How to Catch Crabs

Crabbing is an amazingly good time for everyone involved, as long as you’re catching some, of course! Whether crabbing by yourself or with your family and friends, it’s an excellent opportunity to spend some time in the outdoors, get some sun and grab yourself a tasty dinner. Below are the most popular and effective methods for catching crabs, but first, you’ll need to find a good spot. Know about the European green crab in this article.

Where Can I Go Crabbing?

The east coast is the best for blue crabs, especially along the coast between New York and Virginia. However, there is plenty of good crabbing in many other spots on the coast. Unless you know someone personally with waterfront property, you’ll need to find a public pier or state park to set up a shop. The Blue Crab forum is a great resource to find out where the crabs are being caught.

Crabbing with a Hand Line

Crabbing with a hand line is perhaps the oldest and most effective way to crab from the land. It’s a favorite among recreational crabbers because it’s easy to tell when you have a crab on the line, and fairly easy to scoop them right up out of the water.

How to Catch Crabs

I recommend getting some standard white crab line from your local tackle shop. If you’re not sure which kind to buy, just ask the shop owner, and they’ll point you in the right direction. The type of line you use isn’t as important as the bait you use to catch the crabs. The crab line pictured is store-bought, but you can make them yourself just as easily with minimal effort.

Cut a length of the line long enough to reach the bottom. If you’re not sure of the depth of water, cut a long line to start with and toss it in first; from there, you’ll be able to gauge how long the rest of your lines should be.

It’s essential not to have too much slack on the line, this way you’ll be able to see the line get tight when a crab is feeding on your bait. The water off of most piers/docks isn’t too deep – it’s probably in the neighborhood of 3-10 ft, so keep that length in mind.

Add a sinker if necessary

If the line isn’t sinking to the bottom, you’ll need to add a very small sinker to help it along. You should only need a half-ounce or 1-ounce sinker to get the job done. If you add too much weight, you won’t be able to tell if there is a crab on the line as easily. It’s recommended to toss out around 6-8 lines on different parts of the dock to see where the crabs are biting; then you can adjust accordingly.

Now, you sit back and relax for a little bit. Keep an eye on your lines to see if they’re getting tight. If a crab is feeding on your bait, they’ll usually try to pull it away. Since the line is tied to the dock, it will get tense, and you’ll be able to see that you have something on the line quickly.

Pull the line up very slowly until you can see your bait and crab that’s eating it. Lower your crab net into the water and scoop it up! You can do this yourself or with another person if they’re available. Be quick – if the crabs see the net before you scoop, they can easily escape.

Open door crab trap

There are several different types of crab traps that have proven effective over the years. The first is the open door trap. This is either a rectangular box shape or pyramid-shaped “cage” that has a door on its sides. When the trap hits bottom, these doors open up.

The crabs go inside to feed on the bait. You should pull the traps up every 10 or 15 minutes, and the doors will close, trapping whatever is inside. These types of traps are difficult to use on rocky or uneven bottoms because they won’t open up properly.

Crab hotels

The “crab hotel” is a trap used by lots of commercial crabbers, but recreational crabbers use them as well, though in smaller quantities. This is a larger trap, usually a square-shaped box about 2 feet wide by 2 feet tall.

It typically has two openings that make it easy for the crabs to enter and hard for them to leave. This type of trap is ideal to leave overnight or for a few days off a dock. You’ll only want to use this in a secure location where you can be sure someone else won’t go around picking your trap.

Topless traps

A variation of the open door trap, the topless trap, is also popular among recreational crabbers. This trap looks much like a hanging fruit basket; it’s a wire trap that lays flat on the bottom of the water, and when you pull it up, it turns into a bucket of sorts. The crabs have nowhere to go when you pull it up except into your bushel!

Crab catching tips


Trotlines are a favorite among commercial crabbers, but recreational crabbers are allowed to use them with limitations in certain areas. To make a trotline for crabbing, here’s what you’ll need:

A few hundred feet of line

Two buoys (you can use something like a detergent bottle, just make sure it’s clean)

Three anchors (bricks or other heavy objects work well)

The additional line to tie of individual bait lines

Let’s say you want to make a 200 ft. Trotline. Layout the line and tie on smaller pieces of line about 3 ft apart from which to string your bait. Tie the two buoys to either end of the trotline. Next, tie separate pieces of line to each buoy, and add your anchors to the other end.

You should also have a 3rd smaller anchor tied right in the middle of your trotline to keep it in place. Picture an H-shaped rig – your two buoys floating on the surface, and your trotline with bait dangling right above the bottom of the water.

Use the right bait to catch crabs

Now that you’ve got some great methods to catch your crabs, you need to make sure you have the right bait! Crabs are scavengers, so they’ll eat pretty much whatever they can find, including each other. But crabbers agree that chicken or turkey necks are some of the best types of bait out there.

Aside from being a tasty treat for the crabs, they’re durable and last a long time on your line. Another popular bait is bunker fish, but it’s easier for the crab to pick that apart and eventually pull it off your line.

Know your crabbing laws

Before going crabbing, make sure you know all the laws surrounding crabbing in your area. Different states have different rules as to the size, gender, and limit for both recreational and commercial crabbers.

If you get caught by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), you can lose all your gear and be on the hook for some hefty fines. Plus, you’ll be hurting the crabbing population! While you’re here read this article on how to fillet a fish.