If you are thinking about trying recreational stone crabbing, that’s great. The reward is some of the best tasting crabs in the world, but it’s a lot of hard, dirty, wet, smelly work and the crabs are very strong and can cause serious injury if not handled properly.
The most common way to catch them is to use traps. We like the plastic traps with a concrete base as the weight helps to keep them in place in storms or strong tides. The drawback is they are heavy and must be set and pulled by hand as no mechanical assist is legal for recreational fishermen.
Baiting traps can be really nasty. We typically use frozen mullet and you can purchase “bait mullet” at your local fish house. It usually comes in 25 or 50-pound boxes so you are going to need a place to keep it. We have an old small chest freezer that is used strictly for bait.
Bait needs to be protected from small fish and crabs or it will be eaten very quickly. Most traps come with bait cups which are slotted to let the scent out but do not allow the bait to be easily eaten. Mullet typically needs to be cut to fit into the bait cups or the lid may not close properly.
Pull traps every several days because if your bait is in a cup, there is nothing for the crabs to eat… except each other. and they will. We have occasionally been forced by bad weather to leave traps out for extended periods and when we pulled them, we have found one or two big crabs… and pieces of shells of other smaller ones.
Marine life will grow on your trap and on your line and depending on the area where you are trapping, it can be heavy. You may need to periodically clean some of it off. If you get a lot of growth on your trap line, it can keep your float from being on the surface… Keep a metal paint scraper on board.
As we said previously, Stone Crabs are very strong and have large powerful pinchers and can cause serious injury if not handled properly. BE VERY CAREFUL. Wear gloves to protect your hands and the best ones are rubberized so you can get a good grip on trap lines or crabs when they are wet and things are slimy. We also wear long-sleeve shirts as there can be barnacles on traps that can cut you when you are reaching into the traps.
Getting the crabs out of the traps can be done several ways. Some people will bring a large tub or recycle bin and dump the contents of the trap in there to make it easier to grab the crabs. Experience crabbers just reach in and grab the crab by both claws, but you need to make sure you know where all other crabs are… they can be on the sides or under the lid of the trap. You want to reach from the back of the crab so that when you are holding it, it is facing away from you.. and never let go of the claws or you can hurt. Measuring the claws can be a challenge if you are alone so its best to always have someone with you when pulling traps. They can assist with measuring claws and help you in the event of an injury.
And unless you have several acres of land where you can store your traps well away from your house so you can’t smell them, you will need to clean the barnacles and marine life off the traps at end of the season. This is best accomplished with a pressure washer and if you don’t live on the water, you are going to have a smelly mess to dispose of when you are done. We do it in full rain gear and goggles so we can hose ourselves off when we are done. You can also use a metal paint scraper, but it’s a lot of work.