The Bay, Crabbing, and Dad

Crabbing with Dad

The following story is sent in by Diane Hutchinson. She is a painter that has been visiting the local area since her childhood. Diane has created evocative paintings of the shore that visitors to Seaside Heights can readily identify with. The picture included here is but one of many paintings of hers that you can see, and purchase prints of, at her website. You can also follow stories about her painting and other adventures at Diane's blog.


crabbing in Barnegat Bay My memories of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park are so tightly woven with those of my Dad’s that I can’t seem to separate them. My times spent on the beach and boardwalk were infused with a deeper sense of enjoyment and respect because of the love that both my parents had for the area. My Mom grew up in Paterson and my Dad was born and raised in Little Falls, NJ. My Dad’s parents naturally vacationed in Seaside as did most of his neighbors and friends from North Jersey.

As a child, my time was mainly spent enjoying the beach and boardwalk rather than crabbing. The art of crabbing actually came much later for me. It was after I had developed a taste for hot and spicy crabs and overcame my fear of the pinching little beasts. In 1990, my husband and I bought a cottage right on the Seaside Park/Heights border. My parents would come down for a few days in the summer to celebrate their anniversary. Dad would walk down to the public pier on Barnegat Bay and crab for hours. Mom preferred the less-wilderness aspect of the shore and busied herself on the boardwalk or reading a good book. She would greet my Dad at the door with the pot of water boiling and the Old-Bay at the ready. As he would plop the crabs into the boiling water, she would count them and place a call to me at home in Pennsylvania. The reason I couldn’t wait to hear the crab report was because those crabs would become my breakfast, lunch and supper upon my arrival the next day. You see, after spending a couple of days alone to enjoy the romantic side of the anniversary, my parents were ready for my daughter and myself to descend upon their quiet time and start eating crabs.

After I got there, my Dad would take me along on his crabbing excursions to his lucky spot on the pier. He would take a folding chair and his pipe, his trusty knife, our old styrofoam cooler, the empty crab pail, two or three drop lines, bug spray, sunscreen, tongs, and our long-handled net with the measurement marks on it (to make sure our catch was of legal length). Sometimes he would let me carry something. As soon as we got to the pier, I would go into the bait shop and purchase the bunker (fish used as crab bait) which was frozen solid. We managed to get three separate pieces of bait from each bunker, the head, the body and the tail. We both liked the head section best, but Dad always gave me first pick. He showed me how to chop a hole in the frozen fish to insert the end of the lure and make sure the long string was secured around the post of the pier, just in case you dropped the string from your finger. Many people, including myself sometimes, use crab traps instead of drop lines. But, you see, Dad explained how the drop line required so much more skill and is more fun because you can feel the crab tugging and nibbling on the bunker. And then when you slowly pull the line out of the water you can actually see the little varmint clutching onto the line. If you’re lucky, you can carefully grab your net and scoop the crab onto the pier and into the bucket.

As soon as the two empty benches along the shore of the baylines were dropped into the bay, the real reason for our being there would begin. As Dad lit his pipe and sat back in his chair he would look out over the bay and recall times he had spent as a boy, a teen and as a grown man. Each experience unique but yet the same. He loved the bay.

I walk the path to the bay alone now. This will be my fifth summer without Dad. I fill our styrofoam cooler with our crabbing supplies, my camera and paints and head to the lucky spot. It’s a melancholy journey to the edge of the bay. But as I sit in Dad’s folding chair, I know I will never be truly alone.


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Our House

I am certain that we passed each other many times on the 5th Avenue pier. I, like yourself, spent many hours crabbing, fishing or going to see what other people were catching.
Our daily lives become so complicated. Even for those of us who are very aware that ultimately there are a few things that really matter.
Both of my parents died before I was grown. My Father did not see me get married. He never held any of my 3 children. I do not have not had the luxury of call my Mom to "check in". There are countless things that could make me sad. I, like you, focus on the fond memories. Your painting of " crabbing with Dad" was taken from MY minds eye. How many times I looked over my shoulder, at our home on Bayview Ave to see if my Mom wanted me home or if my Dad had arrived from the hot city?
I have heard that this was painted by you for your Mom. I will tell you that for OUR family your painting has become a beautiful reminder of what is good and right and what matters.

Thank you for this wonderful gift.

Crabbing with Dad

Dear Ann Marie,
Your comment made me again remember the reason why I paint. Thank you so much for your kindness...

Crabbing with Dad

I'm always happy to hear how other daughters enjoyed times with their fathers. I am the youngest of three daughters (I'm 69 now) and my father and I really shared a special relationship. We did go crabbing, not as often as you, but he was so patient with me. I remember one time I fell asleep in the back of the car and woke up to hear the little critters scratching around in the baskets in the trunk. My dad passed away at 92, had been bedridden for the last two years of his life. He fixed antique clocks as a hobby, then he lost his vision to macular degeneration. But the last few summers that he got around, I would take him and my mother to Belmar and we would spend the day there. He liked walking on the boardwalk and also walking along the beach right at the water's edge. I have pictures there with all of us, my daughters included and I enjoy them so much. I read once that pictures are moments frozen in time. How true!
Thank you for your story.

Thank you, Joan, I am also

Thank you, Joan,
I am also the youngest of three daughters. You and I know what it's like to have a wonderful dad. Not many are so lucky. We share a lot of similarities...
Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story.

Crabbing with flashlights

I used to come to NJ with my family back in the 70's. I clearly remember going out crabbing at night with nothing but a high powered flashlight. We'd catch DOZENS by simply finding a point out in the water, holding the light on one spot, then slowly drawing the light back to the pier, then scooping out 1-3 crabs by "grabbing" the light beam.

Since that time, I've never found ANYONE who fished for crabs in that manner. Most thought I'd lost my mind or that I was making it up. Can anyone confirm that this is still done? I live near St. Louis and have not been back to Jersey in decades. I fondly remember summer vacations and family reunions in a home in Tom's River, and afternoons spent at the Seaside Heights beach and boardwalk.

(I also remember getting up for something to drink and kicking over a box full of crabs that we'd caught. Dad, my brother and Uncle Sonny were lying on the pier with the flashlights as the crabs crawled all over them on the way back to the water. They were NOT happy!!


Hi Greg,
I must say, and I've done some research, that I have never crabbed with a flashlight or knew any one else who had. I think the town piers are closed to fishing and crabbing at night nowdays so you would have to be sly about it!
Isn't it great to have these memories!?

crabbing by flashlight

You are absolutely correct about crabbing by flashlight. I am 68 yrs. old and have lived in Seaside since 1942. That is still an excellent method to catch crabs.I have done it that way for many years and it still works like a charm. You can't do much about "unbelievers" except laugh under your breath. Your mind is/was not playing tricks. I learned to catch crabs that way back in the 50's.

Part of the picture!

Your picture of the park bench on the dock is a place that I work at every summer called Sea Breeze boats. It captures perfectly the view up the inward thoroughfare towards Mike's Island. I have worked renting a fleet of Hibbard style wooden rowboats for about 12 years. I show people how to crab and where to crab and it is the best job on earth as far as I am concerned.


I know the feeling, we came down here on vacation all our lives , over 56 years. And while my sisters enjoyed the beach, and my mother cooking up a storm, My dad and I were always crabbing. Some times I could not get up early enough like my dad, but by the time I did ,he already came home with his catch. I liked night crabbing better, with lines in the water and a flashlight and a net, you can lure them over to you and if you were lucky enough you can scoop them right out of the water as they were swimming on top. I also remember almost catching the mother of all crabs until someone ran by on the boardwalk creating vibration and sending that crab quickly under, I had to hold my tongue of course! We some times used the drag net, which scared me because I was so small that by the time the water was up to my fathers waist, I was on my toes trying not to drown, So I always preferred that he go out and make the final turn. I also remember as we came onto shore, that all the people would come rushing over to see what was in the net. Sometimes a lot of crabs,an eel , blow fish hundreds of shrimp, lots of little fish etc.

I miss my dad, it's been about 11 years since he passed away, but we all moved down here at one time or another and continue the legacy.

We love you Dad ...

Seaside crabbin'

Been doing it at least once a year..I am 57, my wife and i and 2 daughters make it a ritual each fall, we are going October 2nd with our oldest one who lives in Tinton Falls...we will miss the younger, but there is always next time.. What a peace full day.

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