I vaguely saw a quick fleck of blue in the moss 2 feet below the surface of the clear marsh water. Unsure of what actually was beneath the ripples, I tossed my jighead hooked with catfish skin next to the grass pile. It laid on the mud bottom for two seconds, when a huge claw suddenly flashed out of the green growth.
My bait disappeared and line was spooling several feet from my reel as I let it feed out of sight. I slowly forced the bait back out of the grass with a smooth pull — and a giant blue crab rose up and swam right into my net.
I always enjoyed crabbing growing up on the bayou, but none of the traditional ways gave me a sporty challenge — until I started sight-crabbing.
I came up with the method to catch only jumbo-sized blue crabs while getting in a weight-loss paddling workout. Sure; nets, traps and other methods can easily catch numerous crabs, but I have no interest in catching small or medium-sized crustaceans. Instead of waiting for a crab to come to my bait, going to hunt the crab first is my preferred method.
On sunny days, I go to the clearest moss-filled marsh bays I can find with my small aluminum flat boat. (These brackish water crabs are the sweetest tasting ones, in my opinion.)
This is an amazing scenic adventure to view all kinds of underwater marine wildlife. Unlike sight-fishing finfish, where you are looking far ahead for surface movement, I slowly cover water watching all the aquatic life looking for giant hidden crabs near the boat. None of these spectacular views happen with normal crabbing techniques.
I recently went on a trip where I loaded up on jumbo crabs. And while waiting for some storm clouds to pass, I caught a limit of redfish sight-fishing the same ponds.
On another trip, I caught five dozen large crabs in less than three hours. Video of the action along with underwater net camera footage can be found here.
My dad went in the same ponds using his regular crab nets and caught less than a dozen on many trips, but by sight-crabbing, I catch many more crabs in much less time. The current doesn’t run as hard in the bay, which makes nets less effective. Plus, nets get full of grass and are a mess to deal with. In the 2-feet-deep water, the crabs often swim out of the nets before they are lifted. In the canals and bayous nets work much better, but finding the largest crabs can be tougher that way.
To see crabs easily, the sun needs to be out without thick clouds. The crabs seem to move around in the open until after 11 a.m. Then, they tend to hide and bury themselves in the mud during the hottest hours of the day. However, it’s still fun to hunt them midday, scanning for the slightest hint of red or blue.
Some crabs are hungry, and stick out there claws in a defensive position and bite quickly. Others are skittish, and try to swim away from the boat or bait and hide in the mud or moss. Sometimes the crabs are fighting with one another underwater like bucks in rut. I enjoy watching them battle for turf before attempting to catch them.
I look for bays with 1 ½ to 3 feet of water, with the bottom being a mix of about half moss and half hard mud. When the bottom is all moss, the crabs are extremely tough to spot. And areas coated with scum make seeing the crabs much more difficult.
Oftentimes the ponds are filled with monster crabs, which seem to like shallow, hot water. Nearly half the crabs spotted are large selects. Maybe the small crabs stick to the muddier water to avoid predators. The bay crabs seem to be very fat and full, compared to bayou crabs which are often skinny with less meat.
And getting in shallow water is a great way to avoid over-pressured areas from outboard vessels and commercial crabbers. Even a few motored boats running through the area will make seeing the crabs almost impossible.
The lack of strong current in open bays and ponds makes the paddling less strenuous than in the bayous. Thankfully, the marsh islands and banks tend to block much of the wind: The more choppy the surface, the tougher it is to view the crabs.
A small aluminum boat works great because it gives you the stability to stand in the front and go into very shallow water. My 10-foot flat works great either solo or with a friend. I don’t bother with any type of motor for assistance. A standing kayak or paddleboard also could work, but crabs often swim away as soon as the boat goes over them. The front deck of a flat allows me to scan the water in front before spooking the crabs.
A push pole can work well for a larger boat on a two-man mission, but when I’m alone the boat needs to stop instantly to not scare the crabs, while allowing me to use two hands to use a rod and the net simultaneously. This is where the long paddle shines because it can instantly be pressed into the mud as an anchor.
A short looped rope tied to the front of the boat is tossed over the paddle handle, allowing me to focus on the crab with a stationary boat.
Trolling motors might work, but I’m sure it would spook the crabs — and the moss in these ponds would probably cause more trouble than it would be worth.
To get the best view, polarized glasses to see through the sun’s glare are a must. The mirrored, coated lenses let in less light, which makes seeing crabs more difficult — so light grey or amber lenses work best. Also, standing or sitting high is important so a long paddle is needed.
Also, I often see redfish. So I keep a pole or my fly rod ready to cast out to any tasty fish I see along the trip.
I prefer to slowly paddle with the wind in my face, which helps keep the boat from running over the crabs. I often spot several large crabs together, but they usually won’t leave unless the boat runs over them.
To catch these massive crabs, I use a simple rod and reel with a ½-ounce jighead. I attach a slab of catfish skin from one that has been filleted. (Any bait could work, but the catfish skin covers the crab’s eyes well and is very tough and lasts for dozens of crabs.)
Once I spot a crab, I toss out the bait in front of it. Then, I stick my paddle in the mud to anchor while the crab begins to feed. (If the boat is moving with wind and current, the crab often gets pulled loose from swimming too fast or from sharp jerks due to wave action.) The crab can see the boat, so if it’s not allowed to get a good taste of the bait, it’ll swim off and hide for good.
When the boat is anchored, I slowly lift the crab from the bottom with my net ready to scoop it up with my other hand. Crabs like to strongly hold to grass, but once they’re in the water swimming while feeding on the bait it's game over.
The best part is not having to waste time or effort dealing with small to medium-sized crabs. I much prefer a few dozen jumbos over a limit of 12 dozen mixed crabs. (Though in the bays — when you spot a crab every 30 to 100 yards of slow paddling — a limit of large crabs in a day is very possible if that many are desired.)
So if you’re looking for a fun workout to make crabbing more of a sporting challenge — where you actually hunt for the crab instead of letting it come to you — try sight-crabbing for monster blues in the clear mossy bays along Louisiana’s coast.