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How to Go Crabbing – A Simple Guide

So you’re new to the crabbing game are you?  Maybe you are an elite expert looking to upgrade your current crab traps or gear? As a crabber for around 20 years, I have created this guide to help you determine the absolute best trap for your current adventure. We will take a look at some different scenarios, check out a few gear options, and even recommend some fun add-ons. Let’s get to it!

Absolute Beginner

Let’s see – you have decided that you want to get into the crabbing game, but you are not sure where to start? I’m here to set you straight.  A newcomer to this fun and relaxing hobby can begin at very little cost and even better can find success right away.

The first thing to do is purchase a very cheap trap or two, ranging from around $7 to $20.  

The lower end traps will suit you fine, however always remember quality comes with the territory of low price.  If you are literally going to experiment and determine if you will ever go crabbing again, then go ahead and buy a basket trap or a cage trap.  

I would also recommend picking up some backup rope line just in case you lose some, it becomes entangled, or just deteriorates over time.

south bend wire crab netSouth Bend Crab Trap

Once you secure your crab net or trap, it’s time to determine a location in which you will go crabbing.  If you live along the east coast, west coast, or the gulf coast of the United States, there are a multitude of places that you can go.  

Simply ask the locals or hop on Google and search for crabbing locations or fishing piers by the bay.  

Usually most fishing piers double as a crabbing pier so searching in this manner can help you determine a good spot.  

Hop in your ride, and head toward your desired location.  You’ll want to time out your day so that you are setting your crab traps as the tide is coming in. 

You don’t want to get there right at high tide, as it will begin to go out as you are crabbing.  

It’s not a huge problem, however generally the idea is to be dropping your crab baskets and nets as it is approaching high tide so the crabs come in with the tide.  

There is a smart phone app called Tide Chart USA that is free and can give you a quick assessment for many locations.

Also, you may be wondering what is the best time to go crabbing. Well, we happened to have a post addressing that very question!

On the way down, you should secure some fresh bait.  

It doesn’t necessarily have to be fish, bunker, or something you think the crabs would normally eat. They generally are happy to eat any meat that you toss in the traps. 

If you happen to pass a supermarket, stop in and pick up some chicken necks, chicken legs, or chicken backs.  Sometimes a grocery store by the beach will actually have chicken labeled “crab bait” which is cheaper and generally easy to hack up and add to your collapsible crab trap.

Add the bait to your traps with string, or with some crab trap wire to keep it stable and difficult to remove by crabzilla if he happens to show up in your trap. Once you find a good fishing pier or dock, spread out your nets and cover as much ground as possible.  

Sometimes the tide can be strong, so ensure that your baskets are touching the ground.  If the string pulls very taut then it’s likely that the tide in that area is too strong.  Add some additional weights to the bottom of your crab nets, which can be purchased from a local bait shop or fishing store.  I usually use an 8 oz. weight if I need some extra gravity.

Be patient.  I recommend waiting 15-20 minutes in between crab trap pulls.  Have a beer. Enjoy time with your kids.  They get overly excited and always want to pull up traps within 2 minutes of checking them once.  

The more patience you can show, the more opportunity for the crabs to saunter into your baskets.

Pull the line up quickly when you make a pull, as you generally can’t feel if a crab is in the trap in the same way that you can feel a fish on a fishing line.  

Don’t be discouraged if you bring up a ton of seaweed.  That’s fairly normal, and hell you can always make a salad!

Here’s a nice video to demonstrate a few of the tips presented here:

Crab size limits differ from state to state, but usually it is somewhere between 5″ and 6″ for a keeper.  Also, it is generally advisable to throw females back as without enough females crabs cannot repopulate and keep up with crabbing missions that dwindle their numbers. Learn what a pregnant blue crab female looks like.

Snag yourself a crab caliper to help you measure size!

How to Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Crab

Here is the difference between a male and a female blue crab:

how to tell the difference between a male crab and a female crab

Quite frankly, a male crab underbody looks like a penis, even though that is not the actual penis.  You really can’t screw it up.  They also have blue claws whereas females have “painted red nails.”

If you store crabs after catching them, you can use a cooler or bushel basket, but never fill it with water and leave them in there for long periods or they will drown! It’s actually OK to keep crabs out of water, perhaps dousing them here and there if it’s hot, but never submerged for long.  Learn how to keep crabs alive.

Bring your crabs home or sell them. There are plenty of guides out there on how to clean, steam, and cook crabs, so go ahead and take a stab at it if you think you’re up for the challenge.

Experienced Jedi

The Crabbing Zone offers plenty of crab trap supplies, crab trap designs, harnesses, and all in one bundles for sale on Amazon. There is something for everyone here, whether you need to replace your old rusty traps or simply refresh your gear and gadget arsenal.  We are on the look out for all in one solutions so that we can save you the time of searching far and wide for what you need.  The Ultimate Crabbing Kit is the cream of the crop and perfect for someone looking to dominate right away.  You get crab trap buoy/floats, bait cage, crab caliper, and zinc anode to help prevent corrosion.

Have a look at the crab pots category as well as the nets category.

We also love to help out men and women of the sea who love to kayak or boat out and drop their traps into the middle of the bay attached to a buoy.  We search far and wide for great stuff you may not find anywhere else. Check out this inflatable pontoon boat for example.  Speaking of pontoon boats, if you already have one, why not strap a pontoon boat grill onto the side!  Talk about the absolute best Father’s Day gift around.

pontoon boat crabbing grill


Finding a Location

If you would like to try your hand at crabbing, there are a few important points to keep in mind when it comes to location.

One is that you need to go during the right time of year.

If you go during a period when crabs are dormant, then you will not have much luck.

For most people there are two or three main ways to go crabbing.

Deploying Crab Traps

Find a Pier

In many coastal cities on the east and west coast, designated fishing and crabbing piers are placed in certain locations. You should be able to find a spot using Google maps, but you can also use our location guide if you happen to be near one of the more popular towns.

Beginner crab traps are very inexpensive, so you can get a quality trap for as little as $5. You can order them online or you can simply find a local fishing and boating store.

Once you have the best bait, simply drive to the pier, load up your traps, and toss them into the bay! It is not really possible to crab directly into the ocean, so always try to find the calm waters of a nearby bay or creek.

Rent a Small Boat

You can also choose to traverse shallow waters using a small rental boat. This could be a motorboat or pontoon boat that allows you to reach nearly any spot in the bay.

In this situation, you could use the classic hand-line method which involves tying a piece of bait to a wire and slowly lowering it into the water.

You can also deploy crab traps, but you are going to ensure you have a buoy of some kind so that you can come back to the trap later. Without this water marker, you will probably lose your trap!

Wading In Knee-High Water

You might have knee-high bay water or a creek nearby that could be a potential spot to catch crabs.

If this is the case, buy some muck boats or knee-high boats and bring your traps out into the water. Remember to attach a buoy and deploy your traps into the water.

If you live close enough, you can even just leave your traps in the bay for a day or two. Just be sure not to wait too long or the crabs might die from being struck in the trap too long.

Dungeness Crab

That’s it!

Hopefully this simple guide on how to go crabbing will help you out. Using this method you should be able to catch both blue crabs and dungeness crabs.