Crabbing:Getting Started

If you’re here, you must be hoping one day to get a haul like this:

20+ crab

If so, read on!  If you still have questions, please comment below, or email me at!  I’ll answer & make sure to add it below!


What are the basics you’ll need?  Regardless of whether you’re going for dungeness crab or rock crab (red, brown, yellow rock crab) the below applies!

Note: walking = when the pot/trap/hoop/snare moves while on the ocean floor.  This is a bad thing, as crabs then have to chase it down, and it also disperses scent where the trap is not!

  1. Hoop net, or trap of some sort (we’ll discuss the difference & pros/cons of each later)
  2. Rope, 25-50ft depending on location
  3. Weight, probably 1-2lbs (to weigh down the hoop/traps). Not always necessary, but its better to have it than not & need it!
  4. Bait!  We’ll discuss this in more detail later
  5. Metal bait holder (seals will tear anything else apart!).  Believe me, plastic/mesh isn’t going to work if seals are around.
  6. Rod & crab snares

You can also jump to the Pier or Kayak specific section below by clicking the links.

Generally I check hoop traps every 5-10 minutes (depends on how the crab seem to be).  If you get nothing at 5 minutes, leave it longer.  If you soak 10 minutes, notice your baits been nibbled, but no crab, then you probably soaked too long.

Traps & pots I usually check in 30-60 minute intervals.  Feel free to check more often, but in my experience less than 20 minutes usually isn’t enough time for crabs to find their way in.

1. Hoop Net vs Various Crab Traps

Below are the most common crab hoops/traps:

Hoop net 1
Hoop net 2
collapsible crap trap & my personal favorite all around
metal crab trap
commercial crab traps are usually circular like this

The general idea for them all is the same.  Trap is dropped onto the sea floor, crabs crawl on/in to eat the bait, and you pull them up at a later point in time!

So “which crab trap is right for me?” might be what you’re thinking.  Here are the pros & cons of each:

Hoop nets:

  1. Pros
  2. 1. Quicker soaks (takes less time
    for crabs to get into the nets)
  3. 2. Simple & light
  4. 3. Easier to store & transport
  5. 4. Can be thrown/tossed to
    reach further (piers/shore)
  • Cons
  • 1. Easier for seals to get into
  • 2. Lighter, more prone to
  • 3. Cannot be left alone for
    long periods of time (crabs
    can just walk out of them)

Traps & Pots:

  1. Pros
  2. 1. Great for longer soaks (hours
    to days)
  3. 2. Easier to weigh down, and
    less likely to ‘walk’ unweighted
  4. 3. Harder for seals to steal your
  5. 4. Can hold more bait
  • Cons
  • 1. Heavier & bulkier than
    hoops, making storage &
    transport more difficult
  • 2. Takes longer for crabs to
    get in (have to find opening)
  • 3. Difficult to throw

Ultimately it comes down to what you need/want & where you think you’ll be using them most.  I prefer to have some of both.  I like to drop them all in different spots wherever I’m crabbing, whether it be on kayaks or on a pier.  I let the pots/traps soak for 30-60 minutes while I check the hoops every 5-10 minutes & move them around to find where the crab are at.

Usually by the time I’ve zoned in on where they’re at, its time to check the larger pot/traps!  Depending how they did, I’ll either let them back down where they are, or move them to where the hoops are doing well.

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2. Rope Types & Length

Rope Type

There’s a couple options here.  You can get nylon rope (my preference), other rope types, or lead core rope.

All will work from the pier, though I’d skip the lead core if you’re planning on only crabbing from piers.  That’ll just make you work harder.

I prefer nylon because its the softer of the ropes (unlike the black/orange that often comes with hoop nets).  Occasionally you do need to give it a wash though, as it does soak up the ocean water & start smelling eventually.

Lead core rope comes into play when you’re out on the open ocean, and the possibility of someone’s boat motor getting caught on your slack line exists.  In these cases its recommended you use lead core line so that your rope itself is weighted & sinks down and forms more of a straight line, rather than floating in a big pile at the surface.

Alternatively you can use regular rope & tie on some weights near the top/buoy so that the same effect occurs.  Either way, you should never leave a bunch of rope floating near the surface where there is boat traffic.

Rope Length

If you’re from a pier, you can just buy a rope long enough for the pier.  If you’re crabbing from the Half Moon Bay / Pillar Point Harbor pier, you probably can get away with 25′.  If you’re going from Pacifica or Fort Baker pier, you probably want at least 50′.  If you’re in the ocean, you’ll want whatever depth you plan to crab at +20-30′ extra for slack/knots.

Other than that, there’s not much to the length.  Pretty self explanatory.  Having a ton extra doesn’t really do you any favors, but its better to have too much rather than too little.  Its pointless if you can’t reach the bottom, and alternatively if you don’t leave enough slack out on the ocean, your buoy could sink beneath the waves! (due to tidal changes)

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4. Bait

There’s a lot of debate here.  Some people say fresh bait is the best, others recommend rotting your bait out in the sun for a few days before you go out.

From what I’ve seen with my own eyes, there’s a little bit of truth to all of it!  My friend Kara is a true believer in the rot & stink method.  And booooy does her bait reek.  You can barely breathe in its presence.  And it works!  Some times when I can’t catch any crab, she’s the only one around getting any.

Other times my mix of fresh/store frozen bait out crabs her stinky bait.  I think what’s important to keep in mind is every day is different with fishing, and crabbing is no different.  Have a little bit of everything if you can!

That being said, I generally prefer to stick to fresh bait because…god I just can’t deal with that rank smell.  So what do I use?

Top 5 Baits for Crabbing

  1. Mackerel – Spring – Fall you can find these swimming around Capitola/Santa Cruz.  Catch a bunch and throw ’em in the freezer, guts and all!  These oily sonbitches work like magic!  Haven’t found a place that sells these cheap enough to forgo the option below yet if you can’t catch any yourself.
  2. Sardines – You can buy these in frozen popsicle form from your local asian super market cheap.  Great way to add fish into the mix if you can’t get your hands on any mackerel!  Make sure you’re buying sardines & not smelt (smelt are less oily!)
  3. Chicken – Liver or thigh is easiest to handle/stuff cages with.  Chicken is great in that its cheap, tough, and crabs will always come pick at it if you land the bait near some crab

  4. Squid – This is a staple.  Its not low on the list because its bad, it simply isn’t going to outshine any other bait ever.  Don’t get me wrong though, you should never leave it out!  When its still partially frozen but flexible, its one of the best things to use to round out any bait cage that has room in it still.
    You can pick this up cheap @ asian supermarkets like Marina.  Don’t waste your money at Safeway & the like.
  5. Other fish carcasses – I’m not a big fan of this one, but it does work sometimes.  A popular choice is salmon heads because they’re super oily.  Personally, I’ve found these to attract seals more than crabs, so I no longer bother.  You can also use what’s left over from fillets of your fish catch if you fillet.  I’ve seen this work wonders for others, just doesn’t work well for me.

A final secret tip?  Prepack your bait cage before you go out.  Throw your bait in, pop that sucker into a plastic bag or something to keep it from leaking, and throw it in your freezer!  Bonus points if you figure out a way to freeze scent onto it as well (smelly jelly, procure, gulp scent, etc.). The basic idea is you’re turning the bait into a time release capsule, where only part of the bait’s scent is being released at a time.  This way it lasts longer, and keeps the scent going strong!

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6. Rod & Crab Snares

I usually find I need to weight my snares with 1-2 oz before they stay down properly without walking.  That being the case, I’d recommend a rod & line weighted for at least 20lb.  40lb is probably more ideal, but 20 will get the job done.

Avoid the danielson crab snares.  No seriously, even if they’re free, don’t bother.  Those things are terrible.  Great ad hoc bait holders for crab hoops, but not really worth your time if you plan ahead & buy other snares.

They’re simply not the right shape.  Big, bulky, doesn’t reel in well.  The loops on them are also made from really stiff material, which causes the loops to not close as fast.

Generally I only find this type at stores:

see how boxy it is?

If you’re looking for a cheap baitholder, this shape one does the job wonderfully:

Nice and wide, tons of surface area to keep the crabs busy

If you really can’t find anywhere else to purchase crab snares, at the very least make sure to get this version:

this is the shape it SHOULD be

Personally, I’ve never seen this shape sold anywhere.  But I also haven’t looked all that hard.

If you’re looking for snares, I’ll point you towards SofaKing on PFIC.  Alternatively you can email him at  He doesn’t always have snares as he’s pretty popular, so make sure to order in advance!

I’ve used his snares for years and they really out perform everything else I’ve tried.  I’ve had to add weights to them in rough surf areas like Pacifica, but if you buy those round sinkers its all good.

these kind, or any flat sinker works best

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Kayak Tips

Section under construction

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2 thoughts on “Crabbing:Getting Started”

  1. I’ve seen you post about sofa king crab snares but I cannot figure out where to buy them. Can you give me a heads up on how to locate these?

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