Introduction: Crabbing for Beginners

Picture of Crabbing for Beginners

Crabbing is both a commercial business as well as a family fun activity.  Crabbing involves the catching and eating of these succulent crustaceans. The crab most commonly caught and eaten along the East Coast is known as the blue claw crab. There is nothing better than coming home and having a delicious meal of blue claw crabs with the family.

Step 1: Warning

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-Crabs have claws and will pinch you. If this happens do not panic. Pull the crab away from you with your other hand until the claw breaks off the crab. The proper way of holding a crab is shown in later steps.

-Crabs have size limits that change annually. Check online or at your local marina to avoid any legal issues that could arise. Check out for more info.

-There are other crabs local to the East Coast such as green crabs and spider crabs. These crabs are not edible and if caught should be released.

-If the crab has an egg sac it must be released by Law.

Step 2: Caution!

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If the crab dies before it is cleaned do not eat it! Once dead, a poison is released throughout the crab's body that ruins the meat.

Step 3: Equipment

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-Fold up chair
-Bag of Ice (sold at local convenience stores)
-Crab trap
-Junk Knife (for bait)
-Snacks for yourself
-Thick Gloves(makes holding crabs easier)
-Net(if using a hand line)

Step 4: Areas for Crabbing

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Crabs are found in saltwater. This also includes brackish water also known as tidal water. These areas include saltwater marshes, bays, inlets and the ocean. Crabs also prefer to be near underwater structures such as pilings (usually from docks), bridges and sunken shipwrecks.

Step 5: How to Hold a Crab

Picture of How to Hold a Crab

1. Put your foot(preferably with a shoe, no flip flops/sandals) on the crab to keep it from moving.
2. With one hand, grab the flipper/last leg of the crab located at its back.
3. Take your foot off the crab and lift it up.
4. It will not be able to pinch you.

Step 6: Types of Bait

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Dead Fish-Any type of fish will do as long as it is a reasonable size, usually between 6 inches to 1 foot. A few types of fish commonly used are bunker, snapper blues and sea robins. The fish can be better utilized by cutting it into 2 by 6 inch pieces. Make sure that there are cuts on the fish so that the smell will easily travel through the water.

Hot Dogs-Hot Dogs are not commonly used due to the fact that they are very soft and crabs can easily tear them apart and eat them. The advantage of hotdogs is that they are much cheaper than normal bait so if you are on a budget, hot dogs might be the way to go.

Chicken-Chicken legs are preferred. Chicken is less expensive then fish and is a solid bait. This means that the crabs can’t easily break it up and take it away.

Meat-Any meat can be used. The three above are the most affordable meats to buy as well as the easiest to use.

Step 7: Types of Traps and How to Use Them

Picture of Types of Traps and How to Use Them

Weighted Hand lines/drop lines- This is a rope with a weighted hook on the end. The weight keeps the bait from floating up. Tie the end of the string that doesn’t have the hook on it to something that is secure so that the crab can’t pull the entire line into the water. The bait is securely put on the hook to prevent crabs from taking the bait. Once the bait is on the hook, it is thrown 8 to 12 feet out into the water, usually from a bank. It can also be dropped from the side of a boat in shallow water, as long as the meat reaches them bottom. Wait 5 to 10 minutes or if you see the line begin to move, then very slowly pull in the line. Once the meat comes into view look to see if there is a crab on the meat. If there isn’t, pull that meat out of the water and throw it back out. If there is a crab, pull the line a little closer but make sure to leave the crab 1 to 2 feet under the water. Slowly take a net and lower it into the water behind the crab. Scoop the crab out of the water but be quick because crabs are fast and Waalaa, you have caught a crab.

Box Crab Traps-This trap is made out of a wire like mesh. It has four open sides, a top, a bottom, and for flaps that open and seal off the sides. Strings are attached to flaps and all join at a ring that is located above the trap. A longer string is attached to the ring and when it is pulled it causes the flaps to seal off the sides of the trap.
When crabbing, a piece of meat is placed inside the trap in the middle and tied down. When the crab goes to eat, the sides of the trap will be closed trapping the crap inside with no chance of escape.

Pyramid Crab Traps-This trap is made out of a wire like mesh. It is made from four triangles and a square. One triangle is attached to each side of the square. Strings are attached to the ends of the triangles. The strings join at a ring that is located above the trap. A longer string is attached to the ring and when it is pulled it causes the flaps to seal off the sides of the trap.
When crabbing, a piece of meat is placed inside the trap in the middle and tied down. When the crab goes to eat, the sides of the trap will be closed trapping the crap inside with no chance of escape.

Ring Crab Traps-This trap is either made from wire mesh or string. It is has a circular shape. When lying on the ground it appears flat but when it is picked up, the bottom drops down trapping the crab inside. The bait is usually put in the center of the trap along with some type of weight.

Commercial Crab Traps-In order to use these traps, you must have a license, unless you are using them from on a privately owned dock. These traps are large, usually 2 to 3 feet wide. They are left in the water for many days and can hold large amounts of bait. They are capable of holding dozens of crabs.

Step 8: Cleaning the Crab

Picture of Cleaning the Crab

-Grab the crab by the claws and back legs.

-Put one point of the shell against a hard surface and pull down

-This will remove the main shell.

-Rip off mouth the area.

-Flip the crab over and remove the flap on the back of the crab.
        A skinny flap means male
        A large round flap means female

-Clean out guts till only white material remains.

-Prepare as desired

Here is a different way of cleaning them:


digimonrocks (author)2017-04-08

Also you could try using softened spearmint as bait, I hear it attracts them like crazy.

ogeezer (author)2016-08-31

Blue crab on the EAST coast is also the same crab found on the GULF COAST, aka Callinectes sapidus to scientists 'n marine biologists. Crab pictured is female, identified by the tinge of red & brown on claw tips. As for edible crabs, Stone Crabs (claws only) are good if you can catch any; they're rare find 'n if you're really quick, Ghost Crabs (found on most beaches) are also good & meaty but you'll need to catch these at night w/strong flashlight, durable net, 'n of course quickness

JamyK1 (author)2016-07-22

Thanks for the tips. My kids and I love crabbing and made this "how to" video that may also be helpful to your readers: Thanks again!

JamyK1 (author)JamyK12016-07-22

Here is my how to video I was talking about above :

putipa (author)2012-10-20

lived on the Chesapeake bay my most of my life. commercial crabbed for many years never seen a blue crab cleaned before it was cooked unless it was a soft shell to me

CharlieW40 (author)putipa2016-05-30

I grew up around the Chesapeake bay and around commercial fisherman and crabbers. I never saw anyone clean a crab even a soft shell, but when I went north to do some iron work. Everyone up there would clean their crabs before they made crab cakes. I was like what in the world. Didn't make sense to me, but I guess it's in how you are taught.

l8nite (author)putipa2012-10-20

I have to agree, in 50 some years of crabbing Ive never cleaned or seen a live crab cleaned unless it was a softie

JamyK1 (author)2015-09-11

thanks for the info, very helpful! I just documented a crabbing expedition with my son from this past weekend... I also tried to include some regulations and tips within the video: We did most of things mentioned here but we just rinse the crabs in ice water before steaming them. thanks again.

JamyK1 (author)JamyK12015-09-14

sorry, I don't think my crabbing instructional video link from the previous post saved properly.

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datascience (author)2015-08-30

Where can you sell them in small quantity after catching them?

betor50 (author)2015-05-29

Quien me Puede. Desire d onde pescar jainas

betor50 (author)2015-05-29

I'm in newport news where can I fish for crabs

Mister Weepers (author)2015-05-09

Cook before you clean. I've never seen anyone do this regularly. I tried it once and that was enough. It's a thousand times easier to get the shell open once they've been boiled.

LuC1 (author)2014-11-29

"There are other crabs local to the East Coast such as green crabs and spider crabs. These crabs are not edible and if caught should be released.... Once dead, a poison is released throughout the crab's body that ruins the meat."

This is a lot of incorrect and terrible advice.
1. Both green crabs and spider crabs are EDIBLE.
2. The green crab is an invasive species that should be killed or eaten, NOT released.
3. Crabs do not release a poison that ruins the meat. Dead shellfish such as crabs simply decay and fall victim to bacteria much faster than terredstrial meat.

Wiggelstick (author)2014-08-23

I've made a couple crab traps before and in Texas it says you need to make them with at least one biodegradable side (twine tied closed) so if you forget about a trap the crabs can eventually get out.

eteal111 (author)2014-07-26

Green crabs are invasive and are smothering biodiversity in the north east. Don't release them!

petesiriki (author)2014-07-16

Great Instructable! I also found a great site with lots of tips to help catch more blue crabs. Check it out,

Mikeman4290 (author)2013-08-21

Crabs do not have poison, when they die the bacteria that is inside of them from what they eat starts to go through the body and ruin the meat.

TN777 (author)2013-01-27

Can these tips be used when you are fishing for crawdads? By the way, crawdads are crayfish, crawfish, etc. I just live where they are mostly called crawdads.

tehsuxs (author)2012-10-26

If you crab in waters that aren't cold, then using raw chicken might get you sick.
Bacteria from the chicken gets eaten by the crabs, you in turn eat the crabs....not good outcome.

Rotting chicken is no good for the Bay. If you are going to use chicken, dispose of it on land. Chicken fat does not breakdown.


submark (author)tehsuxs2012-10-27

If you clean and cook the crabs as illustrated there will not be a bacterial contamination or cross over. However, you must cool and protect your catch to avoid death and spoilage.
Plunging the whole crabs into boiling water will kill them quickly and make cleaning much easier and safer.
Keep your catch in an ice chest on top of ice (still in the bag) which will make them dormant and easier to handle. Drain the melt water often. Do not let them get into the melt water. This will kill them faster than than you can imagine.
Do not keep your catch in a small bucket of seawater without changing the water often. The crabs will deplete the Oxygen rapidly and die. Pouring fresh sea water into the bucket will recharge the O2.
Crabs are perfectly able to survive out of water for an fairly extended period If they are kept cool and moist because the are able to exchange CO2/O2 when their gill are moist.
As for disposing of left over bait, the crabs you did not catch will take care of the meat and fat----but you should dispose of all left overs and trash appropriately.

MrCafe (author)2012-10-25

You should put a region on this indestructible. I am a crab fishermen in the season here, and if anyone does this without a commercial license it is considered poaching. Please everyone check your local laws before fishing. Otherwise this is a very awesome way to fish for crab, and a great way to get a awesome meal.

PS From Newfoundland Canada if you where wondering.

sconner1 (author)MrCafe2012-10-27

Fishing for your supper should always be legal in my opinion.
Selling your catch is a different story.

MrCafe (author)sconner12012-10-27

I 100% agree!

sconner1 (author)2012-10-27

I use chicken wings since they have lots of tough skin that keeps the crabs from tearing it off and taking it away.

kwhit190211 (author)2012-10-26

I haven't gone crabbing since I got out of the service & that was in '70', that's 1970. Anyways when I was stationed at Eglin AFB, Florida we use to go crabbing on the weekends. My buddies & I would go to the chow hall & get some raw chicken necks. Each of us would have a ball of Mason's string, plus a cooler of beer, ice & a long handle dipping net. We would got just outside of the base fence & at the end of one of the test ranges. We would tie a chicken neck to one end of the string & then throw it out in the bay. Then we would slowly drag it back. A crab is greedy, when it latches onto the chicken it isn't letting go. It would get close enough to us we would scoop it up in the net. While we crabbed we also picked up some oysters. They were right there in only a couple inches of water. When the beer ran out, we cooked. What a luau we would have. Did that many times while I was stationed there. We didn't have to many ways to blow of steam while I was down there for 1 1/2 years. Everyone thought that we were nuts having to work on high explosives all the time, I was a weapons mechanic & I enjoyed doing what I did. But, I also loved crabbing too. LOL

mommyhen42 (author)2012-10-26

your comment that "Crabs have claws and will pinch you. If this happens do not panic. Pull the crab away from you with your other hand until the claw breaks off the crab. "
really suprises me, I had an incident when I was a child and was bitten by a crab in San Diego and the crabs are too strong for you to do that.
Dad did break off the claw, but not by simply pulling till the claw fell off. The crab were dungeness.
I wonder if this works with other crab species in stead?
Other than that one point I loved your article and love to eat crab whenever I can

snoopindaweb (author)2012-10-26

Some Folks on the west coast, Bay Area, Berkley Marina, etc use the "Folding Pyrimid type of wire Traps" that close when the rope is quickly pulled up to check it. Some even use cans of cat food & etc, with holes in them.

itslisa (author)2012-10-25

Good job! I haven't been crabbing since I was a kid back in Rhode Island.

We crabbed off a small dock/pier. We just used heavy fishing line with chicken on the end. We knew we had something when the curls in the line were getting straighter. (something was walking it away underneath!)

It would be good to not that if you are pulling them from above and scooping with a net - watch your shadows!! if all of a sudden, you lean over to scoop it off and you create a shadow over the crab - they'll usually hop off and head back to the bottom.

Nice instructable and thanks for the memory.

eschneck (author)itslisa2012-10-25

itslisa - exactly the way we used to go crabbing off the south coast of Cape Cod, right down to the "curls", "chicken" and "shadow" comment. Must be the New England way! LOL

Remag1234 (author)2012-10-25

When crabbing I use Turkey Wings. They last at least 8 hours and I then feed the wings to the Seagulls.

Ninzerbean (author)2012-10-25

I went crabbing with a group today for a class. We learned everything you have in your 'ible. I really freaked when we had to kill and clean them because they were still moving without a back on. Yuk. They tasted great, but I think I will stick to shrimping with a cast net.

hammer9876 (author)2012-10-25

For pure entertainment value, do the catch and release bit. We used to do this for visitors who rarely salt water much less go crabbing. Then they can get the t-shirt that reads, "I caught crabs in Chesapeake Bay." Note: T-shirt may be banned from school.

White_Wolf (author)2012-10-25

This is one way we do Dungeness crab here in the Pacific Northwest.

razenhazen (author)2012-10-24

I live in DE. but crab only on the Chesapeake. Wye mills, Avon, Chester river the crabs are fat and taste the best. Trot lining is the way to go if you gotta boat. 12hundred foot with bungee snoods, couple pieces of old chain to keep her down, 2 old refrigerant tanks for floats, 2 lead anchors for the floats and your in business. I have always eaten live steamed crabs and that is how you would buy them up here. We cook them in the large turkey fryer type pots with propane burner, apple juice, beer, and lots of old bay seasoning. I have known many of old timers, mostly gone now, that did chop the face off, pull the shells, and clean the devil fingers(lungs) off and steam them that way. They believed the seasoning got down into the meat better. Most of the old ladies that did this were making crab cakes I think though. All most everyone these days just crack a cold beer while they wait for the pot to steam this is the recommended method of cooking!
I've been to New Orleans and they boil them and North Carolina they eat them cold to each their own I guess.

Crazyknight (author)2012-10-21

We always just use chicken backs tied to a solid thick string. Lower them into the water deep enough that they are close to the bottom and tie them to the dock. Every 10 minutes or so, slowly pull up each one and if you have a crab on the bait, grab it with a long handled net and dump it in a bucket of sea water. Rinse and repeat!

I haven't tried traps yet because I enjoy the netting them method.

Kiteman (author)2012-10-17

Here on the East Coast of England, "crabbing" means something very different.

I'll need to write an instructable, come the season.

AndyGadget (author)Kiteman2012-10-17

I await that with interest, not least to find out what it is!
(In the South-West we only do the crustacean sort.)

drew.adc (author)2012-10-17

Great instructable. Chicken necks also work well for bait since they are a lot of bone with a bit of meat and are often much cheaper than other types of meat. They are not carried everywhere, but I have often found them in supermarkets near the coast.

AndyGadget (author)2012-10-17

This brings back painful memories!
A couple of years ago we were staying with relatives in a house on a cove just below Chesapeake Bay. We were fishing daily for blue crabs off the jetty using chicken necks as bait. 
The thing about crabs in the UK where I live is that you can pick them up from behind (thumb underneath, four fingers over the top) and their claws are too short to reach you.  I found out the hard way that this is not the case with blue crabs ! ! !  I was leaping around the jetty with a crab hanging off my finger, cartoon style, with the family killing themselves with laughter.
(A crushed fingernail resulted, but no permanent damage.  Good memories #;¬)

scoochmaroo (author)2012-10-17

I just went crabbing for the first time recently and I was surprised at how fun it was! We used chicken for bait. Around here we get rock crab, but soon it will be dungeness season! I just wish there were some easier, faster cleaning methods!

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