By Helen Mitternight
South Carolina allows you catch a crab that is up to five inches long, spine to spine. The state even has handy stickers at likely crab-catching docks, but that doesn’t help if you’re not at a dock. So Tia Clark had a crab tattooed on her leg that’s exactly the right size so she can compare on the fly and make sure she’s compliant.
Anybody who will get a crab tattoo is crazy for crabs, and Tia Clark admits that she qualifies.
A Charleston native, Tia has been in the food and beverage industry her whole life, and she’s now a bartender at Park Circle’s The Mill. She got a wakeup call when, after stopping a 20-year smoking habit cold turkey, her body reacted with hives and swelling. She began working with a doctor to change her whole lifestyle, including foregoing alcohol, and she knew she needed to lose weight to get healthy.
A year ago, Tia was at a family wedding when her cousin invited her to go crabbing.
“I was out there for about five hours,” she recalls, and she hasn’t stopped since. Working her crab lines and traps has contributed to a weight loss of more than 100 pounds, marked by a belt that keeps getting new notches to tighten it.
To share her crabby love, and she started posting photos of her catches. A friend began a Facebook page featuring those photos, “Casual Crabbing with Tia,” and a business was born last June as the page grew to more than 600 followers in the first month.
We went crabbing with her recently at Northbridge Park, and watched her toss hand lines baited with chicken legs.
“Yeah, they tell you it doesn’t matter if the chicken is fresh, but I’ve used old chicken and I’ve used new chicken, and my catch is better with fresh. Plus, the old stuff stinks up the car,” she says, laughing.
“You can see bubbles on top of the water. When you get them in a wire trap, you have to pull fast to draw the trap tight, or they can swim right out and they’re fast swimmers,” she says, pulling up a round wire trap that has a blue crab in it that measures the perfect size.
Tia doesn’t take her customers out on boats, but she says she doesn’t need to in order to get a good crab catch.
“Charleston is our oyster,” she says. “Any public land, any dock or creek. It’s all based on the weather and tides. The best water temperature is at least 70-75 degrees, but you can crab all year long. In the cold weather, the crabs just burrow down into the pluff mud.”
Guests can get a saltwater fishing license through Tia’s website and then she’ll help them catch all the crabs the weather and the state allow. Crabs aren’t guaranteed (“They call it fishing, not catching,” she grins) because Clark says she has no control over nature. What crabbers do catch legally, though, – mostly blue crabs – they can take home for a dinner they can brag about.
For Tia, crabbing is like therapy.
“I learn stuff about myself all the time out here. We took a guy out recently who used to fish, but had Alzheimer’s,” she says. “It was so special. It opened up a side of him that they hadn’t seen in a long time.”
Crabbing outings are $60 an hour for up to three people and an extra $10 an hour per person for more than three.
For more information, visit www.casualcrabbingwithtia.com.