Fiddler Crabs for Bait

A catch-all bait for inshore gamesters.

“Last supper” for untold numbers of sheepshead, drum and pompano this month.

Almost all the fish that roam Florida’s back bays will inhale these crunchy little crustaceans. Fiddler
crabs are there for the taking around most mangrove shorelines and adjacent to mud flats at low tide.

Fiddlers are a top pick for sheepshead, black drum and pompano. The first time I fished reds just off the road to Sanibel some “good ol’ boys” offered me up a few fiddler crabs, saying I couldn’t scratch up none now, since the tide had flooded in. Fished on the bottom with a small egg sinker and a foot or so of 20- or 30-pound leader, we pitched our fiddlers onto a tan patch of sand surrounded by grass. Sure enough, we all hooked some nice reds. Fiddlers were and still are an old-schooler, go-to bait—if you’re willing to dig a bit.

Fiddlers can also be substituted for a number of harder-to-get crustaceans. Pass crabs, for instance, are the top permit bait on Gulf Coast reefs. Pass crabs are not always available, though, and run only periodically. It’s a little-known fact that fiddlers are an acceptable second when pass crabs aren’t available.

Although on the small side, fiddlers can be presented on a smaller circle-style hook and a lighter, say 20-pound fluorocarbon, leader. Hook sizes are critical but anywhere from No. 2 to 3/0 circle hooks work well. Some anglers will dress a 1⁄8- to ¼-ounce leadhead jig in white or tan, finding that this enhances an otherwise smallish offering.

Sparsely dressed bucktail jigs can come in handy when sweetened with a fiddler. Run the point of the hook through a leg socket and out the back of the fiddler crab, as shown in the photo. (For pass crabs and blue crabs, bore a hole through a corner of the shell with a pin tool or heavy safety pin, making a hole for your hook to enter. Do this to avoid cracking or crushing the bait.)

One way to nab those frisky fiddlers: Place a baited bucket in their territory for a little while.

If you score big on your crab trapping, you can chop up any dead or undersized fiddlers and make a nice chum slick. Don’t be surprised if you get some guests hanging around just below the boat, maybe even a tripletail or cobia. It can get interesting real quick if a ling decides to eat your No. 2 hook. Stranger things have happened. Big reef reds, pompano and snook will suck up a crabby snack, too.

The fiddlers will keep you busy with a cornucopia of willing crab hungry critters. If you’re permit hunting you’ll want a 7 ½-foot medium-light, fast-action spinning rod. A quality reel with a smooth drag, loaded with 15- or 20-pound braided line, will round out the setup.

Here’s a simple way to catch a mess of fiddlers. Captain Dave Lanier at Hickory Bait and Tackle advises using a white or other light-colored, 1- or 2-gallon pail. The lighter buckets make for a cooler surface and will help preserve your catch in the heat of day. If you’re going to leave you bucket trap unattended, make a number of small holes or slots in the bottom for drainage. Fiddler crabs breathe air on the surface and will drown if the bucket overfills with rain water. Find a promising spot with a good number of crab holes; they’re hard to miss. The best areas will have holes with little balls of sand rolled up around active nesting holes. Next, dig a hole on the mud flat just above the high water mark; be carefully not to damage the mangrove roots. Bury the bucket, leaving a lip of say 1 inch above the sand. Make up some chum, crusted fish, shrimp bits or better yet some dry commercial chum. Mix your chum thoroughly with a bit of sand to keep the birds from pilfering it. Make a sparse chumline up to your buried bucket.

Now you can fish, sunbathe or have a weiner roast while you wait for the crabs to fall in the trap. Remove your trap when finished.

Some guys will also place two-by-fours in a V, ending in a bucket or box; someone can then “herd” the crabs into the trap.

If you’re in a hurry, and the ground is flat enough, here’s another sneaky approach: Cut the bottom out of a plastic laundry basket, and toss the basket, upside down, over a group of fleeing crabs.

Be responsible and don’t over-trap an area. Fiddler crabs help to oxygenate the substrate so put back what you don’t need or use. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine, February, 2012.

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