Roadside crabbing

Iced down and ready for the pot! An ice chest full of crabs await the Sharkey family as they prepare the boil.

Sometimes it takes a visit from a yankee to put in perspective just how good we have it here in Louisiana. Take, for instance, the time my friend Paul Pausic came down from Illinois to enjoy a little saltwater fishing. Pausic and I were heading home after a very successful day fishing Bayou Thomas just off the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We were driving along Highway 433 near Salt Bayou. Cars were parked alongside the road with people peering out into the water. Some were pulling in strings, and others were holding scoop nets. Pausic shook his head and asked, “Now, what’s going on here?” in a genuinely clueless tone. I explained what the people were doing: pulling in crabs with a line and scooping them with nets. 

“You gotta be kidding me,” Pausic said. “So let me get this straight — you guys can catch an ice chest of speckled trout and redfish, then stop on the side of the road anytime and catch blue crabs on your way home?”

Yes, indeed! It’s summertime in Louisiana, and the crabs are running! And while there are many different methods to catching them, the simplest way is the most popular way — a simple string with bait on the end.

No place like Lake Road

Jacob Sharkey has been crabbing all his life, but said he appreciates it more now that he’s moved away. The 27-year-old grew up in Arcola, which is just north of Amite. He now lives in Bristol, Tennessee.

Jacob and Jesse Sharkey caught this large blue crab on the side of Lake Road in Lacombe.

“The first thing I do when I come down here is make a trip to Lake Road to catch some crabs,” he said. “I try and make as many trips to get my fill of boiled crabs before heading back up to Tennessee.”

Sharkey was introduced to Lake Road by a gentleman he met while crabbing in Madisonville. 

“I was crabbing with drop nets on a pier at the mouth of the Tchefuncte River,” Sharkey said. “Everyone was catching crabs but they were all small. That’s when a man with a small child walked up and said ‘If y’all really want to catch some crabs, I know a good spot. Follow me!’ We thought it would be a quick ride, but we ended up following him for about 40 minutes and ended up at Lake Road in Lacombe.” 

It was the first time he had been to Lake Road. 

“We caught more crabs that day than ever before and now it’s my favorite spot to go!” 

His mother, Meg Sharkey, said the crabbing spot has quickly become a destination for their family. 

“The entire family always looks forward to heading down to Lake Road,” she said. “It has become a very popular place for my husband Michael and the kids, Mandy, Jacob, and Jesse, to go in the summer.  

Best bait

While chicken or turkey necks are a popular choice for most crabbers, Sharkey prefers to use cut-up fish parts from past fish cleaning sessions. 

“The first time I used fish parts was actually on Lake Road,” he said. “Someone netted a dead fish that was floating by and I cut it up. I put a piece on the end of my line and the crabs went crazy for it. The crabs seem to find it faster and when I’m pulling them in, they hold on longer.” 

Jacob and Jesse Sharkey caught this large blue crab on the side of Lake Road in Lacombe.

If given a choice between chicken necks or turkey necks, Sharkey said there’s no comparison. 

“I hate using turkey necks,” he said. “I just don’t think there’s enough fat on them to entice the crabs. I also have a problem with them floating when I use them on a hand line.”

The overhand scoop

Sharkey admitted the lines are easier to check with two people, but he has figured out a way to do it by himself. 

“When I see a line get tight, I start pulling it in slowly,” he said. “I let the crab stay on the bottom because there is less of a chance that it lets go and swims away. Then when it comes into my sight, I set the line down gently and step close enough to take a scoop. The crab is distracted while it’s eating the bait so it’s easy to scoop if you are fast.” 

Sharkey uses an overhand scooping method and scoops straight down about a foot behind the crab. Then he scrapes the bottom forward until the net is over dry land. When scooping, Sharkey stresses speed as the crabs can react quickly after hearing the net hit the water.

Blue crabs like this one are easy and inexpensive to catch in July.

When running his lines, Sharkey sets each line approximately 15 feet from each other and ties the lines to lawn chairs. While the chairs do the trick as an anchor, his younger brother Jesse, 11, said they are no match for the alligators and otters that call Lake Road home. 

“Beware if you see bubbles by your bait because it’s probably an otter or an alligator,” Jesse said. 

On their latest trip to Lake Road, Jesse started pulling in a line, but there wasn’t a crab on the other end. 

“I started pulling and the line pulled back,” Jesse said. “That’s when I knew it wasn’t a crab.” 

The youngster gripped the line tight and started walking backward. The gator thrashed, and Jesse pulled the alligator halfway onto shore.

Crabbin’ off the beaten path

Terry Hart of Slidell has been crabbing since he was a boy.

“I remember setting nets in the middle of Bayou Liberty in the summer,” he said. “Those were some good memories.”

Hart still sets crab nets in Bayou Liberty and said this month he’s seen an increase in numbers.

In addition to running nets, Hart has been crabbing with hand lines, taking a less conventional route.

“I’ve been having a lot of success running my lines in shallow ditches and small canals that connect to the main bayou,” he said. “On a high tide, those crabs will venture into these ditches, and it’s easy to catch them.” 

Terry Hart scoops up a crab in a shallow ditch that connects to Geoghegan Canal in Slidell.

On his latest trip, he set his lines along a ditch that paralleled the side of the road near Salt Bayou in Slidell. The ditch was about 10 feet wide with 3 feet of water. He set four lines out that were baited with chicken necks. 

“I felt like a kid again out there,” he said. “Those lines were tightening up only a few seconds after tossing the bait out there.” 

Not only are the small ditches productive, Hart said it’s often the case where he has the place all to himself. 

“Let’s face it, it can be a hassle with most crabbing spots,” he said. “Everybody knows where it is and is jockeying for a spot.” 

Finding these “off the beaten path” spots is easy.

“Any ditch that reacts to the tides will probably be productive,” he said. “If it reacts to the tide, I know that the water in the ditch is the same water in the main canal or bayou.”

Don’t forget your license!

In 2022, LDWF made sweeping changes to the structure of fishing licenses for Louisiana residents. One of those changes involved adding a license required for those who use lines or nets to catch crabs. It’s called a Hook and Line License and it’s $5. The license is only for those who don’t already possess a Saltwater License. For those who run crab traps, your Saltwater License also covers you for running up to 10 crab traps. 

Come get you some!

Popular roadside crabbing spots in Louisiana

  • Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge: Located in southwestern Louisiana, Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge borders the Gulf of Mexico for 26.5 miles and extends inland toward the Grand Chenier ridge. A popular crabbing destination is the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, which features a wharf over the water. Another great spot to run crab lines is Price Lake Road which is a 3-mile-long shell road.
  • Cypremort Point State Park: Between Grand Isle and Cameron, Cypremort Point is one of the very few locations near the Gulf of Mexico that can be reached by car. Inside the park, there is a long fishing dock that offers crabbers access to Vermilion Bay.
  • Pointe Aux Chene: The Humble Canal Bridge is a popular spot to crab in Pointe Aux Chene. When fishing the bridge, nets must be used because of the distance between the water and the bridge. However, crabbing along Humble Canal is an option for those using hand lines. Another option is the last bridge before reaching Island Road.
  • Holly Beach: There’s no shortage of spots to crab along Highway 82 in Cameron. The roadway runs along the gulf, but on the inland side, there are lots of canals that hold plenty of crabs. Just east of Highway 82 is Highway 27, which has a bridge. The bridge is a popular crabbing spot for those using nets. Also, the canals that run along Highway 27 will be lined with people crabbing in July.