How 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 mud flats 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.
How to Catch Blue Crabs. And how to cook them!
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 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 hand lining technique can net a basket of blue crabs.
Things You Need:
- Crab Traps or Hand Lines with Dip Net
- Crab Bait
- Basket for holding captured Blue Claw Crabs
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 ir 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 collapsible crab traps is another 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 blue 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 show in the following photo. Control the crab by gently pining 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.
Learn the difference between male and female blue crabs.
Releasing female crabs and keeping only the males is a good practice to help ensure future generations of blue crabs.
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?view quiz statistics
To Catch Blue Crabs...
You'll Need A Good Crab Trap ...
The basic Blue Crab trap: The Snap Crab Trap is easy to use: tie a piece of bait to the bottom of the trap, toss the Snap Crab Trap into the water, and pull it up every few minutes to see if you've caught a crab.
The Snap trap lies flat on the river bottom, waiting for crabs crawl over the trap to get to the bait (I like to use chicken necks or chicken legs). The doors fold up when you pull the trap rope, trapping the crab inside.
Cooking Blue Crabs
Two Different Ways to Prepare Crabs
The Classic Crab Boil
The classic way to prepare blue claw crabs is to simply boil the crabs in seasoned water.
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 seasioned 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!
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 Crab Cake 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.
- 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 Â½ minutes). Let stand and cool for two minutes. Skim the foam of the top and discard.
- In a skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tbsp of the clarified butter and 2 tbsp 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 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
What Is Your Favorite Way to Prepare Blue Crabs?
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna