When it comes to bait, we have a lot of options here in Southwest Florida. We have shrimp, pinfish, whitebait and many other varieties of baitfish. If you look in a freezer in a bait shop, you’ll find sardines, silversides, squid, sand fleas, ballyhoo — the possibilities go on and on.
One of the most overlooked baits is blue crabs. I have found these feisty critters to be one of the best baits out there for a wide variety of fish. They’re readily available year round and you don’t need a live well built by NASA engineers to keep them alive. Best of all, you don’t need a nerve-wracking, self-tangling, hard-to-throw castnet to catch them.
The quickest way to acquire a few crabs is to check the bait shop. I work at Fishin’ Frank’s, where they are usually available in various sizes. Your target fish will determine the size of crabs you want to get; I’ll discuss that in a moment.
If you don’t want to buy crabs, get yourself a couple of crab traps and bait them with chicken necks, fish, pig feet or really any kind of meat you have available. Tie the trap to your dock and put it in the water over night. If you have crabs in your area, you will probably catch at least a couple.
If you don’t have a dock, you can place your traps out in the water. Make sure you put a buoy on it and mark it with an R (which denotes it as a recreational rather than a commercial trap). Go to the pet store and print a metal tag with your name and address and wire it to the trap. You are allowed five traps per licensed fisherman, and the limit is one five-gallon bucket of live crabs a day. Any egg-bearing females must be released.
Once you have caught your crabs, remove their claws because they can inflict some serious damage to you and the other crabs. Just take a pair of long pliers, grab each claw in the middle, and squeeze. The crab will release them like a captured lizard breaks his tail. In time, the claws grow back.
Once you have some crabs, there are a couple of ways to keep them alive. My favorite way is to place a damp towel (soaked in salt water) in a big cooler, put the crabs in, then place another damp towel over the top of them. Place the crabs in a cool place out of the sun and make sure to keep the towels damp. They’ll be good for a few days
The other choice is to keep them in water. This is harder, because you need to aerate the water well or they will drown.
Now that we have learned how to catch and maintain them let’s discuss some of the techniques to fish with them .
If you have read WaterLine in the last few weeks, you have been educated on how to use crabs for tarpon fishing. So rather than repeat what’s been said (and if you missed it, go to BoatingAndFishing.com to see back issues), I’m gonna move on to the next species: Redfish.
Blue crabs are hands down one of the best baits available for redfish. I learned my method from Capt. Karl Butigian. Get the biggest crabs you can find, cut them in half, cast them in your normal redfish spots and just let ‘em sit. I usually rig them on a half-ounce jighead with a 2/0 hook.
The next target is black drum. Here you can use your crabs alive or dead. I prefer the same crabs I’d use for redfish, and also cut in half. I rig them on a circle hook with a weight between a half-ounce and one ounce. Black drum can get huge and I fish around structure, so I use a medium-heavy setup with 30-pound braid and 40-pound leader. My favorite places to soak crabs for black drum is on bridge pilings and along sea walls in deeper canals. They like concrete because of the oysters and barnacles that grow there.
By the way, don’t be surprised if you catch a big snook while targeting reds or black drum. Yes, they like crabs too.
I also like to target bonnethead sharks with cut crabs. Just throw a small piece of crab rigged on a short wire leader around a sandbar and let it soak. Crabs are among the bonnethead’s favorite foods. With a little luck, you might hook into a cobia using this technique. Cobia love crabs — so much that crabeater is one of their nicknames.
I have a challenge for all you offshore folks out there: Go to one of your spots and drop a live crab where you usually drop your normal baits (big crabs for grouper and smaller ones for snapper). I think you will be surprised how fast your crab gets eaten.
If you would like more info on any of these techniques, stop by Fishin’ Frank’s and ask for Capt. Pegleg. I’ll be glad to help, and so will any of the rest of our pirate crew.
Remember, get your kids hooked on fishing and they won’t be able to afford drugs.
Capt. Steve “Pegleg” Phillips owns and operates Southern Charm Charters, with his wife Heather as occasional first mate. If you’re wondering why his friends call him Pegleg, stop in at Fishin’ Frank’s and meet him. For charter info, contact him at 678-787-4750 or through his Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2vesgVn.