Islander introduces his grandchildren to a favorite coastal pastime
Galvestonian Darryl Tramonte grew up a block away from the beach and enjoyed all that seaside living had to offer, he said.
“I was the youngest of four boys, and I did what they did,” Tramonte said. “I was 5 or 6 years old when we started crabbing in the Gulf with cut-off broomsticks that we’d stake into the sand. Then we’d put strings across the tops, bait them with chicken necks until we got a bite. We’d get the crabs out with a dip net, put them in a tow sack or water-filled tub, take them home and eat them.”
As Tramonte got a bit older, he and his friends would go to the beach with a big pot and a nap sack, catching crabs all day. They’d build a fire on the beach — prohibited now — fill the pot with sea water, cook and eat them right there, he said.
Tramonte’s childhood memories are close to his heart. So much so, he moved back to the island two years ago after a long business career in Houston. Today, he still goes crabbing his way, with just a few minor adjustments.
With a 100-foot-long private pier just mere steps from his West End home, he has eight new crabbing partners — his grandchildren.
“They range in age from 4 to 15 years old, and when they come down here, we go crabbing,” Tramonte said. “I don’t do the broom-and-string method anymore, but still use chicken parts for bait that I put into drop nets, lower them into the water, and wait until the nets are full. Then I pull them up, flip them into a dip net, and next into the ice chest. I call that the gentleman’s approach.”
The next part is the best part, he said.
“Taking them home and eating them is the payoff,” he said. “We fill a pot with water, shrimp or crab boil, sliced lemons, and cook them till they’re red. After we pick off the meat, we make gumbo, crab cakes or just eat the delicious meat with melted butter.”
It’s important for Tramonte to teach his grandchildren about the simpler things in life, he said. He often reminds them of his heritage and his own idyllic childhood.
“We rode our bikes everywhere, played baseball on vacant lots, nobody told you when to come home, but you knew to be there by 6 p.m. for dinner,” he said. “I wish I could take my grandkids back to that time, but by introducing them to crabbing, they are getting a taste of it.”
Tramonte also is teaching his grandchildren the rules that go along with crabbing, like throwing one back that’s less than 5 inches wide, or a female with an egg-bearing orange sponge. Also, crabbing requires a license unless you’re younger than age 16.
His grandchildren have been so inspired by what they’ve learned, they have given him some nifty sets of crab tools so everyone will have a cracker and picker to dive into the tasty meat.
Those events are duly documented in a notebook, titled “Family Recipe Book, From Loved Ones,” that’s packed with 300 pages of recipes, notes and photos from both sides of the Tramonte family.
“My wife, Paula, put this together, and it’s a wonderful collection of memories that we cherish,” Tramonte said.
Both Darryl and Paula are excellent cooks and the book is filled with hundreds of ways to cook crabs, as well as how to make their special Pontchartrain sauce.
As for the ideal time to get the best crabs, Tramonte has a few tips:
“The water needs to be 75 degrees or above, because water temperature is the key,” he said. “They are warm-water creatures and seem to be bigger in August and September, but I’ve caught some monsters in June.”
Crabbing is a sport that doesn’t require much money. If you don’t have the appropriate nets and buckets, you can always resort to the broom-handle method. But putting out crab cages isn’t really a sport, in Tramonte’s opinion.
“The way we do it is easy, fun and is a family affair,” he said. “I know guys that have $600 fishing poles, but you sure don’t need that kind of money to crab. There’s also something magical about going crabbing at night under a full moon with a blanket of stars.”