There is a big difference between crabbing for fun and crabbing for a living. We are only going to discuss crabbing for fun. Do not tamper with or use crab pots you find while fishing. Crabbers who work hard for a living own and work these crab pots. At best you’ll get a fine, you could get shot (kidding … sort of).
If you’ve ever been fishing in the sound, very likely you have caught a crab even if you were trying for something else. They will steal your bait and you will feel like you have a nice one on the line only to discover it’s a crab. They will usually drop off before you get them in the boat so no worries about how to pull them off your line.
How to Catch Crabs (the good way)
Atlantic Blue Crabs are caught on the Outer Banks during the warmer months and it’s an inexpensive activity for the whole family. Kids and families really enjoy crabbing plus you’re enjoying the water, having a little back to nature lesson and you can catch your dinner (or just enjoy the experience and let the crabs go back in the water).
All you need to catch crabs can be purchased at a hardware store or tackle shop. You can purchase a crab pot (only one for your personal use) tie it off to a dock or piling then leave it and come back later to check it. But it’s more fun and cheaper to just get a piece of cord or heavy string a few yards long plus some disgusting meat like chicken necks or fish heads to catch your crabs. It also helps to have a dip net. Tie your bait on the line then let it sink to the bottom. Periodically feel the line to see if a crab is feeding or tugging on the other end. If you feel a crab, slowly raise the string until the crab is visible. Then sweep the dip net under the crab, bait and weight and catch all three. This method also helps children learn how long a minute or 5 minutes really is and the value of being quiet for a few minutes so they won’t scare the crabs. You’ll thank us.
Use a basket or bucket with some ice to hold the crabs. Do not place your crabs in a closed cooler with water because they will die from a lack of oxygen. If possible, keep a wet burlap bag over the crabs and keep them out of direct sunlight. Crabs should only be kept if they are more than 5” wide tip to tip. If in doubt, put it back. And don’t cook and eat them if they have died.
Division of Marine Fisheries told us in May of 2011 that you do not need a fishing license to just catch crabs with a line, however, there is widespread confusion about this so ask first. Tell the tackle shop where you plan to crab and they’ll help you stay legal and tell you the current rules on size you can keep. One crab pot per person with properly marked buoys may be attached to the shore on privately owned land or to a privately owned pier without a license.
Where to Go Crabbing on the Outer Banks
Basically any place on the sounds can be fished for crabs but usually folks do it from a small dock or pier. Try it around any of the public boat ramps. There is a popular spot going towards Colington Harbour at the second bridge which provides an excellent location for crabbing. Dock of the Bay Marina in Kitty Hawk, under the Washington Baum bridge in Manteo, the new pier at Manns Harbor are also good spots for crabbing. See Free and Easy Fishing Spots for more ideas. If your rental house has a canal or is soundfront, you’re all set. You can try crabbing at the Whalehead Club pier in Corolla or at any pier or boat access in Manteo including the Manteo waterfront. Plenty of places at Hatteras and Ocracoke too. Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is the largest natural freshwater lake in North Carolina at 40,000 acres and the crabs here are huge. Note that because this is federal, you do need a freshwater fishing license to crab here.
How to Clean Crabs
We like to stun them first by plunging them in ice cold water. I also recommend wearing gloves. We always clean ours before cooking them but some folks cook them then first and just pull out the stuff they shouldn’t eat. It helps to be outside with a water hose handy. The process of cleaning crabs will make you appreciate the price of crabmeat. After my first time, I realized I’d never complain about the cost of crabmeat again.
|Ice the crabs down for 5 to 10 minutes. This will slow them down and allow you to handle them with your bare hands.|
|Place the crab down on a stable surface. Use one hand to hold down the crab by his legs. Use the other hand and pry the top shell off of the crab towards the free side. This will kill the crab instantly.|
|Your crab should now look like this|
|Flip the crab over and peel off the apron|
|Flip the crab again and peel off the face|
|Now peel/remove the crab's gills|
|Rinse out the crab's entrails with a water|
|You now have a crab ready for the pot|