Blue Swimmer Crabs

Blue Crabs area seafood delicacy in South Australia and many people devote many hours of their spare time in the warmer months in the pursuit of them.  They have sweet, delicate flesh that lends itself well to a variety of cooking methods, although keeping is simple is the best possible method to employ.

There are a couple of methods use to catch these crabs by recreational fisherman.  Both techniques are simple and great fun.

There is a saying that crabs can be caught here in any month with an ‘r’ in it.  These months coincide with spring, summer and autumn.  The warm shallow sand flats north of the State’s capital, Adelaide, attract numbers of crabbers at this time of year.  Good catches depend on tidal movement and luck.  A phenomenon called a dodge tide occurs here in South Australia.  This is a period of very little tidal movement.  Crabbing is usually very poor during a dodge tide.  A few days before and after the dodge, the tides are a bit sluggish, but there is water movement. 

Equipment wise you will need a crab rake; which is a wire rake with larger but fewer prongs than a garden rake and a fan shaped head.  A tub is essential to put the crabs in and this is usually tied to your waist so you can tow it behind you.  Shoes are usually necessary, as the sea bed you’ll be walking over contains shell-grit, razor fish and small rocks that can damage unshod feet.  Given that crabbing is usually undertaken in warm or hot weather, you will also need plenty of sunscreen and a hat.

The technique in these tidal flats is to choose a low tide and wade out into the water until you find broken bottom.  This consists of weed beds with sand patches.  The crabs bury themselves in the sand at low tide.  Their hiding spot is sometimes given away by a bluish or grey patch of disturbed sand.  A day with little or no wind is preferable as the wind ruffles the surface of the water making the bottom more difficult to see.

As mentioned above, the crabs bury themselves in the sand, so the entire surface of the small sand patches will need to be raked.  You can get away with raking just the edges of the larger sand patches.  If you do see the bluish grey of disturbed sand, make this area a priority.  It does not always mean that a crab is buried there, but it could be that one has seen you coming and just dug himself in.

Blue CrabsCredit: Steven Pike

Some people ask, “How will I know if I’ve found a crab?”  If your rake hits a crab, you will know.  It can be quite a violent reaction.  There will be clanging on the end of your rake as the crab attacks it.  Scoop the crab up onto the rake and use the downward pressure of the water as you lift the rake up to keep the crab attached to the rake.  The next part is the most difficult of the entire process.  Once the rake leaves the water, you will have a short time only to transfer the crab into your tub.  At times, the crab will latch onto the rake with its claws and will take an awful lot of prying to remove.  On occasions though, as soon as your rake leaves the water, the crab will let go and try to shuffle off the rake and back into the water. 

This technique is one well established in South Australia and it certainly can be a lot of fun.

The second technique is not quite so sporting and involves the use of nets set from a boat or jetty.

Nets most commonly used are the double ringed hoop nets.  They are durable and very easy to use.  A wire bait latch used in the centre of the bottom of the net keeps the bait secure and allows you to change baits quickly.  The only real consideration is how much rope you will need, which of course depends on how deep the water of how high the jetty.

The best bait for crabs is fish or squid.  Old bones from the butcher are also popular, but the use of this bait from metropolitan jetties has been banned here due to the blood content in the meat and its apparent attraction to sharks.  Regardless, fish and squid are better baits.

Whether setting the nets from boat or jetty, look for broken bottom amongst weed beds.  Once again tidal movement is important with either a strong out going tide (preferable) or a strong incoming tide the preferred scenario.

If there are a few crabs around, check the nets about every ten minutes or so otherwise they will decimate your bait supply in very quick time.

The advantage of having a boat is you can pick your own spot and quickly move on to another one if your first is not producing.  At times a move from shallow to deep water or vice versa may be all that is required to find the crabs.  You can also utilise your time between pulling crab nets to fish for other species.

Both male and female blue crabs are caught and it is important to know the difference between the two.  The big blue males are the most desirable catch.  The females are a dull brown colour with shorter, stubbier claws.  On the underside of the crab, you will notice a flap; the males is a narrow flap, whilst the females much broader.

Male Blue CrabCredit: Steven Pike

It is best to just keep the males and throw the females back.  If a female crab has eggs then it must be thrown back, and it is illegal to keep a female crab with eggs.  Because crabs are such a popular target here, they are protected by strict fishing regulations, all of which should be adhered too, including size and bag limits.  Please be mindful of any such laws in you home country or state and stick to them.

The best and simplest way to cook crabs is to bring a large pot of water to the boil, preferably salt water.  When it has boiled, place as many crabs as will comfortably fit into the water, and then bring it to the boil again.  Leave the carbs in there for about 5-7 minutes.  They will be a bright orange/red when cooked.  You should then cool then as quickly as possible to prevent the meat from continuing to cook in the shell.  This is best done by placing the crabs straight into a mixture of water and ice immediately after they have been taken out of the pot.

Once cooled, they are ready to be eaten, usually with just salt and pepper to taste.  The white flesh has a distinctive flavour, a delicacy here and the reason why so many people fish for blue crabs.