“Six-Pack” Gets In A Crab Boil!
“I’m tellin’ ya’, boys, out of all the critters in the sea, the one I fear most is the blasted blue crab! If they grew to the size of armadillas, even, it wouldn’t be safe for folks to get in the water at all – and as it is, a big ‘un is not somethin’ ya want to take any chances with!”
My main deckhand and first mate, Jack “Six Pack” Pierce, had just emptied our dock crab traps into a big metal pot, and was rebaiting with fish heads from the day’s charter. Mates don’t get anywhere near enough credit for what they do to make a charter fishing trip enjoyable, in my opinion. Six Pack has been with me for a long time, after trying other careers as a chemical plant operator, shrimper, and commercial fisherman. The nickname comes both from his favorite beverage, and his life long ambition to obtain his Coast Guard “Operator of Uninspected Vessels” license, or “Six Pack” ticket. He’d have it by now, except he refuses to take the CPR part of the required first aid testing. Says mouth-to-mouth resuscitation sets up too many emotional involvements. We had a group of fishermen down who were spending the night before heading back to Fort Worth, and no charter for the next day, so Six Pack had decided to treat them to a crab boil and fish fry – in hopes of getting a bigger tip, I suspected. Any captive audience like this is fair game for the Six Packer, and it looked like he was working into one of his “whoppers” to spice up the meal.
Entertainment is Six Pack’s real talent, although he is usually entertaining himself.
‘Yep, I never turn my back on these evil things, not anymore. I don’t even like to touch ‘em while they’re still alive. Even if ya pull the claws off, when ya pull the little pop top on tha bottom of tha shell and stick yore thumb up their rear to pull the top part off, they grab atcha with them other legs, – creepy, is what it is. That’s why I put ‘em in this here big ol’ pot and cover ‘em with ice until they get too stupidfied by tha cold to bite before I clean ‘em to cook. Been doin’ that ever since me an’ the skipper narrowly escaped death at tha hands, or claws, of tha man eatin’ crabs of Catahoula Flat!”
One of the guys from Ft. Worthless was intrigued enough to rise to the bait, and I knew Six Pack would set the hook.
“I never heard of a crab big enough to eat people. Where was this exactly?”
“Catahoula Flat, a little secret spot me an’ the skipper found off the ICW, back towards Christmas Bay. Shallow flat with a deep enough washout on the canal side that we can ease the Bertram up to it on a good tide. We do us a little flounderin’ in there, sometimes catch some reds when the wind blows too hard to run offshore. Named it after that damn fool dawg of his, that Catahoula Leopard he brung over from Louisiana. The mud on the flat is leopard spotted just like that ol’ dawg’s hide, kinda gray and black. See it real good in clear water. – You fellas be sure you got the door part on them traps tied back shut. Every now an’ then we find ‘em open, where either we forgot to tie ‘em back, somebody robbered our traps, or them damn eco-terrorists opened ‘em up to let the crabs go free. These ain’t none of them ghost traps the game wardens want folks to pull up, that wuz abandoned after the crab season – me an’ the skipper checks these every day. One of these nights, somebody’s gonna be openin’ one of them wire traps ta free the little crab critters, an’ a big blue clawed arm’s gonna pull ‘em down in the water to a terrible end, – just like almost happened to me on that flat one night!”
“Crabs actually eat people?” asked another of our customer group.
“Oh HELL yes,” answered my main man. Knew a bait camp operator in Galveston, back in my surf fishin’ days, said the only animal he sometimes wouldn’t eat that came out of the water was a damn ol’ blue crab. He said every time somebody drowned in the surf or fell outta a boat, an’ they found the body all covered up with crabs, eatin’ the eyeballs, and rippin’ off their lips, why it would be a week or two before he could force himself to dine on the little monsters again.”
At least one customer was looking a little queezy by now.
“But they can’t kill and eat live people, of course.” This guy was a school teacher, we thought.
“I can only tell ya what almost happened to me. I promise you them things are as strong as a grown man. I’ve had ‘em grab my knuckle when I wuz cullin’ shrimp, and bring me to my knees with tha pain, even through thick leather gloves – cain’t get one off by yourself, need help and some power tools, usually. They can arm wrestle a weight lifter, a big ‘un can. I can always thaw one of these suckers out for ya’ll, and let ya take turns goin’ a round with him, if you’d like?”
No takers, just head shakers.
“ I’ve been half crippled several times, fishin’ the tha surf bare footed, ‘cuz I stepped down on a blue crab that was waitin’ to strike the bottom of my foot, so when I get out on that flat at night, looking for some flat-fish, I always wear shoes.”
By now, Six Pack had finished cleaning the crabs, dumped them in the big boiling pot, and was poking them with the tongs to make sure they cooked all over.
“Man, that cayenne pepper will burn the bee-Jesus out of yore eyes, won’t it? We mix it inta the bottom paint for tha boat, ta keep the barnacles off. Ain’t no kinda seafood gonna get next to that stuff on purpose! Ya’ll hand me another cold beer, to wash the burnin’ outta my throat, OK? Anyway, on this pa’ticular night, the moon kept getting’ behind tha clouds, so the invisibility wasn’t too good. I had a few good flounders on the stringer – only stuck one or two little stink rays, but they ain’t really bad to eat, either, an’ they come with a built in tooth pick. When tha wind stopped altogether, the skeeters got so bad a big herd of ‘em picked me up and flew out over that drop off I told ya’ll about before I could fight my way loose. When I hit tha water, I got my legs tangled in tha stringer and was doin’ some flounderin’ of my own to try ta keep tha little stink rays away from my hind quarters. That’s when the murderin’ crabs attacked! Must a bin a jillion of ‘em, comin’ at me from all directions at once, a bitin’ an’ a clawin, and a climbin’ up my legs towards my privates!”
By now, he had removed the first batch of crabs from the boiling water, and was well into his second or third one, and reaching for another beer to wash it down.
“Like I said, they go for the eyeballs first, then tha most tender other parts. On a floater – that’s a poor dead body in tha water, after tha gases start buildin’ up inside – they’ll chew around until it starts to soften up from soakin’ in the water, an’ they’ll eat tha whole thing, if somebody don’t find him first. It’s like that Cajun joke, about tha guy who went missing on a fishin’ trip, and tha sherf called his wife a few days later, an’ says, “Miz Breaux, I got me some bad, news, an’ I got me some good news. First, da bad news. We fon yo’ husband, and he dead, he dead as hail. De good news is, we got about tree or two dozen real nice blue crabs offa him we gonna bring ya this evening”.
The customers had decided to come over to where I was frying fish, and leave Six Pack to be alone with his crabs. While they were loading their plates, I went over to have a talk with my mate.
“Ok, big shot, what’s all this talk about man eating crabs? Like I couldn’t guess.
“Yore lookin’ at ‘em! A two hunerd and ten pound man, eatin crabs! Lordy, I sure love these things, but we didn’t really have enough of ‘em in the traps for me and the other guys both, and I figured they’d probably rather have fried snapper, anyhow. At least, with a little encouragement.”
First Published in Saltwater Texas