Crabbing for Fun
Crabbing is a great activity for the lone fisherman or with family and friends! What's more fun than catching your own dinner?! As a sport, fishing is always hit or miss, and that's part of the thrill!
Hoop Nets & Cages/Pots vs the Almighty Crab Snare
Crabs are easy to catch using traps such as hoop nets and cages, aka, pots. Toss these baited traps into the water, wait 10-15 minutes and pull them back up. These types of traps are best used from locations with a higher ground, such as a pier, a boat or kayak... someplace where they can sit on the floor and soak while crabs make their way to the bait.
I’ve found that hoop nets and cages don’t work well in heavy surf, where the tides and swells can get pretty gnarly. The traps can be lifted off the bottom of the ocean floor, even with proper weights.
Even in low surf conditions, crabs can still escape the hoop trap while it’s being pulled up… Guess what?! Your dinner just got away! This won’t happen with pots, since they are enclosed and not open-top like hoop nets. The worst thing, these traps are bulky and heavy and a pain to carry to my fishing location.
What I Use
My favorite method of catching crabs is the versatile and light-weight Crab Snare! I skip the heavy traps, grab my snares and head to my favorite fishing spots--this can be the beach, the jetty, the pier, off a boat or kayak, or even off a cliffside along the coast!
What to Bring:
- Fishing license (where required by law)
- Fishing Rod & Reel - 9’ or longer surf rod with medium-heavy action & 6000 reel or better
- Crab Snares - 2 or more, in case you lose a few
- Crab gauge/ruler - a must to be in compliance
- Bait - Squid, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, chicken--Anything Smelly!!
- Bucket to store your catch
- Portable Battery-powered Air pump and airstone
Setting the Snare
Using the snare is pretty simple. A bait cage is rigged with a complement of loops and is baited with your choice of bait. The snare is then attached to your rod via a swivel snap, then cast out into the open waters. Attracted to your smelly bait, crabs will approach the snare and get its limbs into the loops trying to get at its meal. On a good cast, you may be able to ensnare two, maybe even three, crabs.
I Got the Feels!
Crabs are slow creatures and won’t fight back like fishes. Knowing if you have a crab on the line is a skill that can be mastered. The bite of a crab isn't as easy to feel as a fish bite! So how can you tell? Try one of these methods:
- Give your line a slight tug. If it feels heavy, a crab or two might be sitting on top of your snare and feeding
- Keeping a finger on your line, feel for any “scratching.” This could indicate that the crab clawing at the bait
- The Tried and True, the Hail Mary! If you can’t tell from the other two methods, there’s no harm in trying your luck and reeling it in. I've reeled in a few this way!
Reeling in Your Catch
First things first! Reel in any extra slack on your line and make sure it’s tight. Then yank your rod upwards as fast and hard as you can while cranking the reel. When you yank, the loops close and tighten onto the claws, legs, or even the body of the crab.
You’ll be able to tell almost instantly if there’s something on the line; it will feel extremely heavy. Keep reeling and don’t stop!. You want to keep the loops tight onto the crab’s limbs. Any slack or slowing down and could allow your catch to get away. Upsurges from tidal swells have been known to cause losses of one’s catch… the crab lives to see another day!
Is it a keeper?
After you reel in your catch, remove them from the snare. Then take your crab gauge and measure each crab to ensure that they are legal (know your local regulations!). In California, Dungeness crabs can be kept if they are 5¾ inches or longer and Rock crabs must measure 4 ¼ inches or more. I usually toss back the females even if they are legal to keep. I want to do my part to maintain the future of the fishery.
Now you can toss the keeper into your bucket and add some water. On a good day with multiple crabs in the bucket, stale water can kill your catch. Use your Air Pump to keep the water moving and aerated with oxygen. This’ll keep ‘em fresh until you’re ready to prepare them for dinner!