Crabbing: A Guide for Beginners

Crabbing: A Guide for Beginners

Crabbing is the perfect way to introduce new anglers to the water, enjoy time outdoors, or spend time with friends and family. IT can even be a great way to catch your dinner if that is something you are interested in. If you have ever thought about catching your crabs but not knowing how has kept you out of the water let us help. Here are some simple tips and techniques you can use to hit the water and fill your basket in no time.


What makes crabbing so popular? First, it’s relatively easy. Almost anyone can do it regardless of age or experience. Even beginners have a high probability of success. Second, it’s inexpensive. Although it is possible to spend a great deal of money on equipment it can also be done with basic tools, some of which you may already have. More about the equipment needed later.

Where to look for crabs

Several species inhabit American waters but the most common one caught recreationally is the blue crab. This species is found along much of the Atlantic coast and is what most seafood lovers think of when they order streamed crabs. Blue crabs prefer shallow saltwater or brackish marshes, bays, and grass flats. They especially like to gather near structures, so when picking a starting point look for jetties, bridges, and piers.

Crabbing methods

As stated earlier, one of the aspects of crabbing that makes it so popular is that you do not need a lot of specialized equipment. While it is possible to catch crabs from a boat it is also easy to fill a basket from shore. The latter method is what we will focus on for beginners.

Wading – the easiest means of catching crabs is to wade shallow areas, watch for one moving across the bottom, and net it. The only equipment needed is a long-handled dip net, a basket to hold your catch, and a pair of wading shoes or old sneakers. I also like to add an intertube or pool float, which ties to my waist, and put the basket inside. This allows me to pull the basket behind me and have two hands-free. If out at night add a headlamp to your equipment list as well.

After you find a likely area wade out until the water is approximately 3 feet in depth. Slowly walk parallel to the shoreline and look for movement. Crabs are likely to hide in the sand or clumps of seaweed but will usually scatter as you approach. Once you identify are target use the dip net to scoop it up. If multiple people are working together it is possible to start at opposite ends of a small stretch of water, walk towards each other, and corral the crabs between you.

Hand lines – Another popular method, and a great one for kids to start with, is to use hand lines. The equipment needed is a spool of fishing line or string, bait, a long-handled dip net, and basket. Find a pier, jetty, or similar structure over the water. Tied a piece of bait to the string, toss it into the water, and then tie it off onshore. When you see or feel a tug on the line slowly retrieve it and when the crab is just below the surface place your dip net under the crabs. As the crabs break the surface they will release the bait and fall into the net below.

Traps – Finally, there are traps. This is a bit more expensive method than wading or handlines, but not so expensive that it will keep beginners from trying it. The equipment you will need is a basket, either a collapsible box trap or ring trap, which resembles several rings that increase in size and are held together by woven line or wire. As with hand lines, this method is best tried for a jetty, pier, or bridge. Simply tie the bait into the trap, tie a long rope to the trap, to allow for the retrieval, and toss it in. Check the trap every 20-30 minutes, removing any crabs caught and making sure your bait is still in place. The beauty of this method is it can be done while enjoying other activities nearby. There is no reason to sit and watch your traps like you would with a handline.

Regardless of which method is used I would also suggest adding the following equipment to your basic kit:

Ruler or tape measure – allows you to ensure that you are only taking legal size crabs.

Gloves or tongs – once you catch a crab you will need to remove it from your trap, net, or line. When this happens, many new crabbers are often reluctant to do so for fear of getting pinched. The gloves or tongs will allow for easier handling and help avoid the possibility of being pinched.

Damp cloth – to cover the basket and protect crabs from the sun. If you do not have a cloth, you can use seaweed found in the local area.


Crabs are scavengers so your choices of possible bait are almost endless. Many people prefer to use fish, selecting whatever is available at the local bait shop. Others use raw chicken, which tends to last longer. In a pinch, you can even use a hotdog or left-over lunch. My favorite choice is chicken necks. Not only are they cheap but they last longer than anything else I have tried. I also prefer to use aged bait- that is I let it ferment a few days before a crabbing trip. When using chicken necks I place them in a plastic bucket, secure the lid, and set it in the sun for a day or two. Be warned- this may not be something your want to place in the trunk of your car or store in the condo if on vacation, but it does result in more crabs in the basket.


Each state has regulations regarding the taking of fish and game. In most cases, this includes crabs and other saltwater species. Some areas will require a license and almost all will have a minimum size, season, and daily limit. Be sure to check with the fish and game agency having jurisdiction over where you will be crabbing to make sure you know and understand the rules.

Good luck and good crabbing!

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