Forget going to the supermarket and overpaying for crabs, go out and earn your meal! Not to mention the fact that if you get even half your limit it will be more than worth your time and money. Pier crabbing makes for a relaxing trip out to the ocean and can often yield delicious results. I’ll be showing you some pier crabbing tips that I’ve acquired through many crabbing trips and I hope to send you out to the pier hungry for some crab!
There are two primary types of crab that you’ll be able to catch off a pier in Northern California, and they include the ever popular Dungeness Crab and the large-clawed Red Rock Crab. Dungeness enjoy flat sandy/muddy bottoms while red rock crab prefer jetties and other rocky structure. Similar to all pier fishing, you never know what you’ll snare, and that’s the beauty of it.
Crabbing Limits & Regulations
In the San Francisco Bay Area, any species of crab not including Dungeness have a 35 crab limit and the season is open year-round. The minimum size is 4” measured by the shortest distance through the shell. You can keep 10 Dungeness crab with a size limit of 5¾ inches measured in the same fashion, and the season lasts from November 7th – June 30th.
You have to have a crab gauge with you on the pier. Make sure your crab gauge/measuring device is accurate. Some rangers will issue fines even if you’re only a credit card-width off of regulation size. Consider investing in an accurate, more durable crab gauge as it will save you lots of money in the long run. Also remember to release all undersized catch immediately – do not hold them in your bucket as you will be fined for possession of undersized crab.
Crab can be found on almost any pier in the San Francisco Bay Area, always double-check if keeping crab is allowed on a specific pier. High tide will bring the crabs closer to the pier, so head out about two hours before full high tide so you can target them as they migrate closer to shore. Cast around the end of the pier until you find a consistent population, then set all your rods out in the same general area.
Pier Crabbing Locations
San Francisco – Pacifica Pier, Torpedo Wharf, Municipal Pier (Rock Crab only)
Santa Cruz – Municipal Wharf, Seacliff State Beach Pier, Capitola Pier
No rod & reel needed here! Simply grab yourself any decent ring crab net from your local tackle shop in the $20-30 range. Brands such as Promar, and Danielson are perfect, and I’ve had these cheaper nets provide years of solid use. I would purchase a net that comes fully functional, meaning that the nylon rope has already been tied for you and is ready to go. All you would need then is a bait cage you’re ready for some crabbing action. Here’s a broken down list of your crab netting components:
- Ring Crab Net (Danielson, Promar, etc.)
- 100-200ft Nylon Rope (Depending how tall the pier is)
- Bait Cage (Danielson, Promar, South Bend, etc.)
Choosing A Rod & Reel
Although crab don’t fight back or anything, I would still recommend a high-quality, saltwater-resistant spinning reel to get the job done. The reason behind this is that although nothing will be fighting against you, a weighted crab snare fully loaded with fresh bait can be quite heavy, weighing anywhere from 4-8oz. at a time. You’ll need a larger reel that can accommodate such pressure, and a rod that is able to handle that dead weight while still providing just enough action to cast the snare into deeper waters. You’ll want a 10-12’ rod that can hold at least 4-8oz. so that you have the backbone to launch that snare. I prefer braided line because it’s able to snare the crab faster on the hookset since there is zero line stretch. PowerPro also comes in white and yellow which makes it very visible when pier crabbing at night. Here’s what I use out there myself:
My Personal Setup
- Penn Fierce 6000 (Spooled w/ 65-80lb PowerPro)
- Penn Prevail 12’
Terminal Tackle & Accessories
Not much terminal tackle needed here, you’ll be needing bunch of other gear to help make the trip go by smoothly. An aerator is a must for keeping crabs alive until they’re dumped in the pot, and there are a few other items that I have found very useful to bring along on my trips. Here’s all the essentials:
- Crab Snare (The Crab Buddy)
- Folding Shopping Cart aka Flea Market Cart
- Bucket w/ nylon rope attached (To get water for your crabs)
- Bucket/Cooler to keep crabs
- Aerator (Baby Bubbles, Frabill, Promar, etc.)
- Waterproof Gloves
- Bait Knife
The Right Bait
I personally like to keep things simple with bait. I used to use chicken, beef, or any other disgusting meats that were expired in the back of my freezer (don’t get me wrong, it worked too), but my buddy eventually weaned me onto fresh bait. Now I just buy a 9lb box of SeaWave frozen squid, a few bags of sardines, and I’m good to go! Mackerel works great too, and as long as the fish has oily meat it’s valuable bait. If you catch jacksmelt or mackerel while you have a rod out for crab that also makes for perfect bait, but it’s much easier for me to already have bait on hand.
Dungeness crab are simple to fish for. Simply walk out to the very end of the pier and make a long cast out to deeper water. If the end of the pier is crowded don’t worry! Grab a spot as close as you can to the end and make the same long cast. Dungeness are found pretty much anywhere surrounding the pier, it’s just a bit more promising in the deeper end. Rock crab can also be caught while targeting dungies, and it’s still a bit of a luck game for me. To check if you have a crab on the end, reel up slack and gently raise your rod until you feel the snare, If you’re able to drag the snare with little force, set your rod back down and wait a bit longer. When you do have a crab on the end you’ll feel a very strange weight to your snare. This is when you reel up all slack and give it a solid hookset! Keep tension with the snare at all times – the second it goes slack the loops loosen and you’ve lost your dinner. A controlled, steady retrieve goes a long way.
This is the easy method. You can try anywhere on the pier, but I also prefer the deeper water. Simply tie off the end of your nylon rope to the pier and toss the net over. Be careful with the rope and make sure nobody is near it as your net flies out, I’ve seen people trip hard and it was not pretty. You can also drop the net straight down, but if there are a bunch of pilings I would throw it out a bit to steer clear of the pier. After dropping the net you can pick it up every 15-20min interval, simply adding a bit of fresh bait to the cage instead of completely replacing everything inside.
Keeping Your Catch Alive
Keeping your crab alive until you get home is just as important as catching them! I prefer keeping my catch in a cooler instead of a bucket because coolers insulate temperature better, keeping the crab nice and cool throughout the day. Once again, an aerator is a must. It will keep the oxygen levels in your cooler consistent as you are fishing.
After you’ve got your cooler and aerator running, check back every hour or so and fetch fresh seawater with a nylon rope attached to a bucket. This will help clear any debris and excrement in your cooler, extending the life of your catch. When you are transporting home try to keep as much water in the cooler as possible without spilling in your vehicle and make sure to keep the aerator running. Following these steps will almost guarantee the crabs will be alive until they enter your pot.
Personal Crabbing Tips
- When crab snaring and your catch is bouncing along the surface as you retrieve, take it slow. If you reel too fast the crab will bob up and down even harder, causing slack every time it’s in the air for a split second. By reeling slow you will crawl the snare over every wave, maintaining important line tension.
- Even if you plan to eat the crab the next day, I suggest cooking it the same night you caught them. After steaming, boiling, or however you want to cook them, store them in Ziploc bags upside down to ensure that those delicious juices don’t leak out of the shell.
- Try using saltwater when you steam or boil your crab! It gives them a delicious taste that you can’t accomplish with typical salt and freshwater. Mother Nature does it best!
- Round crab snares tend to cast better than square ones. I use a local brand called The Crab Buddy and I absolutely love how it launches through the air. Try to buy snares that are pre-weighted, but if not you can always smash down a drift sinker and stuff it in your snare.
- I always emphasize adding instead of removing bait! With the crab nets and snares you really don’t need that much bait, and every time I pull up my snare or net I simply pop the cage open and throw a few more chunks of fresh squid or sardines in there. When it gets to the point where I can’t possibly fit anymore bait, then I’ll take everything out and start from scratch. This saves you a ton of bait and money!