity was to be admired.  As soon as she emerged from the murky water in a loud splash that broke the peaceful channel, she held onto the net with her bright orange claws like her life depended on it.  It may sound heartless but her life actually did.

She was my very first blue crab.  Gorgeous blue legs and speckled armor.

Catching her was pure and simple joy.


Blue Crabs in the Outer Banks


We got the tip on where to crab from two older gentlemen in a bait and tackle shop in Buxton, a town on the southern end of Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks.  They instructed us to drive west, 10 miles or so, to the Channel Bass, an old restaurant that had gone belly up.  They told us to keep an eye out for a small bridge.  The restaurant will be on the left just before the bridge and the channel behind it will be teeming with blue crabs, they promised.  We shopped for our crab gear and loaded everything in our rented Jeep: a dip net with a nylon mesh, a bucket, a bag of ice, a few dry towels, a couple of crab rigs — weighted bait clips tied to the end of a long, sturdy string, and a whole mullet as bait.  We had everything we needed to go blue crabbing.

It was just right after twelve, the heat of the sun pounded down on our sunblock-lathered backs. After I laid everything out on the grassy bank, Dennis filled two empty soda bottles with water and tied the loose end of the crab rig around the bottle’s neck.   He cut the mullet into 2-inch thick pieces and skewered a piece of fish onto the bait clip.  Then he taught me how to crab.  He told me to toss the bait as far out into the water as I can, then steadily hold onto the soda bottle with one hand and the string with the other.  Keep the string taut and wait for the crabs patiently, he said.    He showed me how to gingerly reel in the bait once the crab tugs the string and as soon as the crab is within reach,  he told me to scoop it out of the water with the net as swiftly as I can.


How to Catch Blue Crabs


Within a few minutes I started to feel something munching on my mullet.  They were short, gentle, repeated tugging motions. I was ecstatic. I slowly reeled in my bait, stopping a few times to make sure that the crab is still holding onto the other end.  Anticipation mounted  but, alas!  There was no crab.  There was a lot of small fish feasting on my mullet instead.  What made things worse was that my bait was almost gone, the fish ate all the meat and left me with the undesired skin and bones.  Patience is key, Dennis reminded me.  And so we added fresh bait, tossed it back in the water, and reeled it in. Tossed it back in the water and reeled it in. Tossed it back in the water and reeled it in.  We tried a few different spots but it was the same story. Dennis spotted a couple of crabs happily swimming in the shallow water at the opposite but inaccessible side of the channel.  They were taunting us somewhat.  It reassured us though that there were crabs somewhere in that channel.  We just had to find each other.

And then it happened. It just happened. I was almost ready to quit when suddenly I felt a strong yank on my crab rig. I carefully pulled the string and wrapped it around the soda bottle.  Gently and slowly.  And before I knew it, there it was — my very first blue crab.  Dennis nimbly grabbed the blue crab with the net while I quickly fired shots with my Canon.  The crab had intensely orange claws, which means it’s a female.  A beautiful female blue crab.  She was quite a catch.

We caught four blue crabs that day and plenty of little ones that had to be tossed back in the water.  We came home with our loot and with plenty of stories to tell.  Dennis boiled the blue crabs in a big pot of water with some salt, Old Bay and vinegar.  East Coast blue crabs are a bit more challenging to eat than the bigger and meatier West Coast Dungeness but the blue crab meat is so much sweeter. No butter needed.

A couple of days later, Dennis and I ventured out once again.  This time we drove over to the Oregon Inlet, the inlet that joins the sound and the ocean and separates two islands: Bodie and Pea.  The bay on the northern tip of Pea Island where the Oregon Inlet Bridge ends is a popular fishing and crabbing spot — a spot that Dennis is very familiar with.  When he was a kid, Dennis spent many summers fishing and crabbing with his dad, mom, and brothers on this bay. And there we were, Dennis and I on that exact same spot, decades after, catching blue crabs. We crabbed on a sandbar in the middle of the bay. I tossed the bait and reeled it in while Dennis scooped the crabs out with the net. One after the other. At the end of the day, we caught twenty-four blue crabs. I just cannot begin to tell you how much we enjoyed that afternoon. It was magical. There is something truly wonderful about catching your own food. It gives you a sense of fulfillment. A deep sense of pride as well as appreciation for the food that nourishes your body and soul.

And there is also something truly wonderful about childhood memories and family traditions. I was standing in the middle of the bay where Dennis stood many years ago as a young kid doing exactly the same thing.

Life is magical that way.


View Blue Crabbing at the Oregon Inlet in a larger map

Blue Crabs


Boiled Blue Crabs Recipe

1 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
2 Tbsp vinegar
sea salt

Be very careful handling blue crabs. They are quick and can pinch with their claws. Wear gloves or use tongs when working with them. Scrub the blue crabs clean. In a large pot big enough to cook four to six blue crabs, bring water to a boil. Add the Old Bay, vinegar, and salt.

Once the water boils, carefully add the blue crabs one at a time. Do not overcrowd the crabs in the pot. Once the water boils again, cook the crabs for around 10 to 15 minutes until their shell turns bright red orange. Carefully take the crabs out of the pot using tongs.


How to Cook Blue Crabs

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  • katie o.

    oh jun, this looks amazing. hope you enjoyed our east coast! luckily you got out before crazy earl decided to mess with the outerbanks.
    ps. i can’t stop looking at these photos. the color on the crabs is remarkably vibrant.

  • Jun Belen

    I know, Katie. I feel bad posting this while Earl is wreaking havoc! I hope they won’t get too affected by the hurricane.
    Thank you for the nice compliments, by the way.

  • The Wife of a Dairyman

    What beautiful photos! Just love the colors! And I do love crab….so good!

  • Sean

    You’ve inspired me. I’ve got the week off and know a sweet spot crawling with crabs. I usually have great success with supermarket chicken parts wrapped in plastic and left in the hot sun for a day.

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Nancy! I’ve been meaning to drop you a note for the very nice compliments you have about my blog. I’m glad we found each other’s blogs!

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Sean! I’m glad you’re going crabbing this weekend. We actually did use chicken necks the las time we crabbed in the Oregon Inlet. Much much better than mullet! Enjoy your week off!

  • M.

    I’m so envious!!! I’m drooling all over my screen right now!
    great photography :)

  • Richard

    A beautiful story along with beautiful photos! I love your blog!

  • Annapet

    How gorgeous! Jun, I agree with the sweeter, tastier meat of blue crabs. More challenging to eat and I think they are feistier than the bigger Dungeness crabs.

    Ginataan comes to mind…

  • Pepy @Indonesia Eats

    Lucky you!!!! I got fresh blue crab last summer at Asian markets. Everytime seeing a crab, I always think to make gulai, kare/i or chili crab. hmmm yumm

  • Liren

    W O W.

    I’m picking up my jaw off the keyboard.

    Jun, not only is this stunning – what fun! I grew up on these blue crabs, and I agree, they are a lot of work, but so worth the effort, for all the sweet crabmeat! No butter at all needed, just a garlic and vinegar! I never went crabbing, though, and now I have this urge to go back east and give it a try. You captured it beautifully!

  • skip to malou

    sounds like you had so much fun crabbing jun! i love blue crabs and you’r right they are sweet… we always enjoy eating crabs kamayan style… except for my son who says that the effort to crab meat ratio is not worth it haha… stunning pictures as always jun.

  • MissTdJ

    Those beautiful colors, I want a whole table setting using your blue crab photo set for inspiration. I mean, even your friggin chopping board is aesthetically pleasing!

  • Chris

    Great story with awesome shots! I am in awe of how you can get such great shots with so much going on around you at the time.

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Chris. You should’ve seen me with the camera around my neck while holding the bottle and the string with both hands. Then as soon as Dennis scooped the crab out of the water I grabbed my camera and fired shots as quickly as I can. It was a lot of fun though.
    Hope you had fun, too in Hawaii!

  • sharon

    very nice posting…. it’s Maryland crab season now…. the fat and meaty ones. thinking of stopping at Quarterdeck for all you can eat…..

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you for stopping by, Sharon. I didn’t know that Maryland crab season is in October. Have fun!

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  • zemirah castro

    incredible photos!

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  • From OBX to TEX

    I used to love crabbing that old Oregon Inlet coast guard station flat too.  I’d go with my two sisters and parents, and we’d fill a small trash can full of blue crabs on a good low tide.  Family memories, great crab boils, and crabs pinching at my toes. It was way more fun than fishing since every cast with the old chicken neck had a bite, which really mattered since I was only 8.   Damn those green head flies though.  Still remember them 30 years later.

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you so much for writing. Those chicken necks never fail.  Amazing.

  • Sam Yiotisa

    Great article.  Here is a great site I found with tips to catch blue crabs:

  • Pete

    Sweet! I’ve been reading about crabbing all day. Here is a site that gives some pointers on where to crab: