On a recent October morning, before the crack of dawn had shown its rosy face, the crabbers of Goodland loaded their boats with traps and bait for the 2018 stone crab season. After the long hot summer of refurbishing thousands of traps in the blazing sun and scorching temperatures without any income, captains and crew were ready and excited to begin the next crabbing challenge, ever hopeful that they’ll make back the $25,000+ spent to clean and ready the traps.
Around the corner from Stan’s, The Little Bar and surrounding Kirk’s Seafood Market, are stacks upon stacks of crab traps ready to slide and load onto the crabbing boats. The crews will make hundreds of trips to check traps, rebait, move traps, and set more traps depending on where they locate the best stone crabs for their customers. This is brutal, sweat through your clothes work. One new, sturdy, strong man quit on his first day because it was too exhausting. But then again, maybe crabbing wasn’t in his blood.
Stacks of traps as high as possible, buckets of pigs’ feet and boxes of frozen mullet cramp the floor of the walking space in Miss Jill. The captain and crew move to the raised bow, fresh hamburgers off the grill in hand, thanks to Patti and Kelly Kirk, who provide fresh coffee and drinks along with food so the crabbers don’t have to slow their momentum. They have grueling days ahead and hate to waste time. Patti and Kelly send them off with humor and smiles.
According to the law, they are not able to touch the traps until the magic date of October 15th arrives. They can check their traps, the ropes, buoys, rebait and harvest the claws from the legal-sized crabs. The crabbers take one claw, which enables the crabs to continue to find food and grow, and the rest of us to crack and eat the claws without guilt because a new claw will regenerate, usually within the same season, to its original size.
Bill Pilger, formerly a crabber in the Keys (Marathon to be exact) operated his own seafood market. He moved to Goodland because there were more opportunities. At 75 years old, he is still committed to crabbing; heck, he’s been at it for about 51 years and captains Miss Jill.
Finally, October 15th – the day they can bring the crabs home, if they find any, and (drum roll) here’s part of the catch. Can’t you just taste them with Kirk’s great mustard sauce? I feel a large dose of salivating coming on!
The parade through the door to the reopened fish market has been steady. People have a spring in their step and fall is in the air. There’s fresh red snapper, grouper, Spanish mackerel, and smoked mullet (all locally caught), plus shrimp, Key lime pie and much more, so head on over to Goodland to eat, drink and be merry. If you pass Stan’s, The Little Bar and Kirk’s, you can enjoy The Crabby Lady, too.