Feeling a bit nippy? Time to crack out the crabs!
  |  First Published: August 2016

Let’s face it, crustaceans play a large part in the diet of many fish species, with prawns, shrimp, yabbies and of course crabs. So it makes sense to use lures that imitate these common food sources. For this article I will be focusing on crabs and the lures and techniques I use to catch fish. The main species I target are bream but these techniques can be applied to any fish species that eat crabs.

The following are some basic techniques I use for fishing crab style lures. Over the past few years I’ve had great success in fishing this lure type both socially and in tournaments and can contribute a few wins and even a Kayak World Championship to these lures.

Match the Hatch

Firstly, it is very important to ‘match the hatch’. As a keen flyfisher I always look at what the fish are eating and closely try to match that. So have a look around and maybe roll over some rocks to try and find the size and most importantly colour of the local population. I use crab lures that have a number of colours available, and can also refine and mix and match things with their interchangeable legs, and claws. I also carry a few permanent marker pens to add dots, stripes and such. Of course ‘colouring in’ can be applied to soft plastic crabs as well. This approach tends to work 9/10 times! If the more matched natural is not working, try throwing something with a colour that ‘pops out,’ as this can also draw fish in. I fished a tournament last year and after throwing the more standard, darker colours I tried a sand colour that turned out to be the key to tempt those shutdown fish.

Natural Movement

I think a major key to unlock fish is to imitate how crabs move and act in the water. Most of us see crabs running around the sand and rocks in the ‘dry’ that look like they are going flat out. Through my job as a diver I get a unique look into the behaviour of how crabs move and feed underwater. Most sit still unless purposely agitated and then they will flee or even defend themselves (claws up). Some just burrow down trying not to move too much and hoping not to be seen, but mostly they move pretty slow. I work on the theory that too much movement attracts attention in the animal world!

We have all seen videos of various brands of crab lures being worked enticingly in fish tanks with the line running directly up to surface and of the lure hopping from rock to rock, this sure catches anglers! But conditions are never this artificial when angling, so if water clarity allows, cast your lure a couple of metres away so you can see it and work the lure using different line angles and at differing rod tip height. This can give you a better insight into how to move the crab and give it that natural look.

Angle and retrieve

I always consider line angle when fishing a crab lure and the substrate of where I am fishing and hold my rod tip accordingly. The key is to keep the lure in touch with the bottom, and moving the lure slowly. With the substrate you may have to consider applying enough line angle to either move it up and over debris, rocks and such, other times consider lowering your rod tip to bury the lure a little bit such as in soft mud and sand. This can look like a crab trying to bury itself or escape and leaves a nice little plume of sand and silt. I always change my rod tip height through the retrieve so by the time I have worked it back to the boat I have kept a constant line angle. I also prefer braid for this style of fishing as it provides me with as much feel as possible to work that crab.

Location location location

Another great place to fish ‘crab style’ are structure like jetties, channel piles, boat hulls, bridges, rock walls and pontoons. These are fish holding magnets and fish and critters of various types choose to live and feed in these areas. Going back to the line angle method again, this is where my approach can differ. Usually you end up being much closer and the water tends to be deeper. You can cast along and under the various structures in the style explained above, which again can be very effective. But in these areas I like to cast to individual pieces of structure with the crab sinking hard against it. This represents a crab that’s been dislodged and is free falling towards the bottom. The take can happen anywhere from the second it hits the water until well after it has been sitting on the bottom. So the idea is to watch the line carefully and a handy way is to know the depth and estimate the line you have out. If it is 4m deep and you only see about 3m disappear I’d probably lift up to see what’s going on! The ‘takes’ can be as simple as the line just stopping.

When it’s on the bottom I like to leave it for a while, but this depends on how much patience you have! I have actually watched fish in clear water follow the lure all the way to the bottom and just sit there staring at it. So I always give it a light jiggle or drag then stop again, and wait. If you don’t feel a ‘take’, which can be explosive just give it a firm lift and you’d be surprised how many times they are sitting there with it in their mouths.

Flats/shallow water fishing

Shallow fishing can be one of the most visual types of ‘crabbing’. Whether casting to cruising fish or fish that are actively grubbing or mudding I take great care so as not to ‘spook’ them and landing the lure too close to the fish can easily do this. This is when I put away the braid line and pick up the straight through fluorocarbon to give myself every extra chance of hooking and not spooking them.

I like to ambush cruising fish, by casting well ahead and waiting them out. You need to keep track of where your crab is and where the fish is and hopefully they don’t change course! When the fish is 1-2m away I give the crab the slightest of drags or jiggles. This can be very exciting fishing and great to watch the reaction of the fish.

When fish are actively feeding you can often see tailing and clouding or mudding of the water. Again to avoid spooking, I try to cast well beyond them and do one of two things. You can then drag the crab along the bottom to the area the fish is feeding, but you need to keep track of exactly where the lure is, which can be difficult and takes a lot of trial and error to perfect! My preferred method is to cast beyond and the second it hits the water I wake it across the surface with as little disturbance as possible. When it’s about 1m from the feeding fish or area I just let it sink to the bottom. I find it easier to keep track of the lure this way and then very slowly work it into the mudding/feeding area or past the fish. When fish are feeding like this they are right onto anything moving but even a static presentation will work, so make sure you spend as much time as possible in that area – slowly does it.

heavy cover/snag fishing

Another technique I’d like to cover (and my favourite) is heavy cover or snag fishing. I find this to be real ‘heart in your mouth’ fishing and I apply the ‘stop them or pop them’ theory. Most of the cover I fish when breaming is horrible barnacle encrusted, leader shredding snags of disappointment and full of the one that got away stories. I hear many people say you can turn most bream on 6lb and if you can’t well you probably were never going to? I go heavier and start at 8lb and mostly finish at 12lb. These fish only have to move a couple of hundred millimetres and it’s all over. Heavy leader and a locked drag greatly increase your chances and usually they are not too leader shy. But the other problem you will run into is the lures themselves. The smaller jigheads for plastics used for this fishing just weren’t designed for this abuse with 12lb leader! But a plus for some imitation crabs is the load can be usually shared between two sets of hooks sometimes due to the design and the way fish eat them. I snap, straighten and tear off hooks while fishing this way, but the rewards can be great. A few other points to make with this style of fishing is to slow down when approaching the snag/cover. Position yourself to maximise your chance of getting the fish out and think of the different casts you can make and what the structure looks like underwater. I cast hard against the cover and often the takes are instantaneous and crushing, so be ready!

If you don’t get hit straight away, engage a little bit of patience and wait it out with the just the smallest of jiggles but try not to drag or move the crab too much. Cover all the main points of the cover and if it’s a large laydown then cover both sides, but keep in mind the shaded side will be the prime area.

So that about sums up a brief explanation of how I like to fish crab lures in common scenarios but there a few others such as edge fishing and deep fishing that the above can be applied to. One of biggest complaints I hear about fishing crab lures is how slow the fishing techniques are and I admit doing it correctly can be a bit time consuming, however, do it right and you will be rewarded with some very impressive and usually larger fish.

I do have a sponsorship with Cranka so I will freely admit a strong bias towards this brand. However, there are a number of soft plastic lures out there like Ecogear, Baitbreath, Crusty, Enticer and Strikepro to name a few. So it’s just a matter of using a lure type you are comfortable with and that suits the environment and situation you are fishing.

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