Along coastal habitats throughout the entire state, crabs play a crucial role in the health of area ecosystems by helping eliminate decaying plant and animal matter. Crustaceans represent the most species-rich group of marine animals, with numerous crab species routinely encountered in and around Florida waters. While crab species vary greatly in size, lifestyle, preferred habitat and more, they’re all on the short list of preferred forage for many prized game fish including cobia, drum, tarpon, sheepshead and permit. Fortunately, no matter what part of the state you call home you should be able to acquire a supply of live crabs prior to your next angling adventure.
Blue crabs are the most abundant crustaceans found around Florida and are regularly harvested for both food and bait purposes. Because they are so desirable, blue crabs have very strict seasonal limits with specific rules and regulations you need to be aware of. FWC has enacted six regional closures that last up to 10 days and prohibit recreational and commercial harvest of blue crabs with standard blue crab traps. During this period of closure, harvest is still allowed with dip nets and fold up traps. In addition, the closures alternate coasts every year, with closures on the East Coast during even numbered years and closures on the West Coast during odd numbered years. Recreational harvesters must have a saltwater fishing license and cannot exceed a daily bag limit of 10 gallons of whole blue crabs. In addition, recreational anglers can soak a maximum of only five traps, with additional trap requirements applying. It is also unlawful to harvest egg-bearing blue crabs, although there are no minimum or maximum size limits. Visit myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/blue-crab for additional details and full trapping rules.
…fiddlers are most active during low tide when they leave their burrows to forage along newly revealed shorelines.
Once you’ve carefully reviewed the regulations you’ll want to select a trap. While fold up traps work, if you’re going to let your trap soak overnight you’ll want to use a traditional crab trap that will keep your catch on lockdown. Blue crabs are swimming crabs that are found along both Atlantic and Gulf states from Chesapeake Bay to Texas. Likely blue crab hangouts include tidal pools, seagrass beds, mud flats, seawalls, bridge pilings, creek mouths and more. You’ll also want choose an area to place your trap that won’t go dry on low tide—try depths ranging from 5- to 10-feet. Although many choose to bait crab traps with chicken liver or gizzards, we recommend natural offerings that crabs would find in the wild. Cut mullet, ladyfish and oily fish carcasses will do the trick. You’ll want to let your trap soak for 24 hours before pulling, compared to fold up traps that require an attentive watch to pull the line and shut the trap once a crab has entered.
Pass crabs are smaller in size than blue crabs and instead of relating to the bottom pass crabs are often seen floating on the surface as they ride the tide in and out of area inlets and passes. Pass crabs can often be spotted along shadow lines under lit bridges and docks, and also drifting along the current with patches of sargassum during daylight hours. Catching pass crabs is easy and simply involves spotting the quarry on the surface where they are scooped up with long-handled dip nets.
Moving down the list in size of Florida’s most common crustaceans are fiddler crabs, which can be found along marshy intertidal zones around most of Florida’s inshore ecosystems. Unlike blue crabs or pass crabs, you’ll be able to spot your quarry as they scurry around and retreat to their holes in the dry sand or mud while waving their oversized claws. The easiest way to catch fiddler crabs is to grab them with your bare hands, but if you don’t want to get pinched there are other options. You can make a pitfall trap by digging a hole deep enough to place a bucket that will fit flush with the sand. Place some bait around the edge of the hole and in the bucket and make sure the bucket is level with the sand, or else the trap won’t work. You can wait for fiddlers to go after the bait and fall in the bucket or you can speed up the process by funneling crabs in the direction of your pitfall trap. No matter how you choose to catch them, fiddlers are most active during low tide when they leave their burrows to forage along newly revealed shorelines.
While it may take a short learning curve to understand what you’re looking for when trying to catch crabs, you’ll eventually develop a keen eye for these prime baits. Good luck escaping the dreaded pinch!