Blue Claws At Night

Written By: Laura  Perno

“Blue Claws at Night”

Laura Jean Perno






Night crabbing is a coveted family secret that only my Dad and few otherLong Islandboatmen know of.  There is a strange lunar phenomenon that occurs on theGreat South Bayfrom mid-August through early September when the fullness of the moon, its pull on the tides and position in relation to the earth’s rotation, attracts the most unusual pre-historic creature.  This blue-clawed crustacean which normally makes its home in the muck and mire of the boggy bay is mesmerized out of the quagmire by the moon’s polarity to the water’s surface as if its shell was the south end of a magnet.  And there it stays afloat, gently moon-bathing in the soft ripples of the salty water.

I felt privileged knowing this secret and a little bit guilty, too.  Night crabbing was almost too good to be true:  a flashlight, a net, a bucket and the reflection of the moon shimmering on the placid bay!  Too easy!  It was like picking gold fish out of a tank.  Scoop here, scoop there! Voila!  A bucket full of crabs in minutes!  It was puzzling to me that more people weren’t out there with their nets.

I knew the sure signs when Dad wanted to go night crabbing.  He pushed his chair back from the dinner table, lit a cigarette and said, “Laura Jean, you and your brothers help your mother clean up.  I’m gonna go check out the boat.”  Mostly, he only needed to check if the red and green lights on the boat worked.  Fifteen minutes later he called to us from outside.

“Laura Jean!  John!”

We had just finished doing dishes.  “Comin’!” we both yelled.

My other two brothers were already outside.  T.J. was shooting baskets and Joe was riding his bike up and down the road.

“T.J., grab the crab nets out of the shack,” ordered Dad, “and make sure you put ‘em up good

so they don’t fly out of the boat.”

“Joseph, stack the buckets and bungee them to the seat so they don’t roll all over the place.  Then get the Coleman flashlights and wedge ‘em in the side compartment real good.”

By the time John and I got outside, the hustle-bustle excitement of our younger brothers’ activities revealed Dad’s plan.  Preparing to go on the boat at night created instant electrifying energy in all of us because it was usually spontaneous and we didn’t get to do it often.  There was something about simplicity and spontaneity that made us feel closer and love each other more.

“Laura Jean, get the sweatshirts in a bag, put ‘em on the boat and put the gas can in the engine well.”

“John, back me up.”

John guided Dad in backing up the truck as he put the boat trailer on the hitch, locked it and attached the electrical cables.  Simple.  We were ready.

Other Long Islanders who didn’t know our secret took painstaking efforts and suffered needlessly to catch only a few crabs.  They threw crab traps ninety feet off the fume-laden bridges during the death stroke afternoon hours of summer.  Who could endure the incessant monotonous rhythm of tire rubber meeting expansion joints?  Or the mixed stench of Hawaiian Tropic and raw chicken which they used for bait?

Not my family.  Dad, Mom, my youngest brother Joe and I sat squashed in the cab, while John and T.J. sat in the back of the pick-up amongst Dad’s tools.  We drove to the boat ramp at Ford’s River with the windows down and the radio blasting on WALK.  Once the boat was in the water, we sat quietly while it gurgled softly on the sparkling moon path to theSmithPointBridge.  Boating in the dark was eerie and mysterious.

Dad began to bark out the duties.

“Laura Jean and Joseph – finders.”  Our job was to hold the flashlight, spot only blue-claws and then maintain a steady stream of light on the creatures.