Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 40 - No. 4 FALL 2016 - Page 34

A tomato basket held the night’s catch but carrying those heavy buster buckets was a hated chore. Our father, however, would have it no other way. Buster Buckets & Mud Minnows I f you asked a hundred people in any large city north of the MasonDixon Line if they know what a “buster bucket” is, I believe the silence would be deafening! But ask that same question to fishermen in Apalachicola, FL, Fairhope, AL, Waveland, MS, Elmer’s Island, LA and Galveston, TX and I’m sure the affirmative response would be substantial. My brother and I grew up with buster buckets and for those who are still baffled by the term, I’ll explain shortly. We are talking, of course, about gathering succulent softshell crabs from coastal tidal ponds. Late Spring through early Fall is the proper time for it, with July and August considered top months. Veteran crabbers say go when figs are ripe and you can’t miss. Good advice! Softshell crabs are gourmet fare, whether sauted in butter or rolled in corn meal and pan-fried. A platterful of crispy softshells makes a great main course as well as fine sandwiches. Poboys are popular now, but I like my crabs on toasted hamburger buns spread with mayo and topped with lettuce, tomato and dill chips. Because of their legs sticking out around the edges, we dubbed them “spider burgers” and a half century later we still call them that. The last thing my father would ask before my brother and I climbed into his truck was, “Did you boys remember to bring the buster buckets?” And they were just that - one to two gallon metal pails. No plastic in those days. When crabbing, timing is critical; you hope to hit it on the button when most of the crustaceans are shedding, or molting, if you prefer. But if you happened upon palm-sized crabs that were half-in, half-out of their shells, into the water-filled buckets they went so they could finish their business as you continued walking, hoping to find 34 G U L F C O A S T F I S H E R M A N more of their kinfolks! A tomato basket held the night’s catch, but carrying those heavy buster buckets was a hated chore. Our father, however, would have it no other way. “We’re not leaving those beautiful big busters for other crabbers to find”, he would growl, “So stop your grousing and keep moving!” In my youth there were so many softshell crabs along the Alabama and Mississippi Coast that they could be harvested during daylight hours. Things are different now with commercial crab traps positioned every 40-50 yards from Mexico to Maryland. In addition, many crabbers “sort out” potential shedders (they can tell) and sell them to professional shedding houses for extra cash. During high school years, I made spending money selling my catch to restaurants at the exorbitant price of $3 a dozen. In today’s market, a single crab may fetch $4 to $5. My, how times have changed! Permanently etched on my brain are two incidents that occurred during daytime crabbing forays. First, was a 30 inch eel that bolted from under a scooped out log (prime softshell habitat), wrapped around my ankle and slithered up my right pant leg almost to my crotch! I’m sure people on shore were doubled over in laughter watching my terrifying efforts to shake it loose! The other event, though milder, was no less traumatic. While intently scanning for softshells, I failed to see a huge flounder buried under the sand in ankle deep water and stepped squarely on its back. The next thing I knew, I was HORIZONTAL, staring up at blue sky while said flounder was humping its way to deep water at flank speed! Summing up, aside from using hovering seagulls to pinpoint softshells and busters, akin to bird dogs pointing quail, these tips addressing degrees of softness may come in handy. To wit: A. MUSH - Just molted, often found behind their sheds B. SOFTSHELL - 15-30 minutes after molting and helpless C. PAPERSHELL - One hour after molting and mobile D. HARD PAPER - One to two hours after molting and strong swimmers E. HARDSHELLS - May pinch the hell out of you if you guess wrong! And, the MUD MINNOWS... My first experience with “mud minnows” was at the summer home of United States Senator, Hale Boggs (D-LA). A brackish creek ran through their rustic compound in Long Beach, MS and the idyllic, glade-like setting was appropriately named BOGGSDALE with a marker alongside U.S. Highway 90. My father had a contract with the senator for landscaping and tree trimming, but as a preteen, I was more interested in that creek which was chock-full of those mysterious mud minnows. For the next few days, I caught and released scores of them using the tip end of a whippy cane pole. I used sewing thread for line and the smallest hooks I could find, baited with bits of earthworms or doughballs. They fier [B]XY]\][]]H]\[BZ][H[Y]YY^Hܙ]]H[›XH[[K[XH[&][Y]HHY]]X[][H MH[Z[ˈ]Y[H[\[H[[KHY\Y][X[H\\]\]Y^X܈ۙKKM[Z[]X^HHY[BZ[ۈY\܈Z] \HB[ܚYK[X[XH[Z\\\K]YZ[\Hۛۈ\[Z[[HZ\X[H[^\\\Y[[[HZ\ˈ]X]\H[BY\^H\H\[ܙ[[SQSQTH[\[\œ[H][H[][\ۈ]\]\[X^XH][[H˂[X\ܙH[YY\ݙH[K\XX[HH8'YYx'H[وY\ XY] [[\\Bۙ\[]HZ[X^H[HBY\]HZ][H]\]ۈHˈB[[[HY ] ܜKт]8&\[\ܞHBˈHHHˈB