Catching Crabs

You can forage up some free and tasty meals using the authors primer on catching crabs.

| May/June 1980

  • 063 crabs - catching crabs2
    A wire trap baited with a chicken neck is one method of catching crabs.
  • 063 crabs - bowl of crabs
    It's hard to imagine a more delicious dinner than a repast of free-for-the-foraging crabs and cold beer!
  • 063 crabs - holding a crab
    This is the proper (and safe) way to hold a live crab.
  • 063 crab - dismemberment2
    Method of breaking open and dismembering a crab.

  • 063 crabs - catching crabs2
  • 063 crabs - bowl of crabs
  • 063 crabs - holding a crab
  • 063 crab - dismemberment2

The Atlantic coast of the United States—from Cape Cod south to Florida—is graced with one of the world's most delicious seafoods: the blue crab ( Callinectes sapidus ). In my home state of Virginia, the "blue" is widely appreciated ... yet I'm constantly surprised at the number of people (both here and elsewhere) who've never tried catching crabs, nor cooked and eaten the easily gathered delicacy.

Fortunately, the aggressive crustaceans are so abundant (especially through the middle Atlantic and southern states) that I don't feel too concerned about encouraging more people to take advantage of them. Furthermore, few creatures are better equipped for survival. Crabs can swim efficiently and crawl rapidly ... have keen, 360° eyesight ... and, as you know, are blessed (from their point of view, if not from ours) with an imposing pair of powerful claws. Such characteristics make catching the feisty little fellows interesting ... and sometimes even downright exciting.

No license is required to take crabs, although there are restrictions on both the legal size and bag limit. In Virginia, for example, it's illegal to keep more than one bushel per day (which is certainly an ample haul), and the law protects crablings smaller than 4 3/4" across the widest part of the back shell ... critters which don't have enough meat to bother with anyway. (Regulations in other states may vary, so be sure to check before you catch.)

How to Bag Them

The blue crabs' favorite feeding grounds are salt marshes. Swimming into such areas with the tide, the crustaceans feast on the rich animal life which thrives there. Consequently, the best time and place to go crabbing is on a rising tide in an area well supplied with marshland. [EDITOR'S NOTE: It's a sad sign of our times, but you should always call your local health department to check out the purity of the water in your chosen foraging grounds.] 

Crabs come in from deeper waters when the ocean warms in the late spring, and remain available until fall ... when colder weather drives them back into deep ocean dormancy again. (In the far South, however, they can be found—albeit in limited numbers—prowling in the shallows throughout much of the winter.)

During the warm water season, though, crabbing is never the "sometimes" proposition that fin fishing is. If the tide is right and you've located a good spot, there's no need to worry about whether or not they'll be biting on a given day. They will be. 

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