A fading gray-and-white float bobs in the river on a recent morning, and Gus Muench moves toward it, navigating his flat-bottomed boat in the shallow water. After he stops the engine, he uses a hooked pole to pull the float closer and grabs the line that’s tethered to a crab trap. An electric pulley hums as it brings the trap to the surface. Muench lifts the basket out of the water, counts the crabs and shakes them into a bin, where they shuffle and scuffle before settling down.
Muench, 81, has more than 200 traps in the Little Manatee River, where he has crabbed since 1976. Today, he sells his catch and runs an ecotourism business called Gus’ Crabby Adventures.
"It’s a real pleasure to be able to be on the water," Muench said. "I’m real lucky. Real lucky."
He never liked school. He wanted to be on the Hillsborough River, running his 8-foot boat from Seminole Heights up to the dam or down to the city. In the 1940s, he said: "There were crabs everywhere. You could go out on the Courtney Campbell Causeway and catch crabs."
Muench retired from General Telephone at age 40 to pursue commercial crabbing full time. Since then, development and pollution have hurt the blue crab population. Shoreline habitats have been destroyed, the entire food chain affected.
He is not doing as well, either, since pulling traps wore out his shoulders. Within the past year, he had a knee replaced and cataracts removed. He knows his memory isn’t what it used to be, but he has no plans to retire. He crabs five days a week.
"When you stop moving as you get older, you say, ‘What’s happening to me?’ It’s because you’re not moving anymore," Muench said. "We’re not made to stop."