everything you need to know about BAIT...
Standard position for a hermit crab!
Common Shore Crab (Green Crab). Photo: Sue Daly.
Common Spider Crab. Photo: Dr Keith Hiscock.
Crabs: Crabs are not difficult to collect and
use, if you know where to look & how to use them. People new to sea angling are often put
off by an initial unsuccessful attempt with crab bait, and that is a
mistake. They produce a remarkable scent trail and superb
results. Crab will catch you fish when no other bait will, and that is
a truly wonderful feature. Crab is mostly used from the
shore. I have not heard of anyone using it from boats but if you
do, let us know how you use it... The first crab you are likely to encounter is
the Hermit Crab, so called because it lives in discarded
periwinkle, whelk and other sea shells. They are easily collected - just
look for shells that are moving quite fast in the intertidal rock pools, but
they are very small crabs and as such not great as bait. The most common crab is
Shore Crab. In the deeper tidal pools out nearest the sea you will find a Common
Spider Crab, after a bit of seaching. There are plenty of
other varieties, but crabs are pretty much the same... in terms of bait!
One exception to this is a Peeler
Crab. This is not a species of crab, but rather a crab that has
recently shed its hard outer shell. In order to grow, crabs' outer
shells split and are shed, leaving a red skin-like new shell exposed. This
new shell will harden in a week, but until this happens this 'soft' crab is
large defenceless and a superb bait. A true peeler crab however is
identified by twisting the last segment off a leg to reveal the red new skin
beneath - you peel off the harder outer shell to reveal a supreme bait.
Collection: Crabs are found in the foreshore, mostly in small tidal rock pools and along groynes, harbour walls, and along the base of well worn sea defences. They have to be searched for or tempted out of hiding with a bait - I have found that half a doxed oozing crushed limpets do the trick... Toss them into the rock pool and just wait. A word of warning: crabs can give a nasty nip - so learn to hold them between thumb and index finger... just behind their shell's widest point, in behind the pincers, so as to negate the very same pincers!
Storage: Crabs can be kept alive in damp seaweed for some time, especially if stored in the dark and kept cold. A plastic box with a tight lid is an excellent vessel. A little sea water can be added to assist in keeping the crabs in prime condition. Do not store them in the same box as other baits e.g. ragworm or lugworms. If you have any pets around the house, it is essential to keep them away from any fresh baits... Damn mutt!
Bait Presentation: Crabs are not easy to present properly on a hook - there I've said it! Fristly you need to kill the crab - a hard belt that cracks the shell normally does the trick. Remove the legs and pincers by twisting them off where they are attached to the body. Do not be surprised to find some already missing - crabs will grow back any legs and pincers lost in combat to other crabs or predators. Leaving legs attached only feeds the target fish without encouraging a proper bite. Split the shell in two, up the middle with a strong scissors. Thread the hook through one side / section, including some shell fragments, moving this onto the shank before twisting the other section onto the same hook (near the barb). Shirring elastic is essential to keeping the bait in place on the hook. Ensure that the barb lies free. Peeler crabs need not be split in two, but simply hooked up as you would any standard bait. "Soft" crab may need some shirring elastic wrapped around it to keep it on a hook. Very large crabs can be split into pieces, but avoid shell fragments in all baits. The meat is yellow or brown. If used properly the shirring elastic will keep the crab bait on a hook.
Rigs or Traces: We have never heard of anyone using crab from a boat, so most of the fishing rigs associated with crab baits are variations on the standard paternoster rig. Peeler crabs have a superb scent trail, soft crabs to a lesser extent, so the benefits are to the fore on storm surf beaches or in disturbed a.k.a. low-visibility water.
Fish Species: Short of covering every known species of fish in Ireland, crab is the ultimate bass bait, especially in the autumn when it will also account for codling and even cod close in over rocky ground. Bass fishing is closed from 15th May to 15th June each year, and a minimum size of 14" (40 cms) applies, as does a bag limit of 2 per angler per day. Catch & release is advised given bass are at the limit of their range in Irish waters.