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Recreational Crabbing in the Mid-Atlantic – fun and delicious!

“It’s crab season in the Mid-Atlantic! It’s that wonderful time of the year when the coveted and delicious Atlantic blue crab can be caught throughout the Mid-Atlantic region from Long Island right down to Virginia. From April 1 through December 15, you’ll find crab lovers doing their darndest to catch these tasty Crustaceans.

Crabs are particularly popular and plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay area and are often referred to as “Maryland blue crabs” or simply “Maryland crabs.” Whether you crab as a hobby or because they’re “good eating”, crab lovers of all ages are sure to enjoy crab season all the more with our crabbing tips and tricks.

The how-to’s of crabbing

There’s nothing better than coming home and having a delicious crab meal with family and friends. But first, you need to catch the crabs!

A bit of caution

  • Crabs have claws and they will pinch you. If you get pinched, don’t panic. Simply pull the crab away from you with a free hand until the claw breaks off the crab.
  • Size limits apply to the crabs you may keep, and those limits change annually. Check online or at your local marina to be sure you know what you are legally allowed to take home.
  • There are other crabs out there besides the Atlantic blue crab. The East Coast is also home to non-edible crabs like the green crab and spider crab. If you accidentally catch one of these, release it.

  • A crab with an egg sac must be released by Law.

  • If a crab dies before you get the chance to clean it, do not eat it! The reason is that once dead, poison is released into the crab’s body that ruins the meat.

Crabbing methods

There are many ways to catch crabs. You only need to find a method that works for you.


Weighted hand lines or drop lines

It doesn’t get more basic than using a weighted hand line or drop line to catch crabs. It’s a rope with a weighted hook on the end that keeps the bait from floating to the top. Be sure to tie the end of the string that doesn’t have the hook on it to something secure so the crab can’t pull the entire line into the water. The bait should be securely placed on the hook to prevent crabs from taking the bait and running off with it. The line should be tossed 8 to 12 feet out into the water. It can also be dropped from the side of a boat in shallow water, just be sure that the bait reaches the bottom.


A trotline is basically a long line that is placed on the floor of the water with baited snoods (snoods are short dropper lines made of shock cord that hold the bait along increments of the line). It’s the best way to catch a whole lot of crabs in a short period of time! If you pick the right spot, it’s actually possible to catch an entire bushel in a few hours. This is not a difficult technique, but you do need a few supplies and to know how to put it together. Learn what you need and how to do it here.

Box crab trap

A box crab trap is made out of a wire-like mesh with four sides that open like flaps. Strings attached to the flaps join at a ring located above the trap. A longer string is attached to the ring and when the string is pulled, it causes the flaps to close and trap whatever is inside. Bait is tied to the middle of the bottom side. When a hungry crab goes in to eat, a tug on the string causes the sides to close trapping the crap inside.

Pyramid crab trap

A pyramid crab trap is also made out of a wire-like mesh. It’s basically four triangles and a square that form a pyramid. Strings are attached to the tops of the triangles. The strings join at a ring located above the trap. Bait is tied to the middle of the bottom side. A longer string is attached to the ring at the top, and when pulled it causes the flaps to close and trap the crab inside.

Ring crab trap

A ring crab trap is just what it sounds like. It has a circular shape and is made from either wire mesh or string. When placed on the ground it appears flat. But when it is picked up by its string, the bottom drops down trapping the crab inside. Bait is tied to the center of the trap, along with some type of weight, and you wait for the hungry crab to show up.

The best bait

Surprisingly enough, crabs are not fussy eaters! Even so, they do have their favorite meals.

Dead fish

Any type of fish will do, but types commonly used for bait are bunker, snapper, blues and sea robins. The key is to cut a large enough piece – between 6 inches to 1 foot. You’ll best utilize the fish if you cut it into 2 by 6-inch pieces. And make sure that there are cuts on the fish so the smell will easily travel through the water.

Razor Clams

Razor clams are yet another great choice for bait. They put a strong scent in the water, they’re easy to use, and the crabs just love them! As a matter of fact, razor clams are part a crab’s regular diet.

Hot dogs

Yes, crabs like them too! However, hot dogs are not as commonly used because they’re very soft and crabs can easily tear them apart and eat them. The advantage is that hot dogs are far cheaper than other forms of bait.

Chicken (or turkey)

Poultry is less expensive than using fish as bait and is more solid than a hot dog. Chicken legs are preferred because crabs can’t easily break then up and run off with them. Chicken necks are also a favorite of crabbers.

How to safely hold a crab (no pinching!)

One of the few downsides to crabbing is being pinched by a crab. Here’s how you can avoid it.

  1. Put your foot lightly on the crab to keep it from moving. It’s best to do this with a shoe on – not flip-flops or sandals.
  2. Use one hand to grab the flipper – the last leg of the crab located at its back.
  3. Lift your foot off the crab and lift the crab up by its flipper.
  4. Now the crab will not be able to pinch you.

Where to find crabs

Our crab friends can be found in saltwater and brackish, or tidal, water – saltwater marshes, bays, inlets, and the ocean. Crabs also like to hang around underwater structures such as dock pilings, bridges, and sunken shipwrecks. Keep this in mind and you’ll be able to find crabs no matter where you are in the mid-Atlantic.

If you’ll be crabbing in Maryland , these are the top 10 locations according to The Baltimore Sun:

Point Lookout, Route 5, St. Mary’s County
Solomons Island fishing pier, Route 2, Calvert County
Kings Landing Park, off Route 4, Calvert County
Matapeake State Park, Route 8, Kent Island
Romancoke Pier, Route 8, south end of Kent Island
Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park, U.S. 50 at the Choptank River
Oak Creek and Claiborne ramps, Route 33, Talbot County
Neavitt ramp, Route 579, Talbot County
Madison and Slaughter Creek ramps, Route 16, Dorchester County
Assawoman and Sinepuxtent bays, Ocean City


If you’ll be crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay , here are the spots to find:

Bill Burton Fishing Piers on the Choptank River

Fort Smallwood Park Pier on the Patapasco River

Flag Ponds Nature Park

Jonas Green State Park on the Severn River

North Beach Pier on the Chesapeake Bay

Sandy Point State Park

Cook those crabs up

Once you’ve hauled in your catch of blue crabs, you’ll want to cook them up quick so you can enjoy every bit of their crabby goodness. Here’s an easy favorite recipe that will make you look like a pro!

Easy Steamed Crab Recipe


  • One can of beer
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Water
  • One cup Old Bay Seasoning
  • Two cups kosher salt
  • Two tablespoons ground mustard
  • Two tablespoons mustard seed
  • One tablespoon celery seed
  • One tablespoon of regular mustard


  • Pour the beer into a large steam pot, then use the empty can to measure out and add the apple cider vinegar and water.
  • Place a metal colander in the pot so the crabs will sit above the liquid— you want them to steam, not boil.
  • Thoroughly mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl.
  • Turn the heat up to high, until the liquid begins to steam.
    Toss the crabs into the colander and sprinkle the spices liberally on them so the shells are caked with them – don’t be stingy.
  • Set a timer, and allow the crabs to steam for exactly 22 minutes. Enjoy all that finger-licking goodness!

Jo Montgomery