Help Me and My Friends Catch Crabs
November 17, 2010 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Me and a couple friends want to go crabbing in the San Francisco Bay area. We're looking for some tips to maximize our catch from people with first-hand crabbing experience.

We've found a lot of good info online: We know where to get nets and traps, we know that dungeness crabs are verboten, we know we don't need a fishing license if we're on a public pier. But beyond that, we're newbies.

Specifically, I'd be grateful if anyone knows particularly good spots to catch tasty crab, or if anyone has bait advice, technique advice, or warnings about things we might not be expecting as first-timers.

Also, right now we're thinking public pier to save money on the license, but if you know of a great spot that makes the license worth it, we'd consider ponying up.

You may now start making jokes about catching crabs. Just try to include some useful advice as well, please.
posted by thebergfather to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can do this. I did it one time in New England as a teenager. All you need is an orange net and some old hot dogs. If you want nicer crabs, go for some kind of deer sausage.

You're welcome.
posted by SassHat at 3:11 PM on November 17, 2010

This doesn't answer the question, but why are Dungeness crabs verboten? The season opens this weekend, doesn't it?

I'm sure there are other places but the little shop near the Berkeley pier attracts many crab fishermen. I'm sure they'd be able to help.

The problem with fishing off piers is that your crabs will have been eating all the stuff near the pier, which is nasty. If you go with the pier technique, I'd opt for one that's as close to the ocean currents as possible. As a wild guess(really), for instance, I'd suspect Berkeley of being cleaner than Crockett, since it's right across from the golden gate and gets a rip roaring tidal current.

At that same store, I've heard (boat, not pier) crabbers complaining over the last couple of years that their traps have been getting stolen, so maybe don't leave them overnight. They're about $100 each, aren't they?
posted by small_ruminant at 3:12 PM on November 17, 2010

I did this all the time growing up in Maryland. Chicken necks work really well, because they don't fall apart in the water and the meat is tougher than hot dogs. Bring a bucket to keep your catches in as you're crabbing. Keep the net in the water so that you don't scare the crab off when it's nettin' time. Take silly photos of a crab hanging off your ear, nose, etc. by its pinchers. When you cook them, use Old Bay seasoning.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 3:15 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

The pier by the Warming Hut at Crissy Field (near Fort Point) seems to be very popular with crabbers, and the ones I've seen all seem to use raw chicken.
posted by rtha at 3:15 PM on November 17, 2010

The pier in Pacifica is full o' crabbin'
posted by Gucky at 3:17 PM on November 17, 2010

PS: With the chicken necks, I'm talking about crabbing with a line off a pier.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 3:17 PM on November 17, 2010

The public pier here in Pacifica is always filled with crabbers (is that the right term?). I've never done it myself, though.

I see a lot of people with those little traps that you put on a fishing pole (apparently this is a "crab snare"). Like this

I don't know if they work better or are just less boring than traditional crab traps.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:19 PM on November 17, 2010

will have been eating all the stuff near the pier, which is nasty

Specifically, I'm thinking of the Chevron refinery, San Quentin sewage spill problems, the Richmond (formerly Naval) shipyards, Treasure Island former Naval base, Sacramento valley pesticides, all the crap that washes off the city streets and into the drainage ditches and a thousand other chemical delicacies, not dead critters which are fine and dandy for crab food.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:23 PM on November 17, 2010

I will stop posting now, but I just got this in my Inbox:

Calif. crabbers wait, give catch time to fatten upThe Associated Press November 16, 2010

Even though this year's Dungeness crab catch is looking strong, many crabbers are waiting a little longer before filling their boats up this year. While Sunday marked the official opening to the Dungeness season off California's central coast, fishermen say the crustaceans need days or even weeks more to mature and fatten up. Fishermen say the seafloor is crawling with adult male crab this season, following poor catches the past couple years.

Yet tests of crustaceans caught from Half Moon Bay to Bodega Bay are being conducted to make sure the crabs have enough meat in the shells. Fisherman, buyers and eaters want crabs with 25 percent of the body weight made up of meat. So far, fishermen say this year's catch needs more time to reach that goal. Most boats are staying in port for now while further tests of the quality are done.

"This isn't a stall tactic by the local boats to hold up the season," Chris Lawson, president of the Fishermen's Marketing Association of Bodega Bay," told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. "We just don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot by catching crabs that aren't ready."

Fishermen believe the abundance of crabs has meant more competition for food, so the crustaceans are eating less and growing at a slower pace. Once they fatten up, the season should be the best in years.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:27 PM on November 17, 2010

Just came in here to say what lockestockbarrel said. Have fun! Crabbing is super fun and rewarding. Cast in different areas til you catch one and then keep casting to the same spot. Crabs chill together. If you catch a spider crab, throw that shit back they are nasty!
posted by johnnybeggs at 3:27 PM on November 17, 2010

This is great info so far! You know, I guess we *could* catch dungeness crabs. All I know is that I looked at the regulations and sort of felt it was better to be on the safe side. But maybe I'll take another look.

Pacifica is looking like a great option.
posted by thebergfather at 3:32 PM on November 17, 2010

This is a fantastic form of entertainment, I crab about two times a week during open season. A boat is the best option, I have never and most likely will never go for crab in the bay, lots of bad things happen in the bay and for the most part they taste like what they are in. The pier in Santa Cruz is a good place to start.

What do dungees like to eat? Chicken, it works like a charm. I have used all sorts of wacky things to keep them bitting and chicken works the best. That being said, they will eat ANYTHING, I have a friend who keeps a bucket of crab bait, he lets it start to smell really good and then uses half of it and keeps the rest to mix with new bait so that all the bait he uses smells like hell.

Keep in mind that EVERYTHING you do must be by the book, fish and game is a nightmare and keeping it legal takes some reading. There is crabbing etiquette: only take male crabs (even if you can take females), never take a claw, it is a dick thing to do, and be nice to the ones you throw back.

If you go to anyone spot often enough you make friends with the usuals and hear wacky stories and tips. If I know one thing about crabbing or fishing in general it's: if you want to hear how someone does something just ask, if you want to hear where someone does something you can go to hell.

When people ask me where I get my abalone I tell them Nonya Rock just down business St. I friend of mine was offered a chance to go to a secret fishing hole out in the middle of nowhere. He was ecstatic and knew this spot was going to be awesome; so on the ride up to the spot he paid attention to every turn and memorized the route. About 45 min in his friend asked him to get something out of the back in the windowless van, so my buddy spent the last 15 min of the trip looking for some random piece of gear that did not exist (and had no idea where they were). After a fantastic day of fishing they returned to the van and my buddy was wondering how the hell he was going to trick him this time. My buddy was asked simply to put his head between his knees for the first 15 min of the ride home.

When attaching crab bait always keep it ON the ring and not away from it, bait that floats can't be loosely tied on, it has to be tightly wrapped in the middle of the ring.

Crabbing is not about getting crab if you go off of a pier, you will catch little. I go with friends drink a beer and enjoy a day next to the water. Bring a rod and reel, beer, lawn chairs, food, and a jacket.
posted by Felex at 3:43 PM on November 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

I too used to go crabbing in Maryland off a pier. My formula for success was pretty simple, but I never went home with to an empty stock pot:

Chicken necks tied to a string and a long net. You get a feel for how to scoop up the crabs and it works best with two people, one dragging the neck towards the net once you've felt a tug, and the other operating the net.
posted by finitejest at 8:42 PM on November 17, 2010

I use to do crabbin at Bodega Bay and didn't do it with fancy equipment.
1) get about 20' of rope and and 2 burlap sacks. Like 25 lb potato sacks.
2) go get 5-10 fish heads (got mine from the cleaning stations near the docks). Put them into the sack with a 1/2 bread loaf size rock, squeeze most of the air out and tie the sack shut.
3) use a fish net that would hold at least 1.5 sacks as created above.

Go out on the jetty as far as you can and throw the sack in. Wait for a while, then pull it up. Have the net ready and scoup the crabs and bag as soon as you can see it in the water. The crabs will be on the sack trying to get at the fish heads inside and will start dropping off when you get it into the air.

Then, of course, put the crabs into the other sack, tie the sack, then let it sit in the water.
posted by CodeMonkey at 8:38 AM on November 18, 2010

There's some great advice here. I crab quite a bit with my family; when he was younger, my dad was a shrimper/crabber by trade, so he knows quite a bit about

We usually crab in Sabine Pass (which is in Southeast Texas), and we have blue crabs down here, so I don't know how this advice will work in a different envrionment. But, for what it's worth:

- Seconding chicken necks. We've used all sorts of things, but (for whatever reason) these seem to work the best. The stinkier and nastier, the better! Um, actually I don't know if that's true or not (do crabs have some kind of olfactory sense?). Dad always says so. You don't want them to be frozen solid for sure; you want them to waft around in the water.

- Instead of using string or a box-style trap to catch the crabs (albeit those both work just fine), consider a circular trap that looks like this: [ ]. Note the positioning of the strings that are attached to the bigger circle. The bait is attached to the bottom netting with a big metal clip, and the trap is thrown gently into water with the strings facing up; the single string at the top which connects to the smaller strings is tied off on something that won't get dragged away. Not taut, though- you want to make sure that the net rests at the floor of the body of water. This works best off of a pier or bridge where you're above the water rather than level with it, but it will work if you're level with the water too. Every 10 minutes or so, quickly bring the trap up by pulling the string to you. The force of pulling the trap up by the strongs causes the net to deepen in the center, trapping any crabs which happen to be feasting on the tasty chicken neck therein. This is the main method we use to catch crabs, and it's been good to us.

- Nthing the suggestions to be careful with the net if you're bringing crabs up by a string. The movement of the net will spook them even if they're still in the water, and they'll let go of the bait if that happens. Slowly move the net over to the trapped crab when the crab's pulled close to the water's surface, gently put the net under it to catch it.

- (NOTE: What I'm about to tell you now applies to blue crabs but may not for dungeness crabs, I just don't know. Google around and see, as you will almost certainly have to pick up a few crabs by hand.) If you should find yourself in a position where you have to pick up a crab, gently press down on one of its claws to imobilize it (wear shoes of course!) and then firmly pick it up by one its back flipper legs. It's *almost* impossible for the crab to pinch you now. Be careful, getting pinched can kinda suck.

- AS SOON AS THE CRABS ARE CAUGHT, PUT THEM ON ICE. Crabs spoil quickly; the ice will prevent that. Bring a big cooler half-filled with it.

- Definitely make sure you're aware of all the regulations. In my crabbing area, the blue crabs have to be 4" left-to-right from tip to tip, and we always carry a stick with 4" marked off on it. Last time we went crabbing a warden actually stopped us, checked out permits, and looked through the crabs in our ice chest; luckily we knew the rules.

Hope this is of some help to you. Happy hunting! Crabbing's a ton of fun, you'll love it.
posted by kryptondog at 2:39 PM on November 18, 2010

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