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Where and When to Catch Blue Crabs
Blue crabs are found in tidal waters and coastal tributaries from New England down the coast to Florida and around to the Gulf of Mexico.
They are fun to catch, and catching blue crabs does not require a lot of skill or expensive equipment. A good afternoon of crabbing with the kids can provide enough crabs for a tasty dinner.
Blue crabs inhabit tidal mudflats of rivers and bays, moving into the shallows with the incoming tides to feed in marshy areas and then back to deeper water as the tide recedes. Catching blue crabs is easy, either in specialty crab traps or with a hand line and dip net, and crabs can be caught either from the shoreline or from a boat.
Look for blue crabs in tidal waters around bridges, docks, piers, and jetties. Rivers and creeks with muddy bottoms and a slowly moving current are production shoreline locations for finding crabs.
Blue crabs are most active during the incoming and outgoing tides, especially in the early morning and in the late afternoon. Here are a few tips for finding and catching blue claw crabs.
Throw Out a Hand Line
Baiting crabs with a hand line baited with a piece of chicken bone is a fun, easy, and very effective method for catching blue crabs. Baiting crabs is as simple as tying a piece of raw chicken to a weighted line, tossing it into the water to drift down and along the bottom.
Blue crabs are scavengers, and any crab in the area will quickly find the bait. Check the line frequently, feeling for the tugs from a feeding crab. Sometimes, the crab will try to run off with the bait, pulling the hand line taunt.
Slowly and gently, pull the hand line back towards you. Take your time and do not pull in the line too quickly, or the crab will let go and swim away.
As the crab slowly gets near the surface, scoop it up and out of the water with the dip net. If the crab drops off, release the hand line and let the bait sink back down to the bottom. The hungry blue crab often comes back, pulling the line out again in another attempt to steal the bait and giving you another chance to catch it.
With a little practice, this handlining technique can net a basket of blue crabs.
Things You Need to Throw Out a Hand Line
- Crab traps or hand lines with dip net
- Crab bait
- Basket for holding captured blue claw crabs
Best Blue Crab Bait
Use inexpensive, bony chicken parts such as the necks, backs, and drum sticks for blue crab bait. The bony chicken parts give weight to the bait so that it will sink, and the bones make it more difficult for the crabs to tear the bait into pieces.
Attach the hand line to one end of the chicken part, tying it securely around the bone. The weight of the bone is usually enough to carry the bait down to the river bottom without needing to add a sinker.
Some crabbers prefer oily chunks of mackerel and herring, fish heads, or baitfish including minnows and mummichogs. These are also effective baits but can be messy and a little harder to obtain.
Using Crab Traps
Using a collapsible crab trap is another fun and effective method for catching blue crabs, especially from bridges and piers that are too high above the water to reach safely with a dip net.
Tie a piece of chicken to the bottom of the crab trap and lower it to the river bottom. The doors of the trap will open, and the crabs will gather to feed on the chicken parts.
As you pull up the trap, the doors close to trap the crab inside. Pull up the crab trap periodically to check for crabs.
Handling Your Crab Catch
Keep your captured blue crabs in a basket or empty bucket (a wooden bushel fruit basket works great), out of the sun, and under a damp rag. Do not keep crabs in a bucket of water or they will die quickly.
Handle blue crabs carefully; their claws can give a nasty pinch. Hold a crab with tongs, or grab it by the base of its back flipper as shown in the following photo.
Control the crab by gently pinning it to the ground with the pole of the dip net, and then grasp the base of its flipper with your thumb and forefinger.
Hold the crab by its flipper with its claws away from you, and it cannot reach far enough with its claws to pinch you.
Blue Crabs: Tips and Fun Facts
- The claw tips of male blue crabs are tinged with blue. The marking on the underside of the male crab is long and slender and resembles a T shape (see photo).
- Female crabs have red-tipped claws.
- Female blue crabs mate only once in their lifetime but can spawn several times. The marking on the underside of the female crab is rounded with a small point towards the center.
- A large female blue crab can lay up to 8 million eggs.
- Blue crabs grow by molting or shedding their hard exterior shell. Freshly molted crabs are commonly known as 'softies' or soft-shelled crabs.
- A crab that is ready to molt is known as a 'shedder' or a 'peeler'.
- A blue crab reaches maturity in one year and can live up to three years.
- Check with your state for health advisories, local rules, and regulations regarding the fishing season, size requirements, catch limits, and other restrictions for catching and eating blue crabs.
Can you identify the blue crabs in the photos?
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- The Blue Crabs shown in the photos on this page are:
- All female
- All male
- A mix of male and female blue crabs
- It's impossible to tell the difference between male and female crabs
- Who cares? They all taste good!
- All male
To Catch Blue Crabs, You'll Need A Good Crab Trap ...
Cooking Blue Crabs
There are two main ways to cook blue crabs. The classic way to prepare blue claw crabs is to simply boil the crabs in seasoned water.
The Classic Crab Boil
To a large stock pot, add 3 or 4 quarts of cold water. Stir in a liberal amount of seasonings, such as Old Bay or Zatarain's Crab Boil. Cover the pot and bring the seasoned water to a strong boil.
Using tongs, add the live crabs to the pot, one at a time. Push the crab down into the water before adding the next crab. Continue adding crabs to the boil, making sure that each crab is fully submerged in the seasoned water.
Bring the water back to full rolling boil, cooking the crabs for 15 to 20 minutes and until the shells turn red.
Remove the crabs from stock pot with the tongs or by lifting out the steamer basket, and allow the crabs to cool completely before eating, or use the meat for other crab dishes such as my Mother's crab cake recipe!
Steamed Blue Crabs
Steaming blue claw crabs lets the sweet taste of the meat shine through. Similar to boiling, steaming crabs requires a large covered pot but only uses a few cups of salted water.
Elevate the crabs above the briny boil on a steamer basket, and steam in the covered pot for about 20 minutes or until the shells turn red.
Remove the crabs from the pot and let them cool completely.
Mom's Special Blue Crab Cakes Recipe
After a successful day of crabbing, the catch was steamed and then my mom meticulously cleaned the crabs to extract every bit of tasty meat from the shells.
When the bowl was piled high with fresh crab meat, the ultimate reward was a batch of her famous crab cakes—well, they were famous in our house. I hope you enjoy her recipe as much as we do.
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
Makes 8 Crab Cakes
- 4 to 5 slices of firm white bread with the crust removed and torn into pieces
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 large egg - slightly beaten
- 2 tbsp shallots - chopped fine
- 2 tbsp parsley - coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ cup butter (for clarified butter)
- 1 lb of fresh blue claw crabmeat
- Chop the bread in a food processor, reducing the pieces to fine breadcrumbs.
- In a separate bowl, combine the mayo, egg, shallots, parsley, lemon juice, mustard and red pepper flakes. Mix well.
- Fold in the crabmeat and 1 cup of the processed breadcrumbs. Reserve the rest of the breadcrumbs.
- Shape approximately 1/3 cup of the crab cake mixture into a patty. Coat the patty with the reserved breadcrumbs and transfer to a plate or cookie sheet.
- To make the clarified butter, microwave the butter in a covered glass bowl until melted (approximately 1 to 1-½ minutes). Let stand and cool for two minutes. Skim any foam off the top and discard.
- In a skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tbs of the clarified butter and 2 tbs of oil. Add a crab cake, cooking for 3 to 4 minutes until golden brown and delicious. Turn, and cook on the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pan to a warm oven.
- Wipe out the skillet, then add the butter and oil to cook the next round of crab cakes. Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy!
More Delicious Crab Recipes
- Dave's Low Country Boil
"This boil is done best on an outdoor cooker. It has sausage, shrimp, crab, potatoes and corn for an all-in-one pot all-you-can-eat buffet!"
- Cooking Louisiana - Boiled Crabs
A "seasoned water" style for boiling fresh crab
- Crab Boil Spice Mix Recipe
Easy crab boil spice mix may be used for shrimp, crawfish, lobster or crab.
- Spicy Boiled Crabs with Shrimp, Potatoes, Corn and Garlic
Recipe by Epicurious
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna
Tell us about your tips for catching blue crabs!
slpr48 on May 31, 2019:
old chicken necks or thighs tied to string
Tom Maybrier on August 12, 2014:
Unfortunately there's no blue crab where I live but I enjoyed your lens all the same, delicious!
RinchenChodron on February 28, 2014:
Your chicken bone bait tip is priceless. I live in Colorado - no crabs to be found.
ajp71555 on February 26, 2014:
Great lens on one of my favorite summer past times! My wife and I like to drift through the salt marsh in our canoe and scoop up the blue crabs with dip nets.
Infohouse on February 03, 2013:
I love soft shell crabs.
Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on January 15, 2013:
When one loves crab, one should not read recipes about them right before dinnertime. Now I'm starving -- and I want some Blue Crabs to eat! :)
CampingmanNW on January 14, 2013:
Your lens appears well researched and written. I applaud your good work .Myself, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I prefer Dungenous crab to Blue. However, living on the Texas gulf coast now days though, I have learned to eat the native crab. As described in your lens, they require little work to catch but it does take a lot of Blue crab for a decent meal. Good lens, keep 'em coning. Thank you and I wish you well
ohcaroline on January 14, 2013:
I remember the first time my sister tried to boil crabs in a big pot and one tried to climb out of the pot. She was screaming all over the kitchen.
Earnlat on January 13, 2013:
I also enjoy crabbing for blues, and prepare them a few ways including steaming!!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on January 11, 2013:
Ah blue crabs. This is exactly what I was searching for this morning. I hope the New Year finds you happy, healthy, and well. Best of wishes for an amazing New Year.
anonymous on December 30, 2012:
Now I think I'd love to go crabbing. I do love eating them. This is a wonderful lens!
Gayle Dowell from Kansas on August 18, 2012:
Great lens. Had a friend who would cook blue crab. Now I know how to catch and cook them. Thanks!
JosephsJewelry LM on August 18, 2012:
I would like to try catching some blue crabs and educating my kids a little more now that you have educated me some. Thanks for the information.
selah74 on August 17, 2012:
I've never caught blue crab before--craw dad fishing, but that's probably different, eh?
justmelucy on August 17, 2012:
Wow the memories are flooding back. We used the string and chicken neck approach. My mom would take all 7 of us out crabbing.in order to improve the odds of catching a mess. Once home we would spread out newspaper on the table while Mom steam boiled the crabs. At 4 years old, I knew how to dip that sweet crab meat in butter and suck on the legs like a straw. I just wish they grew bigger. Great Lens!
sojourner-1 on August 17, 2012:
I am from Alaska and love these crabbies. Great lens...
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on July 26, 2012:
Fantastic lens! I always order blue crab when visiting a place that has fresh seafood offerings (catch of the day). I always associate blue crab with Galveston, as that is where I often enjoy a great crab cake. Really appreciate having your mom's recipe. Congrats on your feature and Purple Star. Well-earned honors.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on July 12, 2012:
It seems that the last update bumped off my likes from your lenses so I am lucky enough to get to like your wonderful blue claw crabs again. I am thrilled.
anonymous on July 02, 2012:
Well... this is the season for and of the crabs... blue crabs, Cancerian crabs et al! Off to the kitchen now! :)
ArthurF LM on July 01, 2012:
Me and my dad used to throw traps every weekend when I was younger. We had fresh crab almost every weekend. Thank you for passing this knowledge on to others!
WriterJanis2 on June 29, 2012:
I've never heard of blue crabs before. Interesting lens.
AfroMuscle on June 23, 2012:
I'd like to come over to the US on vacation and do various outdoorsy things such as this. Other people like frolicking on the beach but this is more my style. Love the lens!
anonymous on June 23, 2012:
Just went crabbing...love 'em.
Michey LM on June 23, 2012:
Lot of info.... I'll try your recipe as well... Thanks
Monica Lobenstein from Western Wisconsin on June 22, 2012:
This sounds like great fun! Too bad I'm essentially landlocked... definitely no beaches nearby with crabs on them. Just a few crayfish... Thanks for sharing!
MobileAppMan on June 22, 2012:
I used to go crabbing as a kid almost every day. Too bad you didn't include a picture of the male and female markings to really show people what they look like and ensure that they'll throw the females back. How to hold them correctly too. Other than that, nice lens.
intermarks on June 21, 2012:
I never really catch a crab before, my crab only came from the market. :)
anonymous on June 20, 2012:
Looks like you know your blue crab. My dad brought home crab when I was a kid but I never developed the skills he had. Good article.
Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on June 20, 2012:
Yum, they look tasty! I wouldn't want to clean them but would love eating them!
jammarti on June 19, 2012:
I love crabs and its been awhile since I've eaten one. I think i'll buy this weekend. Thanks for sharing.
Mary Crowther from Havre de Grace on June 18, 2012:
Love this lens! Steamed crabs are my favorite!
microfarmproject on June 18, 2012:
The recipe for crab cakes looks fabulous. Thanks!
Close2Art LM on June 18, 2012:
I use to use a piece of raw chicken and a string, when I felt it on there I would pull it up real slow and scoop it with a net...would sit behind my parents seafood market and catch a bucket full in a couple hours...good times, Blesseded
suzy-t on June 18, 2012:
This brings back a lot of memories. We used to go crabbing every time we were near the water. It was so exciting to have a crab in your trap. Blessed and pinned to my SquidAngel board.
IMKZRNU2 from Pacific Northwest on June 17, 2012:
I live where we have Dungeness Crab...but have had Blue Crab cakes and love them! Thanks for sharing this interesting lens.
lucky izan on June 17, 2012:
i love crab, specially when it cook well. It taste delicious. Nice lens
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 17, 2012:
You make me want one now...have to go and look for one in the market.
Robin S from USA on June 15, 2012:
We used to go crabbing all the time. Love it!
SquidooFlowers on June 13, 2012:
Had no idea there were blue crabs, always thought they were red :)
anonymous on June 04, 2012:
I think I'm just going to have to break down one day and buy some crab so I can try your Mom's crab cake recipe!
flicker lm on May 25, 2012:
Have never tried catching crabs, but this sounds like fun (and work, too!).
julieannbrady on May 10, 2012:
I've never tried to catch a blue claw crab. Sure do appreciate them in crab cakes!
anonymous on May 01, 2012:
Great article! Here are some great tips to catch blue crabs, check out crabtips.com.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on April 21, 2012:
All I can say is "wow" blue crabs really are blue. It is amazing what I learn from visiting the many other lensmasters here at Squidoo. There are so many cultures, countries, ideals, and ideas in these pages that they are a constant source of fascination to me. And by the way, I love your articles, they are always top notch.
MobileAppMan on January 10, 2012:
I grew up on the NJ shore in a town called Mystic Island where I caught crabs all summer long every year. Love 'em!
anonymous on August 28, 2011:
Once again, so interesting and fun to read! I've never had blue claw crab, only snow crab and we used to have king crab for Christmas years ago. I think I would go with the steam method since you mention it lets the sweetness of the meat shine through. Now, I didn't know crabs had flippers, so you have fascinated me once again!