Keith Lusher 07.03.23
As the heat of summer sets in, the crabbing bite here in South Louisiana gets better and better. However, for Corey LaBostrie of Lacombe La., it doesn’t really matter if the crabs are biting or not. That’s because LaBostrie’s technique does not require the assortment of tools that you may think would accompany those who typically crab from the side of the road. “There’s no bait, there’s no lines, no crab traps or nets,” he said.
LaBostrie executes a more primitive way of catching crabs which involves a simple dip net and a tool he calls a “pusher.” Picture an upside-down handle of a lawnmower. LaBostrie uses it to push along the sandy bottom of Lake Pontchartrain. When he gets to a section of grass he watches for crabs to shoot out when the pusher hits them. Then he quickly scoops them up with a dip net.
I joined LaBostrie on a trip so I could see his brilliantly simplistic method firsthand. As I drove up, LaBostrie was unloading his 13-foot Coleman canoe into the lake. He motioned to join him and within 5 minutes we were both walking in two feet of water. LaBostrie was pushing the canoe ahead of him. “This is it man! This is how we used to do it! So many memories come flooding back when I’m out here pushing,” LaBostrie said.
As we walked LaBostrie pointed to an area of eelgrass along the shoreline. As we approached he said “Watch this!” and started to push the fiberglass tool through the grass. All of a sudden he let the handle of the pusher fall to his stomach and grabbed the scoop net that he had rating on the handle of the pusher. He quickly made an overhand scoop and drug the net along the bottom towards him. He flipped the net over and in it was a big blue crab. “That’s all there is to it,” he said. We went on to catch over two dozen crabs on our trip. Most of the crabs were #2’s but there were a few #1’s as well. Generally, a #1 sized crab will reach 5 1/2 to 6 inches from point to point.
Each time he scooped a crab he would walk back to the canoe and toss it into the ice chest.
After the trip, LaBostrie prepared a boil complete with lemons, garlic, sausage, and other spices. The blue crabs were delicious but LaBostrie was a bit disappointed that we didn’t catch any of the “premium crabs”
Here in the South, when it comes to crabs, ask any seafood lover and they’ll tell you that soft-shell crabs are at the top of their lists of favorites. LaBostrie comes across soft shells often and utilizing this method of crabbing allows him to scoop them up while the crabs are molted and still soft. They’re known by the locals as “Doubles.” “Ohh I like those doubles! That’s where one crab is hugging the softer crab in order to defend it because it can’t defend itself,” he said. LaBostrie has had trips where he’s caught a dozen soft-shells or busters.
Sometimes LaBostrie will come across a crab that has passed the soft-shell stage. This is called a paper-shell and these crabs can be eaten as well. “You can just pop the shell off these and fry them up just like you would with a softshell,” he says.
While the technique of pushing for crabs is simple, it does however involve a bit of risk as it can potentially turn into a painful situation. “Watch out for them stingrays! Those things are hard to see when the water is murky. if you step on one, you’re going to know it,” he said. Stingrays aren’t the only thing to watch out for when walking the shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain. LaBostrie recalled a time when he had a close encounter while pushing for crabs one morning. “You have to be careful when doing this. One time I literally had a bull shark swim right between my legs,” he said.
While catching a lot of crabs is a good enough reason to continue his method, LaBostrie says there’s a part of him that gets nostalgic over the way things used to be and this is a small way to bring back the good ole days. As he held his crab pusher he told me about how he wishes he would see some of the younger kids out here enjoying the lake like he used to when he was a teenager. “I can remember 12 cars all parked at the end of Lake Rd. and everybody was out there walking in the lake with nets. This was how everyone crabbed back in the day,” LaBostrie said. “I’m just trying to keep the tradition alive and pass it on to the next generation. It’s sad to see that not many people are doing it anymore.