How to catch crabs

Catching a crustacean is easier than you think.

Story by Laura Jacobi

The Lowcountry offers a multitude of recreational water activities. One of the easiest pastimes to experience with the entire family is crabbing because it doesn’t really take much skill or typically even a fishing license. It simply requires a little patience and a few basic tools.

How to Catch a Crab Hilton Head
Catching crabs is a popular activity here in the Lowcountry. All you need are a few basic tools and a little patience.

License not required

The causal family or group of friends looking to catch their dinner while on vacation or during a relaxing weekend aren’t required to get a fishing license. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, anyone fishing for crustaceans or shellfish doesn’t need a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License if they’re using three or fewer drop nets, fold-up traps or handlines. If using crab pots to catch their meal, a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License is required if the licensee uses no more than two pots. A commercial license and other gear are required if crabbing with more than two pots.

Go at low tide

The Lowcountry’s saltwater areas are populated with blue and stone crabs, although the Atlantic Blue Crab is the most plentiful and easiest to catch. Blue crabs typically congregate near boat landings, docks or piers as well as tidal creeks – usually any open space near salt water. Although any time is good to spend quality time with friends and family to go crabbing, most research suggests the best time for successful crabbing is near low tide because crabs are closer to the shoreline and feeding.

Local hot spots

The Lowcountry is certainly not lacking in the number of spots available to go crabbing. A full list of public boat landings and piers is available online at bcgov.net.

Locals have their favorite spots accompanied by their favorite fishing or crabbing tales. Mandy Waite grew up on Hilton Head Island and has lived in Bluffton for the past 19 years. Many of her favorite Lowcountry memories include being on the water. According to Waite, Sawmill Landing in Bluffton is the best Lowcountry spot for crabbing, although the docks at the Hilton Head Island bridges are good too, she says. Waite doesn’t know why the landing has brought her family such crabbing success, but she says maybe the open marsh area and lack of oyster bars are potential factors. “The landing has a great dock for crabbing,” Waite says. “Any day of the summer you can find many people out there catching buckets full (of crabs).”

Use chicken as bait

The reason why crabbing is so popular is because anyone can do it. Just pick up a net or trap, some string and the bait of your choice. The type of equipment is determined by the level of time and money the crabber wishes to put into the experience. Options are drop nets, collapsible or fold-up traps or handlines. But one thing most Lowcountry residents agree on is that chicken makes for the best crab bait, especially chicken necks. Waite says any chicken that happens to go bad, just freeze it and use as crab bait. “Not sure why chicken is the best crab bait,” Waite says. “But I’ve always used it.”

Follow the rules

When hunting for blue crabs, South Carolina law requires crabbers to throw back any crabs that measure less than 5 inches across the back or any female crabs with an egg mass that indicates she is reproducing. Stone crabs aren’t caught as often, but they can tend to hang out at the bottom of river beds. The claw meat can make for a hearty and delicious meal. However, there are restrictions when it comes to catching stone crabs. Only stone crabs with two claws can be caught. State law requires that the larger claw be broken off and kept, and the crab can then be tossed back. But no claws can be removed from female stone crabs with an egg mass. “It is unlawful to possess any stone crab body live or dead” according to SCDNR.

A last piece of advice for anyone planning to go crabbing, locals ask to toss back any crabs they don’t plan to eat.


How to pick up a crab

How to Pick Up a Crab

STEP 1 Have a friend distract the crab while you sneak up behind it.

STEP 2 Pin the crab to the ground, putting your fingers towards the back of its shell so that your fingers are out of reach of its claws.

STEP 3 Pick the crab up by putting your thumb under the shell and two fingers on top of shell

STEP 4 Immediately flip the crab on its back. This will get it to calm down and stop moving which lessens the chance of it pinching you.

STEP 5 Take some pictures, chase your kids around, and don’t forget to put the crabs back.

Note: These steps work for all types of crabs. Try bringing out a flashlight at night to go ghost crab hunting for a fun family adventure!