Does the idea of being able to get your fix of crab year-round sound ideal? Do you want a crustacean that is easy to catch, abundant and delicious? Then the Blue Crab might be the one for you.
Florida’s Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean are packed with fantastic locations for Blue Crab fishing. Because of their continuously rising population, you are likely to leave each trip with a satisfying bucketful of these delicious creatures. With the boom in boating it is not surprising that the Blue Crab is becoming a popular choice among novice and seasoned crabbers alike.
From tips & tricks to the best equipment to cook your catch, here is all you need to know before setting out on your next crabbing trip.
How Do Blue Crabs Stand Out?
Despite its name, the Blue Crab, also known as the Chesapeake Blue Crab or the Atlantic Blue Crab, has a speckled brown shell. However, it can easily be recognized by a number of distinctive features. The Blue Crab has striking sapphire colored claws, and a fifth pair of legs shaped like a paddle, making them exceptionally strong swimmers.
Mature females can be identified by the red highlights down their pincers and a wide, rounded abdomen, while male Blue Crabs have a strong abdomen in the shape of an inverted T. Males can grow up to eight inches across, with females being generally smaller in size.
Where to Find Blue Crabs
The Blue Crab is abundant year-round throughout Florida’s Gulf of Mexico and almost all the way up the Atlantic Coast. However, spring and summer are considered to be the true Blue Crab season, as larger Blue Crab populations are usually spotted in warm watered areas.
When it comes to crabbing, the early bird catches the worm, or in this case the crab. Larger male crabs, who have the most meat, are more often found in the early morning or at high tide as they prefer still or shallow waters.
In terms of locations, Florida Blue Crabs are easily found in a number of areas across the state. When most people think of Blue Crabs they think of north Florida like Pensacola Bay and Escambia Bay, however, there are some other crabbing spots in south Florida as well!
With the big game fish in the bays and inland waters, south Florida beaches are not the best environments, but hit up your local grass flats and bridges and you will likely enjoy a whole different crabbing experience. Bridges like the skyway bridges, outside of Bradenton and Sarasota, are known to be a home for enough blue crabs to share.
On the Atlantic coast, Amelia Island is haven for blue crab enthusiasts. Simpson Creek, just south of Amelia Island is said to house some of the largest blue crabs of Florida. You can always find bridges and grass flats throughout all of Florida, pick a spot and see how many you can bag!
Rules and Regulations
Before heading off on your next fishing trip, make sure to familiarize yourself with the crabbing rules and regulations.
In the Florida Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic State Waters, your daily bag limit is capped at 10 gallons whole per harvester per day. And even though there are no regulations regarding the size of crabs you can catch, harvesting any egg-bearing females are strictly prohibited.
In terms of legal gear requirements, you can have a maximum of five Blue Crab traps per person, a dip or landing net, drop net, hook & line, push scrape and trotline. A fold up trap should have a volume of no more than one cubic foot.
Even though it’s not a legal requirement, it might be worth picking up some fishing weights to secure your nets to the Gulf or Atlantic floor, fishing gloves to help you pick up your sharp clawed crabs, and a rope to tie your traps to the dock.
When it comes to catching your Blue Crabs, traps are one of a few options. Traps come in a variety of styles and sizes, and how and where you are crabbing will determine which one is best for you.
A popular crab trap for those fishing from shore is the pyramid shaped Crab Trap. Usually made of metal wire, you can attach the bait to your trap and lower it to the bottom of the water. The walls of the trap will lay open and flat on the ground, meaning that crabs can easily walk in and feed on the bait. Once you think enough time has passed, usually around an hour or so, you then quickly pull the trap up from the water. This will cause the walls of the trap to close shut and trap the crabs inside.
Another effective and widely used crab trap is the traditional box shaped trap. These traps are popular as they can be left for longer periods of time. The center of the trap has a designated area to hold bait, ensuring that no crabs can steal it, as well as having holes that allow smaller crabs to escape. You can drop the trap near the shore, off a dock or from a boat, with the option to come back in a couple of hours or even days. The design of this trap means that when the Blue Crabs walk in, the door will close behind them, and they will be unable to get back out.
However, be sure that your Blue Crab traps meet Florida state’s specifications, related to the construction of the trap itself, as follows:
To control species populations and avoid overfishing, you must follow crabbing regulations. Anyone over the age of 16 is required to complete a free online trap registration course before using any form of crab trap. Once completed, a unique trap registration will be provided that must be included in each trap, as well as the owner’s full name and address. Traps must be registered annually, but the unique registration number will not change year-to-year. Failure to follow these regulations could result in a fine. Visit GoOutdoorsFlorida.com to register.
When retrieving your trap, it must be pulled manually and not by a mechanical puller. If a boat is equipped with a mechanical trap puller, it is considered a commercial vessel and will require the appropriate licenses. Traps must only be pulled during daylight hours, not be dropped in any navigational channels, and must not harvest crabs outside of state waters.
Biscayne National Park Regulations
Regional closures have been set out by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), to allow any lost or abandoned Blue Crab traps to be retrieved from Florida state waters. The closures alternate coasts every year, with east coast Florida closures taking place on years with even numbers and west coast closures on odd numbered years. These closures prohibit any recreational or commercial harvest of Blue Crabs with traps, with each closure lasting up to ten days.
Regional closures only apply to traps. You are permitted to harvest Blue Crabs with other equipment, such as dip nets, during this time. Additionally, traps that are linked to private property are not included in the regional closures.
Even though 2020 closures have been canceled, below are the dates that were planned, to help give you an idea of what to expect in other even year closures.
Female Crab Harvesting
To help conserve the Florida crab population, it is illegal to catch and harvest egg-bearing female Blue Crabs. While male Blue Crabs are able to mate several times in their life, females can only mate once after they mature. Even though you can legally harvest female Blue Crabs that are not bearing eggs, it is common practice to release them anyway.
What to Stuff your Traps With
When it comes to bait, many crabbers say the oilier and smellier it is, the more Blue Crabs you’ll attract. Many seasoned anglers freeze parts of their catch they cannot use, such as fish heads, dead mullets, or other oily fish, and use this as bait for their next crabbing trip.
However, crabs are scavengers by nature, so even if your bait is not an oily type of fish, you can still catch several crabs with pretty much any meat. You can use other bait such as chicken necks, squid or other types of fish found at your local store. Whatever you decide on as bait, make sure you secure it firmly to your trap. Even the most experienced crabbers have been caught out by crabs walking off with their prized bait.
How to Cook up Your Crab Catch
Prized for their sweet, succulent meat, Blue Crabs can be served in a variety of ways, making them one of the most harvested creatures in the world. No matter the size or number of Blue Crabs you have caught, the method of cooking them is generally the same.
To create a tasty dish out of this crustacean, all you need to get started is a mallet, a pot of boiling water and your favorite seasoning. For the best flavor, make sure your crabs are alive when you begin, and throw them all into a pot of boiling water and season to your liking. Then wait for the shells to turn a vibrant shade of red, grab your crab from the pot and smack the shell with your mallet until you get to the white meat.
You can eat your crab meat straight from the pot on its own, or you might choose to incorporate it as part of a recipe. Some popular Blue Crab dishes include crab pie, crab salad, crab cakes or as a cheesy crab spread on crackers.
Best Boats Used to Get to Blue Crab Habitats
The most popular method of Blue Crab fishing is trapping your catch from a pier, dock or using a scoop net from shore. However, if you would prefer to get out on the water, there are a number of boats you can use for an equally successful crabbing trip. These are available from manufacturers such as Skeeter, Shoalwater, Bennington, Sylvan and Maverick.
Bay Boats/ Flats Boats
Bay boats and flat boats are an excellent choice if you are looking to go Blue Crab fishing. Unlike other boats, bay and flat boats have a shallow running draft, allowing you to access those hard to reach spots, such as creeks and shallow water, which are popular spots for Blue Crabs.
Catamaran/ Pontoon Boats
Catamarans and Pontoon Boats can also make an excellent crabbing platform. These boats are very maneuverable as their engines eliminate the need for a bow thruster, meaning you can easily work your way into an optimal crabbing location. Catamarans and Pontoon boats are popular among families due to their size, making them perfect for crabbing on a family fishing trip.
All-Purpose Fishing Boats
All-purpose fishing boats are incredibly versatile and make for the perfect crabbing vessel. They can be sailed smoothly on different bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes or bays, allowing you to explore different Blue Crab habitats to find your best catch.
Jon/ Skiff Boats
Jon Boats have a very flat bottom and a squared-off or blunt bow, meaning they can easily operate in shallow water. This aluminum boats’ rugged construction makes it ideal for sailing into popular Blue Crab hiding spots, such as shallow water, reservoirs or close to shore.
Skiffs are often flat bottomed or have a shallow-v hull. The bow is often more pointed than a Jon boat. The v hull allows a skiff to go into skinny waters as well as a bit rougher/ slightly deeper water than most Jon’s can safely traverse.
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Whether it is from the shore, pier or boat, Blue Crab fishing is a fantastically fun and rewarding activity that you and your loved ones can enjoy all year round. Before setting off on your next crabbing trip, be sure to check the trap regulations and specifications, as well as any regional closures in your area. And if you catch an egg-bearing female, do not forget to fish responsibly and release it back into the water to help preserve the Blue Crab population.