That time I…faced an apex predator



A boat sits docked on bayou of Vermillonville in Louisiana.

By Jack Baudoin

Going to your local seafood restaurant and ordering some subpar crab legs is the closest most people get to crabs in Illinois. In Cajun country, where my dad grew up, people like to catch their own crabs. Being the son of a Cajun boy myself, this is how I prefer my crabs as well.

My father grew up in a small cajun town in rural Louisiana. This area of the state is surrounded by a lot of marshland, and the crab population is dense. There was one specific time I went crabbing here that made those crustaceans all the better because I could have easily never eaten crabs, or anything, ever again.

A lot of people, Cajuns included, like to use crab traps. Think of the Krusty Krab from Spongebob — that is a crab trap. When I go crabbing with my dad and his childhood best friend, however, we crab in a way that’s harder, yields less, and riskier. But that’s what makes it more fun.

Going crabbing without traps requires some important supplies:

  • A boat
  • A dock
  • Chicken meat (breasts work best)
  • A large net
  • A cooler filled with ice
  • Rope
  • A knife

In order to get out to the docks, you need a boat. Trust me, you do not want to swim with all of that gear, amongst other reasons. After tying up the boat, it is time to tie up the chicken. This step involves cutting the chicken breasts into small pieces with the knife, tying one end of the rope around the chicken and one end of the rope to the dock. It is important to make sure that the chicken is touching the bottom.

After doing this, crabbing is a lot of relaxing. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting on the dock, enjoying a cold beer in the hot, muggy Louisiana marshland. Well, it is relaxing until you come face to face with a certain prehistoric animal.

You have to walk around and test the ropes periodically. By pulling on the rope slightly you can tell a big difference between a rope with just chicken and a rope with chicken that is covered in blue-shell crabs. However, crabs are not the only animals living in these marshlands, and that’s what makes me love crabbing so much more; there’s a possibility you will encounter other dangerous and delicious animals.

The water in these marshlands is very dirty, and you can only see the chicken about two inches away from the surface. On this crabbing trip, I was enjoying myself as always, talking and laughing with my dad and his friend, when I went to check one of the ropes. I felt that it was lighter than it would be even if crabs were not on it, so I decided to bring it all the way up and switch out the meat. 

As soon as the meat was shallow enough in the water to make out, I saw an alligator that was at least eight feet long come thrashing up from out of nowhere. It grabbed the chicken and pulled the rope clean out of my hand.

If that alligator had jumped just a couple of inches higher he would have grabbed my hand and dragged me under for his dinner instead.  

After coming face to face with an animal like that, all those crabs I caught myself tasted that much more satisfying. You cannot get that experience in Illinois; the crabs in Louisiana cannot be beaten.