Crabbing is fun for the whole family and a great way to get youngsters involved in the outdoors. And, the same as fishing, you can cook and enjoy your catch!
Most any pier or dock can be a great place to set a couple of traps. If you place your traps near a dockside fish cleaning table, you might be amazed how many nice big blue crabs gather there. Bays and bayous also hold lots of crabs, and add the dimension of a fun boat ride to the crabbing adventure. Our grandkids are nuts about it.
Getting into crabbing is relatively inexpensive and takes but a tiny bit of prep work. We purchased our traps (X-Treme Traps brand) at Fishing Tackle Unlimited, some nylon rope for float lines at the hardware store, and marker buoys from a local marine supply. (Quick note: Plastic jugs and bottles do not qualify for use as crab trap buoys.)
Things you need to know to get started
Crab traps fished on a recreational saltwater fishing license require gear tags to identify the owner. Such tags can be made from any durable material upon which the owner’s name and address can be inscribed. Tags must be dated and are valid for 10 days. Tags must be placed within 6 inches of trap buoy or the pier to which they are tied. Being something of a gearhead, I made mine from aluminum and used a handstamp set to mark them.
An individual sport fisherman may operate up to six traps at a time. Crab traps may be placed or worked as early as 30-minutes before sunrise and as late as 30-minutes after sunset. Overnight sets seem to work best. Quite often we find a dozen or more crabs in our traps when freshly baited and left to soak at least 12 hours. Two or three dozen large blue crabs makes a meal for four adults and appetizers for eight.
Primary species sought are blue and stone crabs. Blue crabs should be taken whole and can be used for food or bait, while only the righthand claw may be taken from stone crabs and the live crab returned to the water. It will grow a new one!
Size matters – blue crabs must measure at least 5-inches across the points of the carapace. Female crabs with “egg sponge” attached to abdomen may not be retained. Stone crab claws must measure at least 2.5-inches from tip of claw to first joint of immovable claw.
A variety of baits will attract crabs – but if you use fish, only nongame species are allowed – no part of a redfish, speckled trout, or flounder may be used. We prefer mullet, skipjack, hardhead catfish, and pinfish. Any of these are easy to obtain with hook and line or cast net. We make gathering the bait part of the experience – great fun for kiddos.
Crab traps must have escape vents for undersize crabs and other small non-target creatures to get out of the trap. The traps we purchased come equipped with these. The trap must also include a bio-degradable panel or the door must be held shut with a single strand of untreated jute or sisal twine that will deteriorate and prevent the device from continuing to operate in the event it becomes lost or abandoned.
Good places to find crabs
So, we’ve got our traps all ready to go and we’re ready to head out and get a mess of crabs. Where’s a good place?
We have found that grassy bottoms generally hold more blue crabs, and oyster reefs lying in 6- to 8-feet of water have the most stone crabs.
Setting in the bay, a good rule of thumb is that your traps should be set only where you will be able to retrieve them by boat on a normal low tide. Mud and sand bottoms devoid of grass and some amount of scattered shell are typically not very productive. The mouths of marsh drains can be especially productive. If you are a wade fisherman you might already have some places in mind. Think of the places where the fishing is normally good and you will likely also find the crabs plentiful.
Be mindful of boat traffic and your fellow users. Nobody appreciates having to weave through a line of crab buoys in a narrow navigable channel.
Conservation and sporting ethics
Crabbing is open year ‘round – except during the annual 10-day closure in February, legislated for the purpose of allowing volunteers and law enforcement personnel to remove derelict crabbing gear from coastal waters.
There are no bag limits – but stewardship of coastal resources should always direct our efforts. Catch enough for a meal or two and pull your traps. Crabs are always best when fresh, anyway.
Please, never allow your traps to sit unattended for days and never abandon them. Set them out one day and check or retrieve them the next.
A trap left unattended or abandoned will continue to attract marine life. Curiosity kills the cat – fish and crabs, too. A fish or crab enters the trap and then attracts others – same as a minnow trap. Once inside, and with nothing to eat, they eat each other. It’s called ghost fishing and unattended gear can waste more than a good day’s catch in just a few days!
Take the kids
I cannot stress enough the importance of involving children and teens in the outdoors and crabbing is a great way to accomplish it. You might be happy as a clam grinding the flats all day but their attention spans are much shorter. Take the afternoon off, get the family onboard, and set some crab traps. Next afternoon, round up the traps and get ready for some fine eating. It will be good for everybody!Disclaimer: The presentation of regulations and requirements for recreational crabbing provided here is by no means comprehensive. Please consult your local game warden, local TPWD Enforcement Office, or the TPWD Outdoor Annual publication you receive when you purchase your fishing license for more information.