Broiled, grilled, fried. In a sandwich with lettuce and tomato, or dipped in remoulade and eaten
by hand. There’s no wrong way to enjoy soft shell crabs in Corolla, but the season is short and
this is the time to come out and try a platter of this regional delicacy.
Crabbing for Soft Shells – It’s All in the Timing
If you are unfamiliar with crabbing, you might think that soft shell crabs and blue crabs are
different. Actually, they are the same–the only difference being that the soft shell variety have
shed their hard shells in order to grow new ones to suit their maturing bodies. Before that
happens, however, they are harvested and cleaned for cooking. Shedding season for these
crabs occurs in a short window, typically from April to May and sometimes a second run in June,
though some crabbers do preserve their harvest to serve throughout the summer.
Local crabbers set their pots in the Currituck Sound in early March, or when the water
temperature reaches 60-62 degrees Fahrenheit, in anticipation of catching crabs beginning the
shedding process. Crabbers looks for specific qualities in their yield before choosing which
crabs go to the shedder tables:
● The crabbers look for jimmies, male crabs, first because jimmies will shed sooner than
she-crabs. Male also shed indefinitely, whereas females stop after they have matured.
● Crabbers look for “line feelers,” pink or red lines on the back legs. These lines indicate
the crab’s ripeness and how close they are to shedding.
● Crabbers identify jimmies by three sizes: hotel, prime, and jumbo.
Hotel crabs are small enough to be eaten in two bites, therefore primes and jumbos are
sought for the market.
Shedding crabs are quickly separated from their hard-shelled counterparts, because the blue
crab will try to eat their own while they are unprotected!
Once the ripening crabs are collected, they are placed in the shedding tables, which contain
shallow basins of brackish water, and monitored every few hours. Crabs shed according to the
water’s temperature, and will grow soft covers underneath their current hard shells before
molting. Once they shed, they are basically defenseless for several hours until their new shells
harden. The newly shed crabs are removed immediately in preparation for market.
Soft shell season varies yearly depending on various factors, including changes in weather and
when they are harvested. When you see soft shells on the menu at your favorite Corolla
restaurant, don’t pass up the opportunity for a special treat!
Click here to see a video of the Soft Shell Harvest.
Keep an eye out for soft shells when you come to Corolla for your vacation this year. If the
window shuts beforehand, you can still enjoy other seafood from the Currituck Sound.
Download our free app to stay updated on area restaurants and other events happening in
Corolla and mainland Currituck this coming season. Bring your appetite!