Let’s Go Crabbing

When the fish aren’t biting , go crabbing . That’s what Gary Earl does and in this article Gary passes on his knowledge in crabbing and to remember the rules when crabbing

Crabbing to me is an extension of fishing itself, and over my many years of fishing I rarely leave for a fishing trip in a boat without either witch hats, dilly pots or one fully enclosed trap, or spear. Crabs are not only tasty but fun to catch, and through certain months they are in amazing numbers in areas.

I can tell you that all fishermen have days where they have thought they should have stayed in bed as the fishing hasn’t lived up to expectations, and the fish just weren’t biting and playing the game, no matter what lure or bait you were using, then at the end of a solemn day you go around and pick up the crab pots on the way home and you find you have a bonanza of tasty little morsels crawling around in them. The whole mood can change and instead of going home empty handed you have a feast of delicate sweet crabs to boil up while throwing down a cool one and washing out the boat.

I am going to be honest you either love them or totally hate them, the latter is mostly due to a person that has a crustacean allergy, and cannot even touch them without developing a rash that itches like twenty thousand mosquitoes have had a feast on your fingers. Anybody that gets this effect on their hands should refrain from attempting to eat them, it swells up the throat and it makes for hard breathing, and results in a trip to the emergency ward. This aside I don’t know of many fishermen that don’t like eating them though, they are pure white meat and as sweet as lollies are to a kid.

Now the legal jargon on crabbing is something you could write an encyclopedia about. Laws for amount of crabs you are able to take as well as the sex of crabs you are allowed to keep, as well as the number of traps you are able to use differ from state to state and even waterway to waterway. Here is where I say without having a uniform code to go by for the area you fish or live, the best thing is to grab a fisheries booklet for your state or area and read it before you go out.

Your state fisheries booklet will cover trap sizes, amounts allowed, sexes, number of pots and mesh size you are able to use if you are making up your own. If making your own and you can use heavier net that will last for your lifetime of crabbing. There are also many traps you can purchase on the market from tackle shops and even variety stores. . There are really three different sorts of pots , a witch hat that is made from one hoop with a net that is pretty flimsy a bit like cotton. They do work great but only work once as they get torn apart easy.

The next is a open dilly pot, a crab pot that is a pot you use in areas you know there are good numbers of crabs. Due to the way these are constructed the crabs can walk in and feed on the bait and walk back off the trap again. These pots need constant attention and should be checked near every hour, and pulled up very quickly to rise the side of the trap keeping the crabs inside Then there are the the fully closed models, these are fairly expensive but by far the best, as the crabs once inside the trap can’t get out and if there are female crabs known as Jenny’s in the pot a lot of males will end up in there with her.

In some areas of Australia you are able to keep female crabs but you do need to check your state fisheries laws , but really the best way to go is to release females as they are the future of crabbing in this country. If the crab is in berry- holding a sack of bright orange balls under the lower flap on the back it’s ready to spawn and all these have to be released. The underside flap on a male is more of a distinct thin straighter triangle and the female has a wide triangle usually darker in colour, the size is different all over the country as well so you will have to check this out for the area you are in also.

Another way to tell between the sexes is the male has very vivid blue on its upper claws and is mostly a lot bigger than the females in size which are usually a deep brown colour.

Rules on use of traps is just common sense, there are a few and I have seen many people not adhere to them, especially the one where the length of rope is concerned. When lowering pots in a depth of water it’s best to sound and cut the rope so its long enough when the tide rises, but I have seen people put out a trap they have used in deep water and keep the same length of rope which then becomes a hazard when they use them over shallow weed beds. Imagine thirty foot of rope floating across the surface of the water due to not cutting the excess of rope you used in other depths being wrapped around your prop, it isn’t clever and can actually kill an outboard as it wraps tighter and tighter around the propeller.

Another rule I see broken time and time again is again just common sense, and that is setting traps right in the centre of a boating lane or putting them in the middle of a creek or river around a blind corner, this is also illegal, and if fisheries see this sort of action they will pick up your trap and since by law you have to have your name, phone number or boat number as well in some cases your address on them well you can expect a hefty fine and lose your traps altogether.

The size of float is also specified, I use an old plastic milk carton as they are large enough to see from a distance and there is plenty of room to write all the information on. Use a permanent black marker or laundry marker as it will stay on for quite awhile. The milk bottle is not just great for this but in waterways where you are allowed to leave them over night you have a lid you can undo to put a starlight chemical glow stick in so they are easy to locate in the dark.

As a rule you can usually have five witch hats per person, or five open dilly pots, or one fully enclosed trap per person. I have came up with a few arguments from fisheries officers that define a kid of two or three on board a vessel that this isn’t a person, I would like to see that one come up in court. I fished on board my own boat with my kids as soon as they were out of nappies, and I let them drop the pots in and retrieve them so in fact they were actually apart of the crabbing fishermen aboard. I do object to a baby of a few months old being labelled a crabber although they still are a person.

I have also had problems with fisheries down south beyond Wollongong that haven’t seen dilly pots before, as these pots are usually a more northern trap where the number of crabs are greater and they have told me I have to many traps out , but I carry a fisheries booklet with me so I am covered.

Baits for the traps and how to attach them can be vast. I like to use a piece of gutter mesh or oyster mesh and roll it into a pocket and tie it into the trap for ever with a uv stabilised strap tie, and then use a garbage bag tie to close the end after filling it with bait. Others use fishing line or small diameter rope and tie the bait in then cut it off at the boat ramp and discard it in a fish bin. Both methods work well.

The baits I use are in preference of my own experience and numbers of crabs I have caught on them is, first and the best is mullet frame. The fresher the better and then luderick frames as they are so prolific through estuaries. The next I would recommend is bonito or any tuna frames the oilier the better. In reality I have seen cat food tins tied punctured with a screwdriver in traps with great effect, and steaks and chops or off cut meat used as well.

The best places to set traps out are over weed beds but some areas restrict you from dropping traps over sea grass beds, so check this first as well. Sandy and mud bottoms that drop over are another great place. Crabs can be found in both deep and shallow water. I can tell you I saw an event when I was young that I have never witnessed before and probably will never again.

I was tossing soft plastics for flathead in about four foot of water over weedy and sand areas and the tide was running out very fast as it was a huge spring tide. My mate and myself seen what we thought were bream at first shooting past the boat, then my mate and myself realised they were blueswimmers being pushed out of a small creek that was going to be empty at the low. We simple got the scoop net and lifted them in two at a time on occasions and we got our boat limit and between the absolute disbelief and laughter on what we had seen we knew it to be a fluke to be in the spot we were in, and it wasn’t a common occurrence that we would ever see again.

So crabbing for blue swimmers or known over in the west as sand crabs is a great part of the fishery we have, they are in large numbers from northern Queensland down to about Eden in New South Wales or from Shark Bay down to Perth on the west coast.

If you haven’t been told the months through the years with the letter R in them is the best so the season goes roughly from September through to April. They are an easily cooked crustacean, and only take about eight minutes in water that is already boiling, or when they are seen to be turning dark red, they can be broken up and cooked on a very hot bed of coals on an open fire.. I have a rule help catch help eat, the shells make great fertilizer in your garden bed or put into the freezer till garbage day as the neighbors won’t be very happy with you if you leave them in the bin for days, they really have a aroma all of their own.

So all being said there is no reason on any given fishing outing you can’t set a few traps and hopefully if the fishing gods haven’t been good to you well you may still end up with a great feed.

Gary Earl

About Gary Earl

Gary is an avid fisherman from the Northern Territory, he has spent many years their chasing fish and getting hell bent on both shooting and fishing. He is mostly an estuary and rock fishermen these days, but has been lucky enough to do some game fishing in both places at times. Gary now reside in Newcastle, he fishes for all sorts of species and have been writing about his experiences for over fifteen years. He has written for many publications including the local papers in Port Stephens area, Fishing Monthly Group, Trailer boat and Trailer boat fishermen.


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