Recreational crabbing is popular in several Mid Atlantic states, including New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
This article explains how to catch blue crabs, with handlines, trotlines, traps, nets, and other gear.
Types of Crabs
Atlantic blue crabs are classified by sex, size, shell hardness, and other characteristics. Adult male blue crabs are called “Jimmys” while mature females are called “sooks.
Blue crabs shed their shells periodically and have several stages during the process. Recreational crabbers catch mostly hard shell crabs, but may also encounter peeler crabs, soft shell crabs, and paper shell crabs.
While crabbing, harvesters occasionally encounter other species of crabs, including Jonah crabs, rock crabs, calico crabs, and others.
Handlines and Traps
Throughout the Mid Atlantic states, handlines and traps are popular for catching blue crabs.
Trotlines are used for catching large quantities of crabs. Ranging from fifty to several hundred feet in length, trotlines hold a series of baits in a long line. Baits for trotlining vary by local preference and availability. Popular baits for trotlining include chicken necks, bull lips, eels, and razor clams.
Some states allow the limited use of commercial style crab pots for recreational crabbing. Crab pots come in a variety of styles. Crab pots are usually baited with fish, razor clams, or other baits.
Dip nets are used in niche fisheries. Often overlooked, dip nets can be highly effective for catching soft crabs, peelers, and adult crabs. Dip netting works best from a small boat. In some areas, crabbers pole or drift in shallow, clear water, ready to dip up any crabs that appear within netting range. A prize catch for dip netters is a “doubler” consisting of a keeper size Jimmy crab that holds a female peeler of soft crab beneath it.
Cast netting is another niche technique for catching blue crabs. Cast nets are most often used by fishermen to catch a mix of bait for fishing or other uses. In some areas, cast nets can be used like dip nets to harvest crabs that can be seen in shallow water.
In the Mid Atlantic region, recreational crabbing is subject to state regulations. For state by state information, visit this regulations page.