Blue Crabs: My Best Crabbing Spots in Florida
Family Fun with Crabbing
My family and I have caught hundreds of stone and blue crabs over the years. We've done almost all of our crab fishing in Georgia and Florida, in the Atlantic Ocean as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re thinking of trying your hand at crabbing, great! Even little kids can get in on the action. It’s a wonderful family activity and can be deliciously rewarding. Read on to find out more information about blue crabs, stone crabs, crab traps, crab nets, and crab season. I’ll even share my “secret” blue crab spot with you!
Blue Crab Facts
Blue crab is maybe the tastiest crab on the planet. It’s sweet, mild, delicate and is prized by chefs and gourmets alike. With blue crabs so abundant in Florida, I’m always surprised by beach vacationers who never even think of catching their own. Not only is crabbing a fun activity that the whole family can do, the rewards are delicious – and cheap.
Blue crab can be served in many different ways. Some of my favorite recipes include crab cakes, crab pie, crab salad, crab quiche, and hot, cheesy crab spread. Of course, like most blue crab enthusiasts, I think they are best steamed with beer, vinegar, and spices. Once the critters are cooked, all you need is a mallet, crab crackers, melted butter, and some hot sauce or other spicy seasonings.
On some of our crabbing adventures, we’ve also caught stone crab. In most of the areas in Florida where we’ve crabbed, blue crabs are far more abundant than stone crabs. When we catch a stone crab, however, it’s a reason to get excited!
Stone Crab Claws
With a stone crab, only the claws are eaten. Some of these rascals have very meaty claws, and the meat is much easier to retrieve from a stone crab than it is from a blue crab. And, as you'll see below, you don't have to kill the crab either!
Stone crab claws are awesome! We don’t usually use a lot of spices with them like we do with blue crabs. We like to dip the meat in melted butter, lime juice, and a little salt. Sometimes we use a mustard sauce for stone crab claws.
Once you catch a stone crab, you simply break off the larger “arm” and claw, or if you so choose, you can remove both claws. The crab will grow a completely new, functional claw in a few months, provided it gets enough food. You can help with it grow back too, which I'll get to shortly.
Crabbing Line Instructions
It’s actually pretty easy, as long as you’re crabbing in a good spot. In my opinion, the easiest and most successful crabbing is done with large wire crab traps. That’s not the only method, however.
If your crab experiences will be few and far between and you don't want to invest in the large wire traps, you can quickly learn how to catch crabs the old-fashioned way: with a string or line and a dip net. With this method, you tie a piece of bait to one end of the weighted line and then toss the line into a likely spot. Leave the line still so that you can watch it closely for any movement. When you see or feel a tug on the line, slowly pull it in. When you see the crab, carefully slip the net under it, and voila! You’ve caught your first blue crab.
How to Catch Crabs:
Blue Crab Season
Before you get all excited, you need to know when the crabbing season is for your area. In Florida, blue crab season is all year unless you’re crabbing further out than three miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico or in federal waters. These short closures are by region – not state wide.
Recreational crabbers are allowed to have up to five crab traps each, and you can catch any-sized blue crabs. I'd recommend throwing back the small ones, though – they’re more trouble than they’re worth, so it’s better to let them grow up and produce more crabs.
It's also best to release the females. If they have eggs, you have to throw them back - otherwise it's up to you. Females with eggs are usually called “sponge crabs” due to the eggs' sponge-like growth. The bag limit for blue crab in the Sunshine State is ten gallons of whole crabs per day – and that’s for each recreational crabber.
Florida Stone Crab Season and Harvesting Rules
The state of Florida is stricter with its stone crab season. Stone crab season opens October 15 and remains in effect through May 15. The minimum legal size for the claw is two and three-quarter inches, measured from the joint at the end of the claw to the tip of the shorter claw. The recreational limit is one gallon of stone crab claws per person. If you're on a boat, you can harvest up to two gallons, provided that there are at least two people crab fishing. However, that's two gallons total, not per person!
In Florida, it’s legal to take both claws from a stone crab as long as they both measure two and three-quarters inches – except, of course, for females with eggs. I'd recommend against taking both stone crab claws. It’s much better to take the larger claw and leave the crab with one to feed and defend itself. The mortality rate is much, much lower that way, which means more stone crab claws in the future! To see how to remove stone crab claws correctly, check out the video below.
How to Remove Stone Crab Claws:
There are several types of crab traps you can buy. If you’re handy, you might even decide to build your own. We’ve tried metal pyramid crab traps, collapsible metal crab baskets, string traps, and mesh box traps. After buying and using our first box trap, we’re never going back to any other type.
Box traps are sturdy, so they don't fall apart like the string traps. It has a special holder for the bait, too, so the crabs won't eat the bait as quickly. With the box traps, you set the bait, throw the trap out, and leave it. The crabs can’t escape – unless they’re too small to bother with, anyway. These traps can also catch several crabs at one time. Honestly, if you visit the coast often, these crab traps are a great investment! They work equally well as blue crab traps and as stone crab traps.
Different crabbers have different ideas about what makes the best crab bait. From my experience, the best bait for blue crab is a smelly, oily fish like mullet or menhaden, but practically any type of fish or other flesh will work. Lots of crabbers prefer chicken parts, especially necks and backs. Chicken has the advantage of being tougher and lasting longer than most fish. One thing I have noticed is that stone crabs seem to be a little pickier about the bait they go for. In my experience, if you want to chow down on some fresh stone crab claws, go with the chicken.
Crab nets can refer to dip nets used with line crabbing, or to seine nets used to catch crabs. Believe it or not, sometimes all you need to catch a crab is a net: no bait or line necessary! The grandkids often catch blue crabs by just sighting them and trapping them in their little crab nets. This method works best in small tidal pools.
We’ve used small seines as crab nets, too, with good results. The first time I went seining for crabs, I thought there was no way we were going to catch any crabs with such a short net – I think it was only six feet in length. My friend who lived at the beach, however, assured me that she often caught crabs with it. After the first pull, I became a believer. Try using one yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Best Crabbing Spots in Florida
Okay, readers, I’m going to share three of my favorite crabbing spots in Florida with you. One of them – the best of all – is sort of a secret, so keep it to yourself!
3. Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island
My third best spot is located in Northeast Florida, on Amelia Island. It’s the Amelia River at Fort Clinch State Park. Go to the river campground, where there’s a narrow beach at the river. This beach is rarely crowded. In fact, you might be there all alone. It’s not safe for swimming, and the beach is too small for beach activities. There might be a fisherman or two there, but most of them will probably be on the park’s pier.
If you’re using box crab traps, you can toss them in and tie them to the small dock. For line crabbing, try anywhere along the shore, but don’t go out too deep. The current in the deep channel can be deadly. At this spot, we’ve caught only blue crabs.
2. Between Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe
My second best crabbing spot is on the Gulf, between Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe. This area is located on the Florida Panhandle. There’s a large bridge connecting the two towns, and underneath that bridge is a great place for blue crab fishing.
We’ve never used crab traps here, but we’ve cleaned up on blue crabs! We used the line method, along with the spot-and-dip method. The kids loved this! They just walked along the shore, looking for swimming crabs. When they saw one, they’d scoop it up in a net. This spot ties with Anna Maria Island, which isn’t quite as good for blue crabs, but it’s great for stone crabs. Try any of the small canals on the eastern side of the island.
Port St. Joe, FL
1. Simpson Creek (South of Amelia Island)
Okay, here’s the best spot in Florida that I’ve found for blue crabs. It’s in a tidal creek called Simpson Creek, located between the southern tip of Amelia Island and Jacksonville. If you head south from Amelia Island on First Coast Highway, start looking for the creek about three or four miles after you cross Nassau Sound Bridge.
You’ll need a small boat to get these big boys, and I do mean big boys! There used to be sort of a boat ramp there, but I didn't see a driveway for vehicles when I was there today, although the dirt road just north of the creek bridge might lead to one. Otherwise, you'll need a kayak or canoe.
These were the largest blue crabs I’d ever seen, and I discovered them quite by accident.
Allow me to explain. Years ago, my ex and I were trolling in a small boat for redfish, trout, and flounder. We went pretty far up the creek, towards the east, and we found a deep pool. We decided to anchor and do some casting. Hubby caught a 4 ½ foot-long shark, and he decided to haul it into our fourteen-foot bass boat. Do the math! This was not a good situation, and I was not a happy camper. “Jaws Junior” wasn’t happy, either. In fact, it was downright hostile. It began thrashing about, flipping its tail, and chomping at everything within reach of its pointy teeth. The ex- was unfazed. He was determined to get some nice shark fillets.
Once the shark was killed and we had caught our breath, we noticed the shark damage. Fishing gear, soda cans, and papers were scattered in the water. As we were cleaning up, I noticed a giant blue crab inspecting a paper wrapper of some sort. As I watched, fascinated, another bruiser began fighting the first crab for the paper. Now, I’ve never been one to ignore an opportunity, so I decided to give the shelled warriors something better to chew on. I tied a piece of cut mullet to a section of fishing line, and into the brine it went – right next to the boat. Those two crabs latched onto that smelly mullet like it was the greatest treat in the world. Heck, they were so voracious that I didn’t even have to use a dip net! They hung on long enough for me to drop them into our massive cooler. This happened over and over again, until our ice chest almost runneth over. We had a blue crab feast! I’ve returned to about the same spot several times, and I had great success again and again. When I used chicken necks, I even caught a few stone crabs along with the blue, so we enjoyed a blue crab and stone crab claws “pig out.”
Why is this such a great spot for crabs? I’ve thought about this a lot. We were pretty far up the creek, and the crabs seemed completely unafraid of us, so maybe they don’t come in contact with many humans. Also, I don’t think there’s much crabbing pressure there. I’ve never seen anyone else crabbing in the creek. In fact, I’ve rarely seen more than a couple of fishermen there at any one time. The crabs probably have access to lots of food, too, as the creek is abundant with fish. Rut-roh – good thing we’re headed to Florida for some fishing and crabbing in two weeks. I’m craving steamed blue crabs now!