How to Catch Crabs – Step-by-step Guide for Beginners

Crabbing as an outdoor sport has also spread into the weekend’s picnic itinerary of many families living in coastal areas. It’s so much wide-spread that it could now rival fishing regarding popularity and simplicity of the games themselves. For people who are new to this sport, it’s difficult to know where to start. This guide will help you on how to catch crabs as well as providing a myriad of tips for you to begin your hunt.

Before You Begin

Consider your location

Crabs are mostly aquatic animals; they can be found living in both salt and fresh water. However, there is also a small percentage that is terrestrial as well. Therefore, before you dive into this hobby, research your location to see whether you’re near to any natural body of water such as streams, rivers. This way, you can determine if you’re fit for it or not.

Nonetheless, the best place to start would be the beaches.

Consider your location

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Natural beaches with limited human activities (i.e. Not overwhelmed by hungry tourists) are usually the most popular ground for crabs. Without constant human contacts, these places are where they can live and breed undisturbed. Crabs can also be found in brackish waters such as marshes, bays, and inlets as well.

Concise to the title, this article will only help you in knowing how to catch crabs on the beach. Or any coastlines you might find yourself on.

It’s also helpful to join the local’s fishery group or online forums. Thus, you can find the best places to begin your hunt in. Experienced crab fishers might be able to give you a better perspective on your local environments. They probably also give you helpful advice that is not included in this guide.

Skipping this part may lead to a lot of frustration walking under the scorching Sun finding things that aren’t even there in the first place. Hence, this step is very important and will save you a lot of troubles.

Check in with your local laws on fishing

In some countries such as the United Arab Emirate (UAE), you will need to obtain a recreational fishing license before you can begin your hunt. Failure to do this might result in a hefty fine that will certainly ruin your day.

In some country’s wilderness protection law, if the crab you’ve caught is female and it is carrying an egg sac, you must release it. It doesn’t take many skills to know if the crab is expecting, either.

The egg sac is a yellowish, grainy bulge embedded in the abdomen of a female crab.

You shouldn’t have troubles spotting it at all although the size of the sac depends on the species of crabs you got in your hand. The color will stand out immediately when you look at their stomach. If the crab indeed is carrying a sack, release her back into the water immediately. You have to do it despite that the egg sac is part of many special recipes. To be honest,  in some cultures, it is the most valuable part of a crab.

The egg sac is a yellowish

Image source: WDFW

It’s not worth crossing the law unless there are no restrictions in your country.

In some degrees, the size of the captured crab is even something you should watch out for a while you’re hunting. This is to prevent the capture of younglings to sustain the number of the crabs in the area.

Size regulations vary in many countries, and special rules are available to help you determine the legal size of your catches.

In conclusion, it’s best if you check your country’s regulations on fishing in general and crabbing in particular first. Or else, your crabbing trip would end on a very sour note.

How to Catch Crabs – Preparations

Now you’re mentally and legally prepared to hunt for some crabs, let’s move on to the preparations you would need to finish before you embark. Also note that the techniques I will portray are oriented toward hobbyists, not professional fishers. With these techniques, I’m sure you will know how to catch crabs on the beach.


Just like any other hunting activities, you need baits to lure your hunts out of their hiding spots or to trap them. Crabs aren’t nitpicky with their diets; they devour any types of meat, from pork, beef, chicken, fish, worms and even bread.


Image source: The Writing & Photography of Jim Murtagh

Crabs will take your bait no matter if it’s fresh or spoiled, making it an even simpler task. You can just gather left-overs from the previous day’s meals, and it’ll still work magic.

However, crabs have a passionate relationship with sand eels.

They will grip on a tiny bit of sand eel relentlessly and won’t even bother to let go. Therefore, you can employ this tiny fish as the lure. They only cost you a bit of money and a bit of time to drive to the supermarket as well.

Fishing line and a weight

Any fishing line works, but you should consider investing in quality products to guarantee a catch. This way, you can make sure that it’s not going to snap halfway through.

You’ll also need a heavy weight to keep the bait from floating upward to the surface of the water. The baits are light and would float away from the crab’s reach if you don’t have one on your drop line, a tiny steel bar would do.

Ice and a cooler

Preserving your catches are utmost important, when you’re on site, pour a bit of salt water inside the cooler to sustain the crabs.

Keeping the crabs alive is extremely important – DO NOT attempt to eat or prepare a crab that’s dead before it’s on your kitchen table.

When crabs die, their bodies release a powerful toxin which will kick start their decay process. If you do not clean your crabs fast enough within a certain timeframe after they died, the toxin will permeate their bodies. Also, they will have to go to the trash.


Image source: The Taste of Oregon

This toxin can lead to serious food poisoning, so you have to be very meticulous with this phase.

Strong boots

Crabs can bury themselves in the sand, and their pincers will deal a pretty painful sting to your toes if they’re not carefully protected. It’s also important that you pin the crab down, I will elaborate this further below.

Please do not go crabbing in flip-flops or sandals; you’ll regret it if you ever accidentally stepped on one of them on the beach.

And that’s all you virtually need for your first hunt!

The Hunt

After the preparations, the real experience itself is no more sophisticated or harder than the preparation.

It’s best to scan the entire beach first and scout the entire area you would be hunting on. This is to find the most probable places where crabs might dwell themselves in.

Crabs love places that will give them cover from the environment such as under large rocks and stones. They also prefer hiding in and around artificial structures such as harbor walls and piers.

They’re – admittedly – not so easy to spot when they’re hiding. However, if you know where they live, it’s only a matter of time.

The Hunt

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Some other time, they could also be found burying themselves in trenches on the beach as well. Or they could just lay there rather conveniently for the taking.

Each scenario requires different approaches to trapping it. I’ll walk you through each of them:

When it’s concealed under a rock

A crab would be harder to catch if it’s nicely tucked up under a rock. Do not attempt to pull it out using your bare hands; these pincers will give you a hard time.

  • Take out your fishing line. Tie the bait at one end of your drop line alongside with the metal weight.
  • Hover the line in front of the crab. Slowly lure it out of cover until it’s a safe distance away from the rock that it’s not going to be able to return to quickly.
  • Allow the crab to pinch the bait.
  • Hoist the lineup and quickly move the crab to shore.
  • With your covered feet, step on the crab and pin it down so that it cannot move anywhere.
  • Pick the crab up on its last legs – it cannot pinch you if you’re holding it this way.
  • Gently put it into the cooler.

You got your very first catch!

Mostly when you hoist the line up to take the crab out of the water, it will drop the bait and back into the water again. Immediately, step on it as soon as it’s in the water and repeat step 6.

The same went for you when the fishing line got severed by the crab’s pincers.

This is why it’s important to lure the crab out and far from its cover in the first place.

When it’s right on the beach for the taking

This is far easier. Just pick the crab up on its hind legs like you would at step 6 above, and there you go – it’s yours.

How to catch crabs on the beach at night

To do this, you need a flashlight or any portable source of light with you and all of the tools above as normal.

Patrol carefully along the beach with your flashlight to the ground just like you do during the day. However, no matter careful you are, it’s very easy to miss out on the dark shell of a crab.

Again, focus on likely places where crabs could hide such as rocks, piers and harbor walls. But be mindful of the sand also as crabs – again – can hide within the grains.

How to catch crabs on the beach at night

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When you spot one – return to do the same thing you would. Step on it, pick it up on its bottom legs into the cooler.

For some people with a larger budget

They can also invest in a bit more specialized equipment for crabbing at night. The equipment is not too expensive, just several sticks of chem light, baits, and a ring net.

Like I’ve said, crabs are naturally attracted to light sources. However, they won’t be when there is a human presence around. Chemlights (Red works the best) within a ring net rigged with baits will be very enticing for crabs to come over.

The ring net is a very useful and popular crab trap. They’re made of a metallic ring interconnected with large webbings and is controlled with a pull string.

When laid out, it forms a flat circular net that crabs will have no problem getting into. When you tug the pull string, the net will be dragged upward toward the surface. This creates a temporary wall trapping the crabs inside.

Throw the ring net with a stick of red chem light and baits into the water. Without distinct human noises, the crabs will swim toward the lights to investigate and try to eat the baits inside.

After a while, you can tug the pull string up, and you can easily have for yourself 3-5 crabs in a single net!

Extremely simple.

Now it’s not so hard, isn’t it?

You’ve successfully learned how to catch crabs right on the beach!

Crabbing is an entertaining thing to do with your family during weekends, or maybe on your own once in a while. The sweats, the awesome view of the beach and the fresh air will surely refresh your mind after the hectic weeks in the cubicle.

Besides, who can deny the delicious dish afterward from the crab that’s caught by your hand?

Happy hunting!