Catching blue crabs is some of the most fun you can have on the water and also one of the easiest to master. Almost every kid who grew up on the water knows how to do it but for some reason forget how fun it is as they age and turn to pursue striped bass, flounder, bluefish and any number of other game species. Let us help you remember why it was so fun and relearn how to do it again.
If you grew up near the coast waters chance are you or your friends spent at least one summer with a bucket of bait, long-handled net and your favorite rig chasing blue crabs around the shallows. It probably didn’t take long to fill your bucket or cooler and then it was time to head home and cook a feast for the entire family. But as much fun as those days were more and more adults forget how much fun that was and now pay their crabs at a local shack. Its time to relive your childhood, or introduce your own kids to the thrill, and start filling your cooler again.
Blue Crab Catching Methods
There are 4 main methods used to target blue crabs. Which you utilize depends on personal preference and what gear you have available. Let’s look at each in more detail.
Wading – this method is the easiest and cheapest way to get into catching crabs. All you need is a long-handled net, bucket and an old pair of water shoes or waders. After locating a shallow area where crabs are located wade out into the water until it is about 3 feet deep and start slowly moving parallel to the shoreline. As you approach a crab slowly dip your net into the water, either behind it or to the opposite side of your path and scoop it up. This method works best at night, at which time you will want to add a headlamp to your supplies. Adding a buddy will allow one person to coral crabs towards the other and increase the chance of success.
Hand Line – as the name suggests this method involves using a handline. You will also need a bucket, bait and a long-handled net. Tie a piece of the boat to your line, either simple cord or heavy-duty fishing line, toss it out into the water and wait for a bite. Once you see the line go tight you know you have a crab on. Slowly pull the line in hand over hand until it is within reach with the net, position the net under the crab and either scoop it up or continue to retrieve until the crab it’s the surface at which point it will usually drop of into the net on its own. Another option is to run multiple lines that are tied off to stakes, either in the water or along the shore, or secured to the pier, your cooler or any stable object.
Traps – many crabbers prefer to place traps, which allow you to tend a rod or spend time with your family while waiting for crabs to arrive. Whether you are using a collapsible box/pyramid trap or hoop net the principle is the same. Attach a piece of bait inside the trap/net, lower it into the water and wait. After 15-20 minutes pull the trap to the surface and check for crabs. Remove any you have caught, check your bait and continue. Adding a weight to the bottom of your hoop net will allow it to sink quicker and driftless.
Trotline – this method requires a long line, a boat, bait, a few heavy sinkers, and a cork. Attach a weight to the end of the line (chain works well), tie bait in 4-6 ft. intervals with additional weight every 25 ft (to prevent the line from floating) and add your float to the opposite end. Deploy the line in a likely spot, let it sit and return later to pull the line and check your catch.
Blue Crab Tips
Regardless of which method you choose your goal is to put as many crabs as possible into your cooler as quickly as possible. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Bait – the two most popular baits are fish and chicken. Fish tends to attract more crabs, especially if it is oily, but chicken lasts longer. Almost any species or cut of chicken can be used but necks are preferred as they are both cheap and easy to secure. Some people prefer clams and they are especially suited for trotlines. Place the clams in a small mesh bag (4 or 5 is enough), give a few good whacks against something solid to break the shells and release more scent, tie the bag to the line/in your trap, and proceed as you would with any other bait.
Location – crabs prefer shallow areas in bays, harbors, and estuaries. Around or under docks, piers and similar structures are especially productive. Many crabbers prefer a low tide, but this depends on access and local conditions. Regardless of the tide, almost everyone agrees that a moving tide is best.
When – in most locations, late summer is the most productive period. Depending on where you are located this could start as early as late June and extend through September. If wading nighttime is more productive, however, crabs can be located and harvested at any time of day or night.
Movement - blue crabs are fast and move laterally (left or right), which should help to identify the best spot to place your net when wading. When moving crabs can display amazing speed so be ready with the net.
Know the regulations – almost every jurisdiction has enacted rules and regulations pertaining to crabbing. These rules generally cover season, creel limit, the minimum size of the crabs, number of devices permitted and whether or not females can be taken.
If wading for crabs, be sure to take along a few pieces of bait, tear off small bits and drop into the water as you move. If you follow the same path on your return trip it is likely you will find crabs hunting for and eating the bait.
Good luck and good crabbing!
Check out this awesome video of us crabbing using trotlines this year, we had a ton of fun and ate like king and queens:
January 13, 2023
I live in southwest fla. I can remember catching lots of blues with the family using lines and pole nets. However, now the Okeechobee waterway has become so polluted you can’t see 5 inches deep in the murky water and it extends all the way outto Sanibel like that. If you can find crabs here they are small and taste muddy. It’s a shame. I’d love to take my grandkids out like we used to do… just another lost memory I suppose