So you want to catch more mud crabs?

Like all forms of fishing, the practice of chasing down a feed of mud crabs is a little more difficult than it looks. In fact just like wetting a line, anglers chasing a feed of crabs should consider several variables if they are going to maximise their chances of crabbing success.
Take note of the way these crabs are held. Placing your thumb and fingers around the rear flaps is the safest way to hold a big angry muddy. If you are a bit green with this, thrown your crabs into a cold esky as this will slow them down considerably and be much easier to handle.

Take note of the way these crabs are held. Placing your thumb and fingers around the rear flaps is the safest way to hold a big angry muddy. If you are a bit green with this, thrown your crabs into a cold esky as this will slow them down considerably and be much easier to handle.

One of the most significant variables to consider when targeting mud crabs is the tide. It is no secret that the larger the tide the better the crabbing conditions. This commonly accepted theory revolves around the idea that the bigger tides signals the crabs out of their mud filled holes and triggers them into a feeding behaviour.

Best time to set pots

Therefore crabbing around the full and new moon is often the best time to run your pots as this is when the larger tides occur. In fact some hard core crabbers believe it is best to get your pots in during the first of the bigger runs as this is when the crabs are most likely to begin feeding and if they have been holed up for a while they will be very hungry.
When tides are big throwing your floats high in the trees makes them easier to find.

When tides are big throwing your floats high in the trees makes them easier to find.

One of the biggest threats to crabbing over these larger high tides is the possibility of the tide either sweeping your pots away or even worst pushing them under mangroves where they can be hard to see and even harder to retrieve. Many pots are lost this way so here are a few tips to minimise the chances of this happening. Firstly, weigh your pots down with a rock or even a brick. This is especially handy if you are using round collapsible pots as they are easily swept onto their sides like a tyre and can roll for hundreds of metres. Another way is to tie them to the mangroves as this will stop any movement at all. The third way is to throw your float and road high up into the mangroves. This way you will be able to find your pot even if it is swept under the mangrove bank. Having a long handled gaff or even better a small sand anchor can be incredibly useful in these situations as they can be a very handy retrieval tool.

Running after the wet

Whilst tide variations are important so is the weather. Crabs often ‘run’ during big influences of fresh from either rainfall or flood run off. Like the larger tides, the extra water tends to push them out of their holes and trigger them into feeding. When these conditions occur it is a good idea to get your pots out and into the creek as this is when the crabs will be ripe for the taking. The next factor to consider is where to place your pots. Crabbing is very similar to pumping for yabbies. Find the place with the most holes and your are bound to find a good number of crabs. Crabs love to reside in mud as it keeps them cool and also acts as camouflage to hide from predators. Therefore make sure you are setting your pots where there is plenty of mud and not sand. This is easy to spot as the banks of creeks will often give this away. The next sign to look for is an area which provides access to a potentially large number of crab holes and crabs.
Having good bait boxes makes the differences between a single capture and multiple captures out of a single pot.

Having good bait boxes makes the differences between a single capture and multiple captures out of a single pot.

Large soaks or drains are the perfect highway for crabs as they meander through the dense mangrove mud providing access to a large number of crab holes. Setting your pot in the mouths of these soaks or drains is a very good option as they allow access to these crab holes. Soaks and drains are most commonly found away from the mouths of creeks and are best located at the tops of systems often in small offshoot creeks. These small creeks are a very good option as they are less likely to be effected by hard running tidal flows.  Sometimes these soaks and drains can be very ineffective especially when there is heavy rain and run off and the crabs are pushed out of the small creeks towards the mouth.
An excellent example of a soak or drain. These act as highways for crabs and can access thousands of holes deep within the mangroves.

An excellent example of a soak or drain. These act as highways for crabs and can access thousands of holes deep within the mangroves.

This is where it is best to set your pots out on the open flats which is where the crabs often congregate when pushed out with a flood. Productive open flat areas can be characterised by the presence of dugong grass, deep channels of gutters and the presence of mud. You can usually tell when crabs have been pushed out during a big run as their shells are either very clean or covered in green or purple coral algae. Once you have located some likely looking spots it’s important to think about how you position your pots in the water. It is best practice when placing pots in the mouths of soaks or drains to have the funnels of your pots facing towards the mouth of the drain. This will allow for ease of access for crabs to enter your pots. If you are placing your pots on the banks of a creek or out on a flat always have the pot facing the way of the tidal flow.

Positioning can be critical

There has been a number of studies done on this and the majority of the underwater footage shows that crabs are more likely to move into a pot which is aligned with the tidal flow then one which is against it. Bait choice is also a very important factor when chasing a feed of mud crabs. Even though mud crabs are scavengers they do prefer fresh bait to old rotten bait so make sure you are changing your baits every 6 hours. There are many theories out there around which baits are best but in my experience its best to use oily fish like mackerel or tuna as opposed to cleaner fish like reef fish frames. Some crabbers prefer to use whole chickens with the feathers still on but this can be a very smelly experience. Additives to bait boxes can be also helpful and some crabbers like to throw in a few pilchards to add that extra oil and smell. Personally I love to throw in a bit of beef heart in every pot as the bloody sinew seems to be a mud crab favourite. No matter what bait you use, it is vital that you have decent bait boxes. The bait is what attracts crabs into the pot and if you have ineffective bait boxes your bait will quickly disappear from small fish picking at it or smaller crabs tearing it apart. Heavy wire gauged bait boxes with inch by inch square mesh still allows the bait to burley but doesn’t allow for the crabs or fish to get at it. This is the down fall of many crabbers as most pots bought off the shelf do not have bait boxes so baits are either wired in or placed in plastic mesh pouches.

Leave the empties in the water (crabs of course)

Getting onto a big haul of crabs like this one is all about getting the little things right.

Getting onto a big haul of crabs like this one is all about getting the little things right.

All this information is vital to help catching crabs but it is also important to understand how to tell an empty crab from a full one as there is no use bringing an empty crab home to eat if it has no meat in it. Like most crustaceans, crabs shed their heard shell to grow. During this process crabs become very light as their meat content shrinks to compensate for this. This can see crabs become very light or what many crabbers call floaters. These floater crabs are usually very light coloured underneath and very green in appearance. The best way to really tell a floated is to press under the carapace near the point measure and if this is hollow your crab is empty and not worth taking. Another way of telling whether a crab is full is by the presence of a brown or rusty coloured under body. Often referred to as rusty bucks, these crabs will have a three-pronged brown star just above their point which signals a full crab. These are the best quality crabs as they are full of meat and perfect for eating. Once you have caught your crabs it’s now time to bring them home and cook them. Some prefer to cook their crabs whole but I am inclined to kill them and break them in two by removing the carapace and splitting them in half. This way you can clean away the gills and guts which makes for a cleaner whiter flesh. You can also cook more crabs at once this way.

Best way to boil

An outdoor boiler is a good idea just makes sure it can generate plenty of heat. I like to use a 30 litre hot water urn as there is no need for flames or gas and it boils the water very quickly.  When cooking crabs its best to boil them in the water you caught them out of unless it is heavily affected by freshwater. I prefer to boil the water to its well and truly bubbling away then thrown in my crabs. Once the water comes back to the boil I then leave them in for 8 minutes before removing them from the water and let them rest until cool. Some people prefer to rest them on ice. Like all fishing scenarios it is the small things which bring in the best results and crabbing is no different. Just throwing your pots in wherever and not considering the tide, bait, bait boxes and pot placement can often be the difference between success and failure.  For further information on crabbing rules and regulations check out


Dan Kaggelis

About Dan Kaggelis

Born in Tully, North Queensland, Dan cut his fishing teeth in the region’s freshwater rivers chasing the tropical triumvirate of sooty grunter, jungle perch and barramundi. With fishing running thick in the Kaggelis family, Dan was fortunate to experience many extended trips to the Western Cape and Gulf of Carpentaria from a young age. This instilled a deep affection for the sport. Living so close to Great Barrier Reef, offshore fishing was also very much included in recreational activities as was free diving and spearfishing.

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