Hungry shore crabs as well as shrimps and small fish can ruin a fishing trip by removing the bait before the bigger fish can get to it. In the most extreme cases of crab infestation the only alternative is to avoid venues altogether, but on occasions when fish are actually in on a venue eating your hook baits keeping them intact or maximising their time on the sea bed is important.
Without doubt the most effective way to beat the crabs is to time the duration of each cast, if the bait is being removed shorten the cast, if the bait is not being taken, lengthen it. Sounds simply, but lots of anglers spend countless hours fishing without bait on their hooks, because they fish robotically timed casts, or only react to bites. The first cast will usually tell you immediately how active the crabs are and from that time you can adjust your cast timing to suit the bait’s survival.
It is common on many venues to find that crab activity ceases the minute the fish come on the scene, something lots of sea anglers are totally unaware of. That’s the time to increase your concentration on cast timing etc
In extreme situations there are a number of solutions and the first is to add floating beads to the hook snood near to the bait. These work well for some species of flatfish like flounders, plaice, etc to lift the bait up off the sea bed away from the hungry crabs. However, all crabs can swim so baits are not completely safe, but float beads do make it more difficult for the crabs to remove baits and in many cases they present the bait slightly off the bottom which may be where the fish are looking for them.
There are lots of buoyant beads available and they come various sizes and in bright colours too. Important is to make sure that your bead or beads stays close to the bait and some form of stop on the snood will keep the bead at the hook end of the snood. Use a short length of silicone tubing and pass the line through it twice, it will then lock in position to hold your bead. Float beads also make the perfect bait stop on rigs with bait clips. Now, whilst floating beads do work on lots of occasions there are a large percentage of UK sea fish that will not chase baits high off the sea bed. These include the flatties as well as cod, pout, dogfish etc and in lots of situations the best results come from baits nailed to the sea bed. Those species that do take a bait off the bottom include garfish, pollack, mackerel, bream, pollack and scad, whilst bass and coalfish are amongst others that occasionally take a moving bait or feed off the sea bed.
Another method for very extreme situations is to use a flounder spoon and actually retrieve the bait along the sea bed. This catches well in some estuaries where hungry crabs can be impossible to combat because they remove a static bait in seconds. Here a metal or plastic spoon with a short hook length and baited hook, usually ragworm, is continually cast and retrieved. Various beads etc can be added to the hook snood to introduce colour, noise or lift. Sensing a bite the angler stops reeling and pauses for the fish to take the bait.
Some hook baits are obviously more crab resistant than others, but not all of the toughest baits are regularly accepted by all species and so beating crabs by using the wrong bait for a venue is not really the solution.
Peeler crab: Is just about the most crab resistant bait there is – Whilst crabs definitely eat crabs there are times when crab flesh will be ignored, especially when the crabs are peeling and the cock crabs are looking for a mate. Peeler crab is also the most versatile and scented bait that is crab resistant and will stay on the hook longer and be eaten by the more species than any other bait.
Sandeel: Sandeel is a fairly robust bait that will withstand the attacks of crabs, especially if whipped on the hook. Another way to toughen it up is a wrap of squid, whilst a worm whipped alongside a sandeel is a great cocktail. Simply use elastic cotton to strap the worm the length of the sandeel for a parallel cocktail.
Fish: Most of the fish baits seem to be an instant crab attractor and they don’t last that long if used in small slivers. Cutlets of small mackerel are better than slivers when crabs are busy and if using a large bait mount the skin side out. Boat anglers use a section of fresh silver eel for tope to keep crabs and dogfish off and it is very effective.
Worm: All of the marine worms are easy prey for crabs and being soft they can be removed in minutes. A good tip when fishing for flounders in an estuary apart from adding a few float beads to the snood near the hook to lift the bait off the bottom is to use the head section of the largest ragworm you can find. You can also strap several lugworms together on a baiting needle using elastic cotton for a tougher worm sausage.
Squid: Perhaps the most crab resistant bait although a large offering of squid is not every species ideal bait and so its use as a crab deterrent is not often worthwhile except for the larger specimens like cod, bass, conger etc.
There are other baits and options you can use to fish where the crabs are active. Try a float fished soft of crinkly crab – That’s a crab that has already peeled and is still soft. A great way of fishing them for bass is to hook them through the side or rear shell and fish from a groyne or pier suspended under a float alive.
A bait that is naturally found off the sea bed away from hungry crabs is the prawn – a tail hooked live prawn will catch lots of species and is a great movement bait to use free lined or under a float.
Live sandeel are another bait that is worth trying to avoid crabs, again fished free line or under a float and hooked so that it can swim freely off the sea bed.
BEAT THE CRABS TIPS
Using a larger bait is not al ways the answer because it will attract more crabs but using a smaller bait may make it more difficult or take longer for the crabs to find the bait – Obviously the down side is that that applies to the fish as well. Similarly casting different distances or angles makes the crabs work to get to your bait.
The complete answer is to mesh your bait in a crab proof (armour) mesh and these are available in carp fishing for use when baits are attacked by crayfish.
THE GUILTY GANG
The common shore crab is the main bait thief. But as the summer progresses in many regions others in the crab clan move in on the baits. The red edible and velvet swimmers are most common on deeper water and rocky marks, whilst the spider crab is increasingly common on all venues especially deep water and clean sand.
Whilst crabs get the main blame for removing baits – Shrimps, prawns, shellfish and small fish also do their share of hook cleaning through the season.
Whilst anglers collect shore crabs for bait, most crustaceans have a minimum legal size limit and it is illegal to remove or offer undersize crabs for sale, although in many sea regions the limits are not enforced on anglers using crabs as bait. Check with your local Fishery Officer.
The minimum sizes vary throughout the regions although averages are:
Velvet swimmer 65mm
Spider crabs 130mm
Q & A
Q: How can I stop spider and large edible crabs etc nipping through my hook snoods?
A: Spider crabs have extended their numbers and range in recent years reaching plague proportions on many southern venues and they are still moving north. There is no real answer to them nipping through mono hook snoods as they devour your bait other than to check snoods regularly for damage and if you are fishing for the larger species like smoothhounds increase the diameter of the snood line and use the tougher fluorocarbons.
A short solid wire bite trace is used by anglers overseas to combat the fish that bite through mono and this idea might be worth trying in extreme cases. A short Gemini Genie boom is simply added to the hook making the hook an extra long shank. Alternatively a short bite trace in the aptly named Spider wire (80lb) which is a stiff braid line makes a relatively crab proof snood.