Posted by & filed under Articles, Fishing.

Crabs for Dinner Anyone?? Baits that can’t be ignored! By Dr. Bogus

Dear Dr. Bogus;

Last week on Saturday morning, I was watching a fishing show on ESPN. These guys were in Florida catching red drum. They were using whole blue claw crabs for bait. This got me to thinking. I reel in a crab or two every day, surf casting with fresh baits, plus there are a million mole crabs running around the beach too. Would they may good bait?  Look forward to your thoughts. Thanks, Mike.

Dear Mike;

Red drum are oligoniverous (there’s that “Bogus” word again) fish, they will eat almost anything, including old reef tires and yes, even those contentious crustaceans. Have you ever looked into their gullet and seen the their food crushing apparatus?  Pretty impressive, and not a place for ones fingers or other bodily parts to frequent. In fact crabs are good bait for a number of fish. Blue crabs, calico, green and of course the fiddlers three; stone crabs, horseshoe, spider and ghosts macabre as they could be. However, with all these to choose from, we will focus on the major fish baits from the petite to the portly. Lets take a culinary look at crabs as bait. So what’s for dinner?


Mole Crabs (Emerita talpoida):

Although neither flea, nor related to the backyard subterranean ground mole, the sand flea or mole crab as it is also known is a wonderful bait. They are found along with the colorful coquina clams in the ocean surf swash, apparently coping well with their Sisyphus like unending cycle of back and forth, up and down on the rise and fall of each wave. Their characteristic V’s in the retreating waves give them away. Mole crabs are readily gathered along the surf on the retreating wave either by hand, net, or commercial gathering devices, who’s sole purpose in life is catching the critters. They are without doubt best bait as recent softies followed by egg laden, (you’ll see a cluster of 20,000 itsy-bitsy teeny‑weenie day-glo orange eggs on the underneath side) but hardies work just fine–thank you. Pompano, sea mullet, croakers, red drum, black drum, sheepshead, stripers and so on are known to suck them up, especially those irresistible softies. Last July, while fishing the surf, right behind the breakers, we did a job on hungry 2‑3 pound black drum, and a near citation sea mullet. Great sport on light tackle, and terrific for dinner. For targeting bigger species, people often place several on a hook at a time. This was a favorite of some of the jetty jumper sharpies. They would cluster a whole family of mole crabs onto a hook and drift them weightless along the rocks. Some big rocks/stripers were taken this way.

One of the eternal Q’s is how do I find the delectable soft shell mole crabs?  Here is one method passed on to me, give it a try.  “An elderly woman told me the secret behind finding the molting sand fleas. Here goes: as a wave recedes from the sand, it leaves behind a glassy “sheen” which in turn recedes to the ocean or maybe it sinks into the sand. As it recedes/sinks into the sand, look along the shiny edge (the ocean side) and try to find a round, “dry” area about the size of a quarter…an area that dries out just before the edge of the sheen recedes around it. Dig where that “spot” was and you will find a molted sand flea. The best time to catch softies and amaze your friends and relatives is low tide. You can put the fleas into an open pail with sand in a cool location and most will stay alive overnight…great bait for early morning surf fishing! The pompano go “nuts” over the molted fleas!” This probably works, but most of us just dig away in the swash and hope for the best.


Fiddler Crabs (Uca pugnax):

Just from their name in either the everyday English or ancient Latin, you can tell that the fiddlers are the baits with pugnacious personality! The fiddlers are found along with the mud snails and amongst the muddy edges of the Spartina grasses in the intertidal marshes of our sounds. They hide deep in their burrows on the rising tides and return upward to the marsh’s mud flats on the receding tides. Seemingly playing a fiddle in the wind, waving their menacing oversized claw rhythmically back and forth they return to the surface in full of anticipation of food and the specter of such periodic rituals of combat and courtship.  Gathering fiddlers can be a challenge compared to the mole crabs. Trying to beat them to their burrows is great exercise but not an effective approach in fiddler gathering.  One method that is effective requires some set-up, patience, a coffee can and a couple pieces of lumber.  As the tide recedes, approach the mud flats where you suspect fiddlers.  You will see dime sized burrow holes in the mud indicative of their past or future presence.  If you were stealthy you would also see the fiddlers themselves but retreating to their holes in the muck, ready to return to the subterranean world if threatened.  In one area dig a hole deep enough to place the coffee entirely down into it.  Next place the boards in a “V” terminating with the coffee can at the vertex. Now the patience, retreat from the muddy marsh and watch at a distance.  You will see the crabs emerge again from their lairs.  When they are safely out and some distance from their burrows eating or in ritual mating behavior, return quickly now in a non-stealthy manner hopefully sending the crabs scattering away from you and to be funneled into the coffee can. Voila, fiddlers in a can.


Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus):

Blue crabs, a.k.a. beautiful swimmers are the perfect food for you, perfect food for me and indeed, perfect food many fish too.  We all know the great table fare blue crabs make blue hard crabs, peelers and softies are ALL power baits for fish. Who?? Tarpon, cobia (a.k.a. crab eaters), drums  red and black, striped bass, as well as trouts, speckled and gray. I learned the art of gathering blue crabs as a youth in a northland, long ago and far away, i.e. Connecticut. We were traditional chicken neckers. Chicken neck on a string, a net and feet covered in muck that was the biosphere of the brackish creek known as the Saugetuck River.  Sometimes we got lucky and netted peelers (pre softies) and on rare occasions we would get doublers a male with a receptive soft shell female suitable for mating. Alternatively, there are more elegant ways to catch the blues, including placing fermenting fish fragments or your favorite chicken appendage into a wire basket or crab pot purported to be at least somewhat resistant to corrosion. Next, cast the device out from a bank, boat or pier and wait for some tens of minutes in the sultry Carolina sun for the appropriate crabs to be overcome from hunger and lured by the specter of an easy meal to wander hopelessly into the trap.  Finally, of course there is the local $eafood dealer.  Depending on your fishy target, the blues can be used live and whole, in halves or bite sized bits and pieces. A plentiful alternative and close relative to the blue crab is the unregulated calico crab, which can be used as a substitute.


Rigging Crabs For Dinner:

The past few weeks I talked about crabs for bait, moles, fiddlers and blues, now is the fun part, catching the fishy foes for which they are intended. When rigging mole crabs or fiddlers I hook them from the topside coming through the bottom of the shell, which hooks and which rigs depend on the target. I use No. 2 or No. 4 long-shank hooks for mealy mouthed sea mullet and pompano on a standard hi-lo rig or a Carolina rig with a single # 2 or # 4 wide gap (Kahle) hook on a 2 ft. leader and an egg sinker if I know the juvenile drums (red or black) are around. This also gives a nice natural presentation for pompano and sea mullet. Remember, most of the time these fish are hugging the shore, at the bottom of the swash, just behind the backwash of the out-going wave, waiting for the mole crabs and other easy meals to wash down to them. So fish right there, in close to the beach, right behind the wash. Don’t overcast your target fish!

Sheepshead are another problem, they are a special case fish.  Strong competitors that live on hard and treacherous structures such as rocks and barnacled bridge and dock pilings, once hooked, they fight like crazy, so one needs to ante up the gear for success.  Strong sharp hooks, 20-40 lb. test line, an aluminum baseball bat for a fishing rod and a reel with a 20:1 gear ratio seems to be the standard fare for the serious.

Trout, both specks and grays are targeted with peelers and softies of the blue crab variety.  No fear, the ubiquitous Carolina rig is appropriate here too.  Bite size peeler bits are easiest to rig because they are firmer. Chunks of the softies are killer baits too but you just have to get more creative in tying and rigging them to the hook. Sewing thread, rubber bands and Crazy Glue are often used to hold them firmly on the hook. For me, it’s hard to use the delectable soft shell blue crab for anything other than human table fare. Remember is you use blue crabs for bait the mush be LEGAL size!

For the BIGGEST of crab loving game fish (here it is Mike), tarpon, cobia, citation red drum and trophy stripers, blue crabs are what’s for dinner.  Whole, hard or peeler, or halved crabs with the carapace (shell) and apron shucked away and legs removed can be used.  Conventional 8/0 hooks or equivalent circle hooks (10/0-13/0) on a fish-finder rig is what’s recommend by the experts. Whole crabs can be hooked through the shell, whereas the halved dismembered crabs are hooked in-and-out the now vacant leg openings. If it’s old drum you are after, remember to use an approved Upton Lupton circle hook rig with the barb mashed down.

So, when on the beach, surf, sound or creek; offshore, inshore or near and what to use for bait is too fuzzy or unclear, think crabs. It’s what’s for dinner!


Internet info:‑cr.html


Also check this excellent Pulitzer winning book, Beautiful Swimmers By William W. Warner


Human Baits: Rummy Softies an Original Recipe By Dr. Bogus (06 Jul 99)


6-softshell crabs properly cleaned


1-hot pepper (to taste)




fresh or dried tarragon




salt & freshly ground pepper




sugar (just a pinch)


2-red onion sliced


juice of one lime


2-each red & green pepper chopped


1/3C-Jamaican rum



Sauté onions, all peppers in olive oil/butter, add lime juice, and rum and pinch of sugar and boil down to a glaze.

Beat eggs and milk, soak crabs and dredge in flour until dry.  Cook in butter/olive oil until crispy but moist.

Treat crispy crabs to the tasty glaze and serve immediately while hot and crispy


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)