Sight-fishing crabs and reds at the same spot

Once the year’s warmer temperatures arrive, one of my favorite adventures has become sight-crabbing with a fishing pole. Yet, it’s not only the crabs that love these crystal clear marsh waters; the gamefish stay stacked up in these areas as well. So when the crabbing conditions don’t go as planned or there’s boiling action on the water’s surface, having a few fishing lures can take the crabbing trip to the next level.

On one trip, while I was fighting one redfish after another, big crabs were seen scurrying all through the moss. Before long I had a limit of hard pulling marsh redfish, and then filled the rest of the ice chest with select crabs at the spot. Another crabbing trip, I had a limit of reds and nearly a limit of bass to go along with my potful of crabs.

Passing up all the smaller crabs and spotting those super-sized ones fighting with another one under the surface is remarkable to watch. I flip out in their direction using my long fishing pole and it’s soon to be tasty crab aboard.

Last summer I did a detailed article and video on my sight-crabbing method and gear for catching giant blue crabs.

I have tried snorkeling in the marsh in order to get the crabs, but those long hours swimming and crawling through the shallow mossy ponds left me only with cuts from the random oyster shells hidden in the soft muck. The quick crabs out maneuvered me, but seeing all the crabs and baitfish while swimming under the water was a cool experience. However, this activity has left onlooking fishermen completely baffled as to why a guy was swimming out over half mile away from the launch with a camera on his head. I still haven’t given up accomplishing my snorkel crab-grabbing goal.

A smaller boat

When not frightened by a crazed snorkeler, crabs tend to run off from unnatural motor noise or any boat noise and from anything clanking around. I’m careful with my gear and movements within the boat. The stealth from paddling my tiny 10 foot aluminum boat, which remains ultralight with no motor attached, is the ticket to paddling for hours on end. I stand in the front of the boat so I can view crabs before the boat runs them over. The back-end seating and low view of a pirogue or kayak makes them less efficient for site crabbing.

Huge blue crabs are the main objective of most of the author’s strips to the marsh in June. Fish are just a bonus.
Huge blue crabs are the main objective of most of the author’s strips to the marsh in June. Fish are just a bonus.

Many people told me they have failed to do well with sight-crabbing from larger boats since being able to quickly maneuver the heavy vessel toward crabs is difficult in these shallows in strong currents or windy conditions. Also, many motored vessels scare numerous schools of fish into these further back marsh pockets; with no one crabbing these shallows, the bottom is crawling with jumbo selects.

Usually wherever I’m seeing the most crabs, I’m usually seeing the most baitfish in the water as well. I just need to wait for the gamefish to show themselves in these 1.5-3 foot deep areas with mud-bottom exposed sections among the moss. I rarely cast a lure until I see a fish since my main objective is giant crabs. The fish are the bonus of the day.

What to bring

Sometimes I bring multiple poles in my tiny 10 foot flat, but one pole is really all that’s needed. Since I fish the crabs with a fish head on my leadhead jig, I simply switch out the chunk of dead crab bait to any type of paddled-tailed plastic minnow on the same hook.

I like to use a dark color with a bright tail on an overcast day or at low light hours. I’ll use a bright color on a sunnier day. Still these hungry marsh fish aren’t that picky as long as you put a piece of plastic in front of their noses.

When the grass is really thick, I use a weightless fluke Texas-rigged to dart back and forth at the surface. The reds and bass really swallow up these lures. This slower worked fluke allows the lure to stay stationary for a second or two in the tiny open holes. This gives big fish lurking in the moss a chance to come out of hiding and explode on it.

When the weeds are more spaced out, I do well with a gold spinner attached to my plastic. The Cajun-style spinner bait really brings in fish from far distances. It’s fun to see them wake across the marsh heading toward the lure.

Redfish and bass

In the early summer months the reds love to get in large schools and feed with a fury. Seeing these reds explode on the surface by the dozens is quite the spectacle. Once spotted, a limit of reds is achieved in short order. However, it’s so much fun that I’ll often catch and release many reds, before getting back to crabbing.

Redfish and largemouth bass (left) inhabit many of the same clear, brackish-water marshes as crabs.
Redfish and largemouth bass (left) inhabit many of the same clear, brackish-water marshes as crabs.

The reds can be anywhere, but the bass can school up as well on points and breaks in these brackish water moss or marsh lines. These fat marsh bass devour the same redfish lures.

The bass and reds show themselves on the surface and bite well when it’s cloudy or during low light hours when they are swimming in more open areas away from the thickest moss. A hard running tide gets them biting as well.

Another species to look out for is large lake runners that seem to tolerate the brackish water. The bigger redears pushing a pound in size are easy to spot when seeking crabs. They also let you get pretty close before spooking as they are working their spawning beds, so toting along a panfish pole can be a wise move.

Getting out of the boat

Sometimes the muddy bottom is hard enough to walk on. At these locations, I like to get out of the boat and slip up on the fish in maximum stealth. I focus on hard mud bottom spots more when I’m fly-fishing so I can walk up closer to the fish. It’s a very cool experience standing in the marsh grass with reds exploding in the water on all sides.

However, having never before seeing anyone doing such a tactic, I have had other boaters come ride up and scare away the fish thinking I was stranded out in the middle of the ponds needing help. I just love being out of the boat, experiencing the harshest elements. For crabbing, it hasn’t been productive, but for fishing it is a very stealthy way to sneak up on the fish.

Next time heading to the marsh, I suggest bringing some polarized lenses and giving this type of duel-action sight-fishing adventure a try before the moss grows too thick later in the summer reducing the crabbing visibility. Sure there are many ways to catch crabs and reds but sight-hunting both on the same trip from a tiny dingy really takes marsh fishing up a notch. All of the other ways of crabbing and fishing I grew up doing simply pales in comparison.