Crabbing in Cornwall

Sure, maybe it’s not your average post from a blog that covers Muay Thai, ice climbing and marathon running, but as you may have guessed from the name, we’ll try pretty much anything – even if it’s a past-time largely carried out by seven year-olds in the 1960s.

But, we were in Cornwall for a week, and even though we were doing a bit of cliff running and trying out a spot of paddleboarding, we still found a spare few hours to kick back, invest a couple of pound in some gear and hit the harbour to enjoy some crabbing.

Now, the chances are, unless you have kids, you haven’t been crab fishing in quite a while. Nor had we, for about twenty years in fact. But we remembered sitting on a wall of a dock somewhere in Cromer, excitedly dangling our 50 pence crab line into the water as we watched patiently, waiting for that slight tug that signified we’d caught one. Well that or it had got snagged on some seaweed.

First of all we had to go shopping for the requisite supplies. We took a fresh five-pound note from our pocket and stepped into the nearest souvenir shop. Unfortunately we weren’t entirely sure what we actually needed. Luckily the helpful Cornish lady behind the till gave us a rundown of crab fishing requirements:

1 crab line (small) – £2
1 bucket (pink, small) – £1
1 net (flimsy) – £1.25
1 pack of bait (some sort of decaying fish) – £1

25 pence  over our budget, but we had no option. If we were going to catch crabs we needed the right kit. Purposefully we strode out of the shop, tipped our hat to the shop steward and made our way over to the harbour area. Now we needed to find our spot. We paced back and forth across the walkways that circled the main port, carefully watching our fellow crabbers. Most were silent, intently staring into the depths of the water awaiting their prey. Others were jittery, pulling up their naked bait and sighing before dropping it back in.

A man of about forty called out to his wife “I’ve got one!” before waving it in the air, a look of pride on his sunburnt face. We scoped the general vicinity around him, shaking our heads at the lack of available space in an area we knew housed at least one crab. Suddenly a woman stood up and put on her jacket, by her side a child followed. They spoke briefly, probably something about Cornish pasties, then wandered off across the road and into the distance. It was the opening we needed. We leapt forward and made our claim on the space.

Sitting down on the harbour side, our legs dangling idly in the wind, we opened up the crab line. Within seconds we realised we weren’t actually sure how to use the thing. All we remembered from our youth about crab lines was a long piece of string and a hook, however what we actually found was some strangely shaped metal wire and some sort of washing machine tablet bag.

We quickly pulled out our phones and searched Google for the answer. “It’s instead of the hook!” one of us exclaimed loudly. Apparently in our safety conscious world the use of hooks had evolved into the adaption of the bait bag. We opened the decaying fish, gingerly pulling off a few chunks, and placed them in the bag before pulling the drawstring. Next we slipped the wire through it and heaved a deep breath. This was it, we were ready.

We slowly lowered the line into the water, watching as the bubbles of fish oil rose to the top. After a few seconds we felt the line give way and we realised we’d reached the bottom. Then we waited.

In all honesty we didn’t actually wait that long. Within about a minute we were pulling the line up to check it, sighing heavily, then lowering it again. “Patience” one of us whispered, “patience”.

And so we sat for ten minutes, our fingers gently held under the line, cautiously feeling for the slightest jolt or difference in weight. However there was nothing. We watched fellow crabbers around the port become suddenly animated in a furore of excitement as they hauled up their prizes, our rage building inside us. We questioned what we were doing wrong. A man next to us dressed like a golfer had caught three since we’d been there. We asked him about his technique. “Bacon” he said without an ounce of doubt, “they love bacon”.

Dammit, we had no budget for bacon. We nodded back to him, anger and respect fighting within us like Apollo and Dionysus. Were we going to sit here for the next few hours with useless bait? Were the crabs casually walking past out fish in a bag and laughing? No, we had to keep trying. The lady in the shop wouldn’t have sold us false hope. Maybe the crabs would be bored of bacon soon and our time would come.

Fifteen minutes passed and negativity suddenly set in. “We’ll give it five more minutes then go to the pub” one of us said weakly, a clown’s smile passing across his weathered face. The seconds ticked away, yet nothing. They soon became minutes until time was nearly up. We would have to return to our loved ones with nothing to show for it. Loved ones who would likely make fun of us for all the bravado we displayed earlier. But then…

Smiles spread amongst us. All the waiting, the dying optimism, had suddenly all been worth it. In an instant our moods had gone from sadness to complete joy. Memories of being a child, a bit wet behind the ears, catching that first crab in Norfolk. We’d done it. We’d succeeded.

We looked at the crab for a few moments, we even picked it up a couple if times. A small girl ran over to ask us its name. We smiled and told her she could name it, whatever she wanted. She named it Chris. To be honest we weren’t entirely happy with the name but we let it slide. We didn’t really care that much.

So after a few minutes of enjoying Chris and learning a bit about what made him tick, it was time to put him back in the water. We watched as he ran happily down the concrete back into the water with a plop, stopping occasionally as a seagull swooped at him. He was fine though, for a bit anyway.