Laws and Regulations
Check with your local Department of Wildlife Resources office to see if a license is required. Some states allow fishermen to use a small number of crab pots without a license. Others require a shellfish license at all times.
Many states also have laws regarding the size of crab you are allowed to keep. Also, some species of female crabs are not legal to keep. Check with your local bait shop or Department of Wildlife Resources office. Fines for keeping illegal crabs can be steep.
Crab Pots and Dip Nets
Crab pots can be the most effective technique on open water, especially if there are sea lions or seals that can steal bait. Use fish or fish carcasses, chicken or turkey. Shad, salmon or rockfish are popular baits on the West Coast.
Crab pots are lowered to the ocean floor with a rope attached to a buoy or float. They are allowed to sit for awhile, then hauled up. Do not place the pot in a place with a strong current.
From a dock or bridge, crab pots can be lowered and left for a longer amount of time. Check the pots twice a day for best results and largest harvest.
During calm weather, you may find some of the easiest crabbing at low tide in marshy areas. Troll slowly over areas with eel grass or other crab habitat and use a long-handled dip net to scoop crabs right into the boat. The same method may be used while wading through these areas at low tide and using a short-handled dip net.
The best crabbing occurs before the water becomes too cold. Once water temperatures fall below 55 degrees, crabs become more inactive and are not easily caught.
On the West Coast, crabbing is productive until as late as February. Once the winter rains hit, the salinity of the ocean dilutes and the crabs move farther out into saltier waters.
During the summer on the East Coast, take a dip net and try jetties, piers and seawalls right before the tide goes out. You also can fish off of docks with bait. Have a net handy to grab the crab as you pull it out of the water. Watch for those claws, they can pinch hard.
Article Written By Cate Rushton
Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.