Catching Crabs on Jekyll Island is Easy Family Fun - and Good Eating, Too!

Catching crabs for your own table is a great way to spend time with your family, and wind up with food to boot.

You'll find Georgia blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) in several creeks and estuaries on Jekyll Island, as well as the ocean.

All you need to feast high during your stay is some inexpensive equipment and the proper technique. And it helps not to be squeamish - crabs are ugly buggers (their mamas might not think so, though). They're easy to catch, however, and for some reason kids seem to love bringing up a mess of crab critters.

Ready to jump into the fray? Keep reading - we'll have you catching crabs in no time.


Georgia Crab Catching Regulations -

Forewarned is forearmed - if you're crabbing in Georgia, you need to know the rules.

  • Make sure you have a valid Georgia fishing license. You can get one at Maxwell's Hardware (located in the Island Shops) or at the Jekyll Fishing Center (located at the Clam Creek Picnic Area).
  • Crab season is open year-round (unless otherwise designated), and at any time of the day or night.
  • You can use up to six crab traps 2' x 2' or smaller. Traps should come with 2 escape rings, and be marked with a fluorescent green or lime green float with the owner's name and address in one-inch letters. Crabbers can also use seines, cast nets, hand-lines and lift rings.
  • Catching crabs less than 5" from spike to spike across the back is a no-no. Unless it's a "peeler" (a mature adult female). Peelers must be 3" from spike to spike across the back. No sponge (egg-bearing) crabs are allowed.
  • There's a one-bushel limit per crabber over a 24-hour period. If you're on a boat with a friend or friends, no more than 2 bushels can be taken or possessed during that 24 hours.

For more info on specific crabbing regulations or Georgia fishing regulations in general, see www.gofishgeorgia.com.


Crab Catching Equipment -

Crabbing is one of the best family-oriented recreational pursuits on the coast, and it's not expensive. You can get the proper equipment at most any coastal tackle shop. Use the aforementioned crab traps, a cast net, or a hand line.

Make Your Own Lift Ring -

Although I've seen folks using cast nets off the St. Andrew's Beach area, I've never thrown one myself. Probably the simplest way to catch crab critters (especially for young kids) is with a lift ring.

A lift ring is basically a baited net you lower into the water. A short time later you pull it up and, presto! - crabs for the eating (hopefully).

To make your lift ring:

1) Buy the following from your friendly neighborhood tackle shop:

  • A hoop net (consists of 2 stainless steel rings, one large diameter, one smaller, attached to an inter-woven nylon net. - $12.00 approx.
  • A bait cage (small, black box) - $4.00 +/-
  • A rope. Any kind will do, but preferably woven nylon. Clothes line or other fiber rope gets wet. It retains water, making it heavier and thus harder to pull back in. Also, knots tied in this type rope are almost impossible to untie.
  • A 1" diameter metal ring

2) Cut three 2' pieces of rope from your main rope.

3) Lay the 3 rope sections on the ground, with the ends splayed out. You should see something that looks like a giant chicken track. Or a peace symbol (for all you old hippies out there).

4) Tie the end of each rope equal distances apart to the large diameter ring of the hoop net. Tie the other ends to the 1" dia. metal ring. Use bowline knots or other good sailor knots that won't slip or come untied under stress. If you're knot (I mean, not) confident in your knot tying skills, you can reinforce your connections with plastic zip ties.

5) Pick the contraption up by the small metal ring. You should have a hoop net hanging by 3 equally spaced short pieces of rope. It should be hanging evenly. If not, adjust and re-tie your support ropes.

6) Tie the end of the long rope (your throw rope) to the 1" diameter metal ring.

7) Place the bait box in the bottom of the hoop net (centered in the small stainless steel ring). Secure it in place with parachute cord, large diameter mono-filament line, or plastic ties.

That's it! You're ready to start catching crabs!


Baits for Catching Crabs -

Crabs like squid or fish pieces, which can be relatively expensive. Fortunately, however, they love chicken.

Buy off-parts - wings, drumettes, backs, or necks. You can cut them up into smaller pieces, but each piece should have a bone in it. Otherwise, the crabs may be able to pull the pieces out of the bait box.

Crabs locate their food by smell. If you leave the chicken out overnight, it will develop a more favorable crab-attracting aroma. In other words, it will start to stink a bit. Crabs associate stink with gourmet eating. (I've often thought about dangling my stinky bare feet in the creek, see if I could scare up a crab that way. Value my toes too much, though...).


Where to Find Your Future Family Feast -

On Jekyll Island there are a lot of great places for catching crabs. Off the beach at St. Andrews is good. Most of the creeks have plenty of water and harbor crabs. One of the best places is Clam Creek, east of the pier at the Clam Creek Picnic Area. And catching crabs off the pier itself is also a good bet.

The best time is at slack tide, or at the end of a rising tide. Remember tides can be powerful and put a lot of stress on your crab rig. Sometimes the flow can be so strong that the rig can't sink to the bottom and hangs suspended in the flow. Wait till tide conditions are more favorable.

Hot summer mornings are good times, as well as just before a storm. A crab will "sand in", or burrow into the sand as protection from coming bad weather. They'd rather chow down first, though, so they can sand in with a full belly, so there's a good chance they'll hone in on your stinky chicken bits.

If you have a boat, you're good. Even a fishing kayak can be used. But crabbing can be just as productive from the bank of a creek.


What Else Comes in Handy When Catching Crabs? -

  • You'll need something to hold your treasure when you catch it (not IF, but WHEN). A bucket is good, or a medium sized cooler. Put a little brackish water or a damp towel in the bottom and you're set.
  • You won't be catching crabs all the time. It's a waiting game. So take lawn chairs with you, a good book, something to drink and snack on, and maybe a game for the kids. Bug spray is a must-have. And an umbrella for sun or rain protection.
  • And gloves. Crabs have pincers, after all.

Crab Catching Technique -

Catching crabs is not rocket science. And that's good, 'cause I'm all thumbs. But if I can do it, anyone can.

  • Place bait in box. (TIP - make sure you secure the box lid tightly on all sides with zip ties or some other material. Why? 'Cause other critters like bait, too - like octopi, which are a lot smarter than dumb old Mr. Crab. An octopus can figure out how to get the little door open and will take your bait for his own lunch if you don't discourage them).
  • Hold hoop net over water. Make sure the long rope is out of the way or secure.
  • Toss hoop net gently into water, or just lower it straight down.
  • Feed rope through your hands. When rope slackens, the net is on the bottom.

That's it. Catching crabs is something a kid can do easily, well, and safely - perfect for building up a child's confidence while letting him or her contribute to the family feast!

Now the hard part - waiting. But you shouldn't have to wait long, say about 10 to 15 minutes. Then pull the hoop net up. Should be crabs in there. If not, lower again and repeat.

Place captured crabs in your cooler or bucket for transport back home.


Cooking Caught Crabs -

Time to enjoy your crab harvest. You can boil or steam them. Here's a good technique for steaming crabs:

  • Get one stock pot, with lid. Should have a steaming insert.
  • You'll need one cup of crab boil or Old Bay seasoning.
  • Ice your crab critters down for 30 minutes (funny how that takes the fight right out of them.)
  • Add water or other liquid (water mixed with beer or broth) into the steamer to a point where the liquid level comes to just below the rim of the steaming insert.
  • Heat on medium-high until boiling.
  • Place the crabs in the steaming insert. Arrange them in flat layers, then douse them with the seasoning. Put lid on pot.
  • Steam 20-30 min., until the crabs are red all over.

Eating Crab Critters -

Catching crabs is fun. Eating them is ecstasy.

You can eat crab meat straight from the shell, or use shelled meat in your favorite recipe, but the fun part is getting the meat out of the shell. It's messy, but fun.

  • You'll need a little prep work. Place newspaper over your table (a picnic table outside is perfect - saves in clean-up time).
  • Give everyone a butter knife and a tool to break open the claws and legs, either a hammer, mallet or claw cracker.
  • First, remove the crab's legs. Use your tools to break open the legs and claws. Extract the meat, dip in butter or cocktail sauce, and enjoy.
  • Pry the shell from the crab by pulling the tab from the underside. Wedge your thumbs in there, and separate the top shell from the rest.
  • Remove and dispose of the spongy gray lungs, gills, and other organs. Then snap the body in half and extract the meat from the cavity. Yum!

Use the best cleanup tools ever made (your kids) to clean up the mess.


Bonus Tip - The Easiest Way for Catching Crabs -

Even a 4 year old can do this (with adult supervision, of course). Best for using in tidal creeks or placid surf.

  • Find a short pole or stick, about 4' long. You'll also need a dip net (a net on the end of a long pole).
  • Tie 4' of nylon rope to one end of the pole.
  • Tie a chicken neck to the other end of the rope.
  • Stand or sit on the creek bank, or wade a bit into the surf. Extend the pole out like a fishing pole and lower rope and neck into water.
  • Now, show some patience (if you're a kid, this means be still for a while!)
  • When you feel or see slight jerks or movement on the rope, slowly lift pole and rope straight up.
  • You should be able to spot the crab before it breaks the surface - it'll be holding on to the chicken neck.
  • Slowly slip dip net under crab and scoop him up.

You did it. Catching crabs is easy - and now there's another one for the pot.

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