How to Use a Crab Trap: How they work step by step

There are plenty of reasons to give crabbing a try. Not only do crabs taste delicious, but they’re easy to catch. 

If you’ve ever gone fishing before, you know how tedious it can be to leave your line in the water for hours – only to be rewarded by just a single scrawny fish.

That’s not the case with crabbing. When you know how to use a crab trap effectively, you will be able to catch tons of crabs in a limited amount of time. 

Knowing the basics is essential – in this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know.

What is a Crab Trap?

A crab trap is just a mesh trap that is used to entice fully-grown adult crabs inside. Usually, you will do this with some type of bait.

There are all kinds of crab traps out there (something I’ll address in a moment).

Depending on your skill level, there are traps for people of all abilities, from beginners to experts. 

Crab traps are relatively simple contraptions. If you know how to work a fishing pole, setting up and rigging a crab trap takes about the same level of skill.

Also Read: 7 Best Crab Traps

Decide What Kind of Crab Trap to Use

There are all kinds of crab traps you can consider. Most of them use a net and frame to catch crabs, so that’s nothing new. 

However, each one has a unique shape that makes it better suited for various applications.

Ring Trap

A ring crab trap contains two rings – as the name implies – that are typically made out of metal. 

The lower ring is smaller than the upper ring and is covered with dense materials and then arranged in the shape of a net.

Between your lower and upper rings, you’ll find a net. The crab trap will look flat at first when laying down, but it will open up when you pull it out of the water.

Close up view of uncooked crab

This “collapsible” trap has a lot of advantages. It lets crabs move freely to the bait so you have better odds of enticing them inside. 

The downside, though, is also that crabs can move freely. You’ll need to check your trap more often to make sure you have crab inside. 

It’s not the kind of trap you would want to leave out overnight.

Pyramid Trap

A pyramid crab trap looks a lot like a ring crab trap, but it will open up into a pyramidal shape when you pull it out of the water.

It has four triangular sides and a bottom basket and sits flat on the seafloor, just like the ring crab trap. 

This kind of trap works better in strong water currents but, like the ring trap, it’s not a trap you will want to leave out overnight. It needs to be checked often.

Box Trap

A box trap is designed in a rectangular shape and has non-collapsible wires. It has a solid frame and looks not unlike a dog kennel.

It is easy for crabs to walk inside a box crab trap, but incredibly difficult for them to get out.

This is a more expensive style of trap, but it’s recommended by more professional crab fishermen.

How to Use a Crab Trap

Decide on the Type of Crab

There are plenty of crabs to choose from, many of which are found in multiple areas. 

Dungeness crabs are some of the most popular. They are found everywhere and are quite tasty, too. They are large, with one crab easily feeding two people.

Another popular crab is the Pacific red rock crab, which is generally found in rocky areas. It is a smaller crab than the Dungeness, but it tastes equally delicious.

Blue crabs are also popular, considered by many crab fishermen to be the best and sweetest tasting crabs. 

They are quite small, but they are found all over the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States.

Check Local Crab Regulations

There are local regulations that apply when you are going after crabs. These vary depending on where you are. 

You may have to have a license and there are size limits that change annually, too. Make sure you look into this.

Plus, some types of crabs are not edible. Examples include green and spider crabs. If caught, you need to release the crab. You should also release crabs that have egg sacs attached.

Invest in the Proper Gear

Besides the crab trap itself, you will need to invest in some extra gear when you’re first getting started.

You will need bait, of course, which is a category of its own. You will also need some weighted lines. The line will sink into the water as the trap floats downward.

You will also need some rope and a buoy. Make sure the buoy is recognizable in dim conditions and attached to a line that is long enough to reach the sea bottom. 

Jute Rope with Savoy Knot on White Background

The ideal length will vary depending on where you are crabbing. 

If you don’t want to spend the money on a brand new crab trap, keep in mind that you can also make your own. However, you will need crab pots, line weight, tackle, and a net. 

Attach Your Bait

Once you have your gear ready to go and you’re out on the water, getting started with your crab trap is easy. Simply suspend the bait inside the trap with the rope. 

There are some traps that are equipped with an attached line, but in many cases, you’ll need to attach the line yourself. Do this as securely as possible, double knotting if you can.

After you have securely attached your bait, you can hook the bait to the line. You may want to cut the bait in half, which will release a strong odor into the water. 

If you do this, just keep in mind you may have to replenish the bait after some time, as it will lose the smell.

Again, a tightrope is essential here. A rapid current or even an accidental bump on a rock can cause your boat to become dislodged and will ruin your best efforts at catching crabs.

Another tip for attaching your bait is to cut it into multiple small pieces and tie them in various locations around the trap. This will encourage crabs to enter the rap from all sides. 

Here’s a video below with more information on how to set up and rig a crab trap.

Hook the Trap to a Buoy

Next, you need to hook your trap up to a buoy. Do this by attaching a long rope and tying it off to the buoy. 

You’ll have several options to choose from when it comes to your buoy, but the best will be one that is brightly colored. This will help you find it later on.

Locate Your Trap 

Next, you’ll need to decide on the right spot for your crab trap. 

Crabs live in saltwater but can also be found in brackish locations. Also known as tidal water, brackish water includes bays, inlets, and saltwater marshes. 

You may be more likely to find crabs near underwater structures like bridges, sunken shipwrecks, and pilings.

One of the best times to place at trap is at low tide. This will make it easier for you to entice crabs to your trap. 

Make sure you check – at least every hour for a pyramid or ring trap and every twelve hours for a box trap. 

If you don’t want to head out on the open water to go crabbing, you may want to consider some of the smaller channels that branch off larger bodies of water. You can often find crabs in these spots.

Lower Your Trap

Now that your crab trap is set up and ready to go, you can lower it. Do this slowly to make sure you don’t jostle the bait out of place.

The rest of the crabbing process is a mere waiting game. Check your box every thirty minutes to see if you’ve caught anything. That’s all there is to it!

Unique Tips for Using a Crab Trap

Consider Night-Time Crabbing

This is a great tip for anyone wanting to know how to use a crab trap effectively. It can be incredibly fun to go after crabs at night. You don’t even have to stay out on the water, either.

Just invest in some traps that are secure and well-contained. Then, you can leave them out underwater overnight. 

Not only can this help you catch a larger amount of crabs, but it will save you some time, too. Just make sure you get a good trap that won’t let any wily crabs escape. 

Put the Trap in a Current

Again, to be successful with this tip, you’ll need a crab trap that is strong and secure. However, placing your crab trap in a current is a smart way to help you catch more crabs. 

Crabs like hanging out in areas with strong currents, so placing your trap in a current will put you right into a honeyhole. 

Not all currents are filled with crabs, though.

If you aren’t familiar with the area you are crabbing in, you may want to lower your trap, leave it underwater for an hour, then pull it back up to check for crabs. 

If you don’t have any, it might be time to try another spot. 

Catch Crabs on the Beach

If you want to catch crabs but don’t have a boat, don’t worry. You can easily go crabbing from the beach. 

Instead of using a trap, just attach some bait to the end of a line. Pull up when you feel a bite. It’s just like fishing!

The main thing to keep in mind with this technique is that you will need to pull up slowly. Crabs are pretty smart and will figure out what you’re up to if you move too quickly. 

Use the Right Bait 

When you’re going after crab, you’ll need to be mindful of the boat you’re using. Crabs can be finicky little creatures – they know what they want!

Try to use a bait that is part of the crab’s natural diet. Some good options include fish and razor clams. Any kind of fish should work, but mackerel, cod, and salmon work particularly well.

Some people also use poultry gizzards or chicken necks. These wouldn’t necessarily be part of a crab’s natural diet, but they still seem to go over well.

Any human foods that give off a strong scent – and ideally, are also oily – will work. You may want to consider cheese (which dissolves rapidly but is fragrant) or hot dogs.

Other bait options include animal carcasses and eel. Just bear in mind that you’ll want to check local regulations before you decide. 

Clean the Crabs

Once you reel in your catch, it’s time to clean your crabs. Start by grabbing the crab by its back legs and claws. This will prevent it from pinching you. 

Put a point of the shell against a hard surface and pull down sharply. This will remove the primary shell. You can remove the mouth, then flip the crab over. 

Remove the flap on the crab’s back. Remove the innards until only white crab meat remains, then prepare the meat as you so choose! 

You can find more information on how to kill and clean a crab in this video below. 

Get Rid of Dead Crabs

This rule applies to many types of crabs, though not all. It’s good advice to follow to prevent any kind of foodborne illness or accidental poisoning, however.

If you catch a crab and it dies before you can clean it – or it dies while still inside the trap – do not eat it. Some crabs release toxins in their bodies when they die. These can make you sick.

How to Use a Crab Trap: A Final Tip

Crabbing isn’t just a commercial business – it’s a fun activity that families can enjoy. By heeding these tips on how to use a crab trap, you’ll be hauling in blue claw crabs in no time.

Not only are crabs delicious to eat, but they’re fun to catch, too. Make sure you enjoy going after these crustaceans because the experience is worth just as much as your final haul. 

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Sean Ward

Hey there, my name is Sean – OnTrack Fishing is my site. I’m based in the UK yet I’ve been fortunate enough to catch bass in the States, barramundi in Australia, trout here at home and carp on the Danube delta. If I’m not fishing, or talking about fishing, then….I’m probably asleep.


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