Funky Fiddlers

FSF Staff March 16, 2010

Dedicated anglers often go to extreme lengths to satisfy their angling appetites. Many of the acts die-hards perform on a regular basis are likely viewed by the general public as peculiar or half-witted. Whether it’s searching for highly-prized goggle-eye in the wee hours of the morning, chasing minnows and mullet through the muddy marsh, or maneuvering around a crowded inlet while waiting for the opportune moment to toss a cast net, there’s no denying the fact that anglers are an odd bunch. When it comes to the physical act of catching bait, perhaps no forage species requires as much determination as the fast and funky fiddler crab. As a general rule of thumb, most sane individuals try at all costs to avoid the powerful pinch of a defiant crab, but educated anglers know all too well that under certain angling scenarios, it takes drastic measures to come out on top.

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A male fiddler can be seen waving its oversized cheliped during courtship rituals and territorial disputes. Photo: istock.com/earl_of_omaha

Along Florida’s intertidal ecosystems fiddler crabs are a common sight, however you probably didn’t know that there are three subspecies of fiddler crabs that call the Sunshine State home. The mud fiddler features a brownish-gray coloration and is common along the Atlantic coast. As their name implies, mud fiddlers generally prefer muddy habitat. The sand fiddler has a yellowish coloration and can be found in the same general area as the mud fiddler, but typically prefers sandy substrate over thick muck. The red jointed fiddler is slightly larger than both the mud and sand fiddler, and the males can be readily identified by their red coloration. Regardless of the subspecies they all make for excellent bait.

There is a chance that you may get a good pinch, but it won’t be too painful.

When fishing a live fiddler crab sheepshead are likely your primary target. When it comes to outsmarting these notorious bait stealers, timing your strike is key. Not only does it require patience and persistence to routinely pull sly sheepies from crusty lairs, but also when it comes to procuring a solid supply of nutrient rich offerings. You’ve surely seen these miniscule crustaceans roaming the shoreline and scurrying back to their burrows. Males are easy to distinguish as they are outfitted with an oversized claw used for courtship and defending their territory. Around an inch long, these crunchy critters can be caught with various methods—the common denominator is capturing them before they dart back into their hole.

The most basic way to acquire a solid supply is to sneak up on an unsuspecting individual and grab it with your bare hands or with a typical hand-held bait net. If you walk up to a group of fiddler crabs, they will likely feel you coming and scatter, but don’t worry. Position yourself between the shoreline and the nearest burrow and make your move. There is a chance that you may get a good pinch, but it won’t be too painful. Think about the joy of your rod bending double over from the strike of a powerful sheepshead instead of screaming like a little girl.

While this simple method will work well for those with a quick first step, fiddler crabs are very agile and can move surprisingly fast for their small stature. Another option is to dig out fiddlers with a shovel, but this can be tough and fruitless as they don’t always burrow in a straight line. This act can also be detrimental to environmentally sensitive areas, so it’s not highly recommended. One popular and effective alternative is a pitfall trap. Find an area with an abundance of fiddlers and dig a hole large enough to fit a small bucket. Place the bucket in the hole and make sure the perimeter of the top of the bucket is level with the sand. Bait the trap with corn meal, breadcrumbs or small fish carcasses, and the logic is the crabs will walk over to investigate and fall into the pale. Yet another option is to toss a fine-mesh cast net over a colony of fiddlers. Just make sure there are no escape routes for the fast moving critters. No matter what technique you choose, the best chance for success will be afforded by a low tide when fiddlers gather in large groups around the shoreline to forage on algae and other organic matter.

Rig It Right

So you’ve procured a solid catch and only felt a few pinches. Now it’s time to rig your fiddler for the proper presentation. It’s important to remember to rig for the size of your offering and not your intended quarry. Like all inshore live bait endeavors, light wire hooks with short shanks are a must. With a tiny, fairly fragile offering like a fiddler crab you need a presentation that will cause minimal damage. To maximize the maneuverability and life-like attributes of your hard earned crab, insert the hook in the extreme corner of the carapace. Gently insert the hook point through the bottom until it penetrates the top of the shell. While a typical fish-finder rig will work, fiddler crabs can be rigged on a 1/8 or 1/4 oz. jighead. However, the preferred method when targeting sheepshead is a simple dropper loop rig that keeps the bait between you and the appropriate size bank sinker.

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