Kayak Crabbing Tutorial

Kayak Crabbing is becoming a fast growing past time for the kayak fishing community in Northern and Central California. This article is a quick Kayak Crabbing tutorial that will help the novice and intermediate crabber get start catching more crab.









The Dungeness Crab

The Dungeness crabMetacarcinus magister (formerly Cancer magister), is a species of crab that inhabits eelgrass beds and water bottoms on the west coast of North America. It typically grows to 20 cm (7.9 in) across the carapace and is a popular seafood prized for its sweet and tender flesh. Its common name comes from the port of Dungeness, Washington.

From wikiepedia Feb 27, 2015 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeness_crab

Myths and Facts

My buddy says I got to do longer soaks if I want to get lots of crab, is this true?

There is a myth or belief that longer soaks produce more crabs. Crab, like fish in the sea can be found in clutches or schools.

 Placing a crab trap in an area that is not populated by crabs will probably no produce full traps. Throwing back traps in the same area will produce the same the same result. However relocating traps even as close as 200 ft., may result in a full pull.

So the successful fisherman will continually MOVE his pots until he finds the clutch. The other guy keep throwing back his pots in the same area and gives up when his pots come up empty, or say, “It was just a bad fishing day” until they see the others come in with limits.

Do crab like smelly and rotten bait?

Crabs are attracted to scent. The fresher the bait the more appealing the scent thatWill attract crabs. Here is a list of common bait used for crabbing. The longevity, freshness, and strength of the scent will determine the effectiveness of the bait.

Common crab bait:
Fresh Rock Fish (Whole or Carcass)
Fish remains (Mackerel, Herring, Sardines, Anchovies)

I have heard the following work but have not personally tried myself.

Cat food
Dog Food

How long should I soak a pot?

Most fisherman soak pots from 30-60 minutes per pull using traps.
Rings can typically be pulled up in 15 minutes.

 I want to get Dungeness crab but end up with rock crab what’s the deal?

Dungeness crab and Rock/Red Crab reside in different landscapes. Dungeness crab live mainly in flat sandy areas while Rock Crab (As indicated by their name) live near rocks and reefs. Using a fish finder will help distinguish flat sandy locations from rocky areas.

I’m looking for my pot for hours and it’s lost! It must be those thieves right?

Yes and No. When crabbing it is HIGHLY recommended but not necessary to have a GPS that will mark the location of each crab pot. There are many factors that lead to missing or misplaced pots.

Simply unable to spot markers in high swells

Tip – Use contrasting colors with the ocean that allow for easy spotting of the traps. I use pink pool noodles because it sticks out!

Also using a GPS is very effective during foggy and swelly conditions.

Walking pots during high swells

 Tip – Weigh your pots down.

It’s just missing and stolen

TIP – Unfortunately it’s a fact that people do steal gear when left unattended. These incidents tend to happen in the early morning and late night when traps are left unattended. They also happen in high frequencies during: Crab season opener Thanksgiving and Christmas. I will usually not crab around this time or will go to more remote locations.

There are days when I will get full limits in two pulls and others where I’ll work the whole day for only a few crab what gives?

It’s called fishing, but here are a few solutions that will increase any crabbers success rate:

  • Keep moving until a clutch of crab is found.
  • Crab feed with the TIDE. Moving water will generally increase catching rates.
  • Crab in small swells. Crab follow scent to track down their food source. Fishing in big swells will move the scent which lead to less crab in the pot.
  • Use fresh bait.

Properly Measuring Crab

Only retain crabs that are 5 ¾ inches across the back, not including the spines or wider. Crabs meeting the minimal requirements are termed sport vs. commercial that range from 6-6/14 and jumbo’s reaching 7+.








California regulations (per DFG webpage)

The recreational fishery for Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) is open as of November 1, 2014. North of the Mendocino-Sonoma county line the season is open through July 30, 2015. South of Mendocino-Sonoma county line the season is open through June 30, 2015.

Recreational crabbing for Dungeness crab is not allowed within San Francisco and San Pablo bays, or from vessels licensed for commercial Dungeness crab fishing. The daily bag limit is 10 crab, and the minimum size limit is 5¾ inches. Review crab measurement methods and the current Ocean Sport Fishing regulations booklet for more Dungeness crab fishing information.

See additional information about Dungeness crab and other species of crab.

Proper sex identification







Hard and Soft Shell Crabs

Crab are exoskeletal animals which mean they wear their skeletons on the outside. The exoskeleton protects their vital organs from predators, however as they grow they will “molt” their skeletons and grow into their new bodies.

When this happens they will be lighter and soft. Crabs that are soft are best release regardless of how large they may be. There simply is not enough meat to justify keeping them.

Standard Kayak Crabbing Gear

There is a lot of gear that Kayak fisherman use to catch crab but these tend to be the kayak community preference.

NOTE: Each trap should be connected to a floater/buoy that floats on top of the water and identifies its location. Make sure to properly weigh down each line with a weight so it is not floating and can become stuck in boat propellers. Remember to keep pots outside boating lanes and harbor entrances!

Promar 102 collapsible trap






Danielson crab trap










Ambush/Volcano Traps









Kayak crabbing is a fun and rewarding past time. It is a great way to spend time with friends and family while bringing home some dinner. However remember to keep only as much as you need. The sustainability of our oceans and ecosystems depend on everyone willing to do their part.

Version 1.0
Updated 2.17.2015

5 Replies to “Kayak Crabbing Tutorial

    • Not in kayak range that I know of. The santa Cruz crab tends to be on deeper water. Most kayakers target hmb, and Bodega Bay around here.

  1. I just discovered your website. I love it! Very funny and very helpful. I’m new to fishing this year and I want to start getting crab. I live in morro bay. Could you by any chance recommend some spots?

    Thank you so much

  2. Nate,
    I’m not aware of any crabs around central California. Most of the Dungeness crab are located in northern California up to Oregon. Down south most people target spiny
    lobster!? near the rocks.

    If you are up north, HMB, Bodega bay, Baker Beach, and Linda Mar are all great places to target Dungeness Crab. Just look for a sandy bottom on the FF. –TLA

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