Anybody up for some crab meat?

I’m writing this after spending an afternoon with Delmer Scott.  Scott is a native Texan, although not the sort you might expect. He does not wear a Stetson, plate-sized belt buckle, or lizard-skin boots.  He’s distinctly more short and round than tall and lean.  I cannot imagine him on a horse.  

Scott is a gulf coast product, a former commercial fisherman.  In his youth he built a boat and made his living dragging nets and selling shrimp.  He’s now semi-retired and owns a small RV park on a pleasant expanse of salt water.

These days his quest for seafood is limited to running a few crab traps, from which he boils enough to invite the park and neighbors.    

Running crab traps is best done by two people.  One manages the boat while the other drags traps from the water, shakes out crabs, re-baits, and tosses back the trap.  The unskilled job is mine.  

Before leaving I don a pair of bright orange rubber overalls and a contrasting yellow slicker.  I should wear white boots, but make do with green ones brought from Iowa.  Heavy gloves are a must.  While I’m getting into this clownish costume Delmer mixes an adult beverage.  This is important, he explains, because when one ventures to sea one never knows. When the weather is bad, or partly overcast, he takes a double.    

We’d put out about twenty traps a couple of days earlier.  They’re made of coated wire mesh, 2 foot x 2 foot x by 18 inches.  On each side are openings through which crabs can crawl in, but not out.  Bait can be anything from turkey necks to hot dogs. We use fish carcasses.      

Powderhorn is a shallow, salt water lake about eight miles long and a mile or two wide.    The traps are in deep water—all three feet of it.  The first trap yields only two crabs—one a female, her belly dark with eggs.  She’s released.  The next trap does better, eight nice ones.  By the time we finish we have about a bushel of keepers, and I’m nursing a painful blood blister on my left thumb.  Delmer, standing at the helm, watched me get pinched and said I was a slow learner.  Without the heavy gloves it would have been worse.  

Back at the park he fires up an outdoor burner and puts on a 12 gallon kettle half full of water.  He adds a healthy dose of Old Bay.  While the water heats we sort and wash crabs.  Delmer is fussy.  Females with eggs, anything small or less than healthy in appearance is thrown back.  If he finds a soft-shell, which is rare, he sets it aside—soft-shells are a delicacy he does not share.       

He adds crabs, 20 or so at a time, to boiling water.  They will boil for 12 minutes, turning from greenish-grey to mostly red.  A crowd gathers.  We dump the first batch on a picnic table.    

Watching people eat crabs is an experience.  Veterans are deft, striking the legs and claws with enough force to crack them, but not crush the flesh.  Separating the top shell from the bottom is a little tricky, and messy for novices, but the snow-white, sweet meat inside is worth the effort.  Frozen crabs should not be compared to fresh ones.    

Delmer keeps cooking.  Guests pick and eat and socialize for an hour.  It takes so long to extract the morsels that no one fills up—we just pick until we’re tired.  What’s left will make crab cakes another day.    

Roy Marshall is a local historian and columnist for the Red Oak Express. He can be contacted at

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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