Living the coastal lifestyle means embracing seafood as part of your cuisine. While fishing can be time consuming and expensive, there are alternatives from which to net your own seafood. Crabbing is a simple yet exciting way to catch your next dinner. The most common type of recreational crabbing is in pursuit of the blue crab. The blue crab is found in every east coast state from Maine to Texas.
The best place to crab is in coastal tidal waters. It can occur from a dock, small bridge, jetty, or even from a small boat. At a minimum you will need a bucket, bait, and the gear listed in one of the methods below. Never place crabs in a bucket of water because they will actually consume all the oxygen from the water causing them to suffocate and drown. You should also discard any dead crabs at the end of your outing. The meat of a dead crab will decay quickly and become rancid. Live crabs will be fine for several hours if they remain damp and out of direct sunlight.
There are three common ways to catch blue crabs. The methods range from very inexpensive to over a hundred dollar investment for the gear.
1. String Method and Dip Net
Chicken pieces and parts are tried and true bait for catching crabs. Even the inexpensive parts such as necks and wings work very well. Do not waste your money buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Blue crabs are opportunistic bottom feeders and are not picky. Any portion of a raw chicken will suffice quite well. Simply tie a piece of string to the chicken neck and toss is the water (ensure you are holding onto the other end). Let the bait sit in the water for a minute or two. You should see some gentle tugging on the line before too long. If not, give the string a slight pull to test it for resistance. A blue crab will actually hold onto the chicken piece and ride the string all the way to the surface if you pull slowly and gently. Once near the surface, use a dip net to scoop the crab from the water before it breaks the surface of the water because the crab will usually let go once it clears the waterline. Use multiple lines of bait and rotate checking each one until you feel the pull.
2. Collapsible Traps
The next step up in sophistication is the collapsible trap. Theses trap are not expensive ($7.00 to $18.00 depending on the size and design) and are easy to use. The theory is similar to the string method. A chicken piece is placed and tied inside the trap. The trap is lowered into the water via a long line. As the trap hits the bottom, it opens up and lays flat. After a few minutes, pull the line which will close the trap. The advantage to a collapsible trap is you lose fewer crabs since they cannot escape should they let go. The disadvantage is you have to pull the trap all the way to the surface to see if you have a catch, where as in the string method, you simply have to check for resistance by pulling on the string.
The final method involves a large crab trap called a pot. The center bait holder of the pot is filled with dead fish or chicken parts and lowered into the water. This can be done from a dock or from a boat if you attach a small buoy to the line. The advantage is the potential to catch many crabs inside the pot. The disadvantage is the time required to wait for your catch. Crab pots are typically placed in the water for an entire tide cycle, but you can pull them sooner. Be careful to have enough line attached to the trap should you leave it for a long period of time. The tide depth may pull your trap from the bottom if it is attached to a floating dock at high tide or crush it by sitting on top your trap at low tide.