Huge crabs with gigantic claws caught in Karumba

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How to Catch Mud Crabs (Scylla Serrata)

So you’ve developed a hunger for these tasty little crustaceans called crabs and want to get out and catch your own. (I guess they aren’t particularly little when you are trying to get them out of the crab traps!) The following article details the best methods that I have found for catching mud crabs, or if you will, “How to catch crabs”. You might go grabbing using different methods, and I am not an expert, but these techniques have helped me to get the best results.

Crab fishing can be a family-oriented sport or activity. After the first time you go crabbing with your children you’ll never stop hearing them on the weekends crying out to you, “Let’s goto Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park for enjoying a remarkable crabbing adventure!”

Local Crabbing Laws and Regulations

Before you can begin your crabbing adventure you must check your local laws and regulations on catching crabs. This is important as each district, state or country has their own set of laws and guidelines on catching crabs.

These rules usually govern what type and sex of crab you are allowed to catch, how many you are allowed to keep, how big the crab has to be before you can keep it, how many traps you are allowed to use, and what identification your traps must have.

It is important to follow these rules no matter how tedious or ridicules they seem. They are there to protect the species to ensure there will be sustainable quantities in the ecosystem. The rules are also in place to ensure that there will be plenty of crabs in the future for people to catch.

Australian laws (in the state of Queensland) for catching crabs permit you only to keep male mud crabs which are greater than 15cm (6 inches) across the back. You are only allowed to have four traps (locally known as crab pots) per person on board your vessel, and these pots have to have your name, address, and phone number clearly labeled on the crap pot and also its float.



Female crabs are called Jennys.
Male crabs are called Bucks.

When to Catch a Mud Crab

To catch a crab, you have to think like a crab. I don’t mean you have to get down on your haunches and scurry around on the floor sideways. What I mean is you have to think like a hungry crab that is always wary of predators and you also have to know about their movements.

Crabs move about more during the safety of night than in the day, so it’s best to leave your crab traps out overnight if possible.

Female crabs feed heavily during the summer months after they have mated to ensure they have enough energy to hatch their offspring. Therefore, you will catch more female crabs during this time.

With the onset of winter, female crabs leave the river systems and estuaries to hatch their offspring. Therefore, during this time you will catch more male crabs.

Markings on the underside of a male crab

Markings on the underside of a male crab

Markings on the underside of a female crab

Markings on the underside of a female crab

What Crabbing Equipment You Need

If you want to catch a crab you’ll need to use or borrow a boat. You can throw crab traps or crab pots in from the bank, but you will be limiting yourself to the places you can put your traps.

Also, these places that are easily accessible from the creek bank are where everyone will be crabbing from, so your catch will be little or none. In Australia, crabbing from the bank can also prove to be fatal. This is because crocodiles can follow your movements on the bank, remember where that human activity occurs the most, and attack when you least expect it.

You will need some good crab traps. There are a lot of varieties, shapes and sizes on the market. For example, they are available in round, square, pyramid, collapsible and net types. Queenslanders (in Australia) used to use traps called Dillys which have since been banned. These were like a basket that sat flat on the sea floor, allowing crabs to make their way to the centre to get to the bait. When you lifted up the rope that attached the float to the trap, the basket would scoop the crabs up.

I use the small, round, and collapsible type as shown in the photo below. I use these because they are cheap to replace if they get lost or stolen and they don’t take up much room in my boat when I am setting up or retrieving the pots. These crab traps or pots are available from most good fishing stores. BCF in Australia usually has huge quantities in stock.

Park Established Slabs Area

Park Established Slabs Area

What Kind of Bait Works Best for Mud Crabs?

Being successful when fishing for crabs has a lot to do with the bait you use. The most successful bait that I have found is whole fish frames. These frames are from fish that I have caught and filleted. I freeze the frames for when I intend to go crabbing. These fish frames include the tail, backbone and head of the fish and are approximately 30cm (12 inches) long as a minimum.
If you don’t have your own fish frames, the next best thing I can think of is mullet heads from a fishing bait store. I would use bones from a butcher’s store as a last resort.
I know crabs are like little scavengers eating from the sea floor but I’d be more inclined to try to catch them on the foods that they are used to. I have been more successful this way.
I have heard of crabbers using baits like pierced cat food tins, road kill, chickens, pigs heads and even whole kangaroos. If I were a crab I’d know which food I’d go for, but ultimately this choice is up to the individual.
Crabs enter from all sides through one of the 4 openings

Crabs enter from all sides through one of the 4 openings

Crab pots. Top is shown collapsed and the bottom is shown open.

Crab pots. Top is shown collapsed and the bottom is shown open.

Best Moon or Tide Phase for Crabbing

From my experience, moon phases and tides have little to do with the success of catching crabs. For me it has more to do with baits and seasons.
Typically we are told to go crabbing on a half moon phase. This is when there is little run in the tide. I’d say this would be the best time to go crabbing as the crabs will move around further to find food. They won’t be affected as much by the currents caused by the run in the tide (change in tide height).
I would still go crabbing on a full moon or new moon, possibly tending more to the new moon. This is because on a new moon the night is darker and as a crab, I’ll be more protected being out of the moonlight. The only reason I’d skip crab fishing on full or new moon phases is if the weather or wind is great for getting out to catch some fish on the reef.
I also talk about moon phases and tides in the following paragraph.

Where Do I Catch Crabs?

Karumba Point, Queensland: In the tropics you will catch mud crabs in the estuary, in the creeks, or on the mud flats. You might have more luck on the mud flats than in the creeks as most crabbers target creek locations. On the mud flats, you will also catch the smaller blue swimmer crab (note that these crabs have different size and possession limits).
You will be able to crab during full or new moon phases on the mud flats as the large change in tide height will have less effect than it does in the creeks. As you could imagine a creek is like a gutter of the mangrove estuary system. During a full or new moon phase, these narrow and deep creeks and gutters have quite strong currents. The crabs won’t enjoy coming out in these strong currents and you may even lose your crab trap as they will get carried away and out to sea.

Mangroves in the Estuary

Mangroves in the Estuary

We counted nine crabs in this trap, but all had to go back as they were female or undersize male crabs

We counted nine crabs in this trap, but all had to go back as they were female or undersize male crabs

How to Eat Crab

If you’ve found this article useful and have caught your share of either mud crab, blue swimmers or the crabs from your local area then maybe you’d like to learn how to eat crab?
In another article, I talk about how I cook and eat crab.

Live male crab in our kitchen sink!

Live male crab in our kitchen sink!

Crab claw in detail

Crab claw in detail

The Ugly Side of Crabbing: Robbery

The ugly side of crabbing is when other crabbers or fishers check your crab pots, or worse, steal them. Regular crabbers call this activity “share farming.” Although this is illegal, there is little you can do to prevent it from happening. Some people have had pots raided and stolen on a couple of occasions. When this happens, you immediately feel like going out and doing the same to other pots in your surroundings. You can’t do this and you shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t lower yourself to the raider or thief’s level.

To try to prevent crab pot theft try these pointers:

  • Crab in areas which are hard to access or are in remote areas.
  • Put your crab pots out at sunset and collect them at sunrise.
  • Don’t go crabbing on school holidays or other public holidays.
  • Camouflage your crab pot floats.
  • If you see another boat in the area, “guard” your pots until they leave.

There are usually only a few “rotten eggs” who spoil this fun pastime for others. If you know of anyone who has stolen crabs or crab pots, you should know that it is an illegal offence and you should report them. Contact CrimeStoppers (in Australia)

Park Gardens

Park Gardens

You may have overheard your friends bragging about the extra crab pots that they “found” or may have seen your friends return home from crabbing with extra crab pots.
Please do the right thing and report it to your local authorities.
Crab pots have become relatively cheap and you would think that crab pot stealing would go down, however as the population grows I doubt this activity will lessen.

It’s up to all of us to ensure crabbing remains a fun activity for everyone.

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