Crabbing with Hand Lines: A Comprehensive Guide

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Hand lines are a great way to crab, but they can be difficult to use if you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t worry! This blog post will tell you everything you need to know about using hand lines for crabbing so that next time the waves are too high and your boat is out of commission, you’ll still have an easy way to catch crabs. 

A hand line is a fishing tool that consists of a length of rope with one or two hooks on the end which can be thrown into shallow water where crabs live. The bait used for this type of fishing is usually fresh fish like herring, mackerel or shrimp as these hold their scent better than other types of bait do. 

Hand lines can be used in a variety of different ways, but the most common way is to tie one end around something heavy and throw it into shallow water (typically about 3-4 feet deep). The other hook should then have bait on its barb so that when crabs bite onto this they are unable or unwilling (due to their claws) to let go until you reel them up from where ever your hand line has been thrown!

Continue reading to get all the details on handline equipment, regulations, tips and more!

crabbing with hand lines blog post feature image

Related Articles: Alternative methods to catching crabs.
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What Is Crab Lining?

Crab Lining, otherwise known as hand lining, is a basic technique used to catch crabs. It consists of an individual using a fishing line attached to a weight with a hook and bait on the other end to attract a crab.

This technique is generally used by recreational fisherman, children, or survivalists. The most commonly caught crabs using this method of crabbing are blue crabs.

Required Equipment for Crab Lining 

  1. A hand line: Ideally 15lb or heavier fishing line.
  2. Bait: Ideally meats including chicken neck, squid, and mackerel
  3. A hand net
  4. A fishing hook (with some to spare)
  5. A Cooler or bushel basket to hold your catch

Crabbing Regulations & Licensing

The first thing people need to know before crabbing with a hand line is whether their local regulations allow for this type of fishing. Luckily most areas allow for hand lining as the amount of crab, and or fish you can catch with this method will be limited in comparison to using traps or pots. 

How to catch crabs with a hand line: 4-Step Instructions

To help you better understand the process for catching a crab with a hand line we’ve broken it down into 4 easy steps. Get started by following the instructions below:

1. Make your hand line

A Hand line is a simple fishing tool consisting of a fishing line with a hook and some bait attached to it. Nothing more, nothing less.

To make a hand line simply tie a hook to one end of the line and add your bait to the hook. You can optionally add a weight or small handle to the other end to fix your line.

The benefit of adding a weight to the other end is that it will allow you to cast multiple lines and increase your chances of catching crabs, it also gives you the opportunity to test multiple areas for crabs.

This weight can be a larger rock you find on the beach, or you can make use of a tree branch and stick it into the sand near where you intend to fish. Tie one end of your line to the stick and wait for it to become taught, this is an indication a crab is biting. 

2. Bait your Hand Line

You can use fish, chicken or clams as your main baits for crabs but it’s important that they have been left out in order for their scent to be stronger than other types and attract more attention from hungry crustaceans!

The oilier the fish or meat you choose to use for your bait the better as this is what crabs are typically attracted to. We suggest you use chicken necks or the bait of choice by professionals in your area.

You can also purchase pre-made baits from your local bait and tackle shop or from online sporting retailers. Once you’ve made a decision on what bait you’ll be using you’re ready to get crabbing. 

3. Select your area for crabbing

With your hand line prepared and baited you’re ready to begin crabbing. You’ll have to select your area (casting off docks can be a great choice though you may be competing with crabbers using ring nets).

Alternatively, you can cast off the beach, just ensure the waters you are casting into are at least 3 – 4 feet deep otherwise you may face issues attracting crabs.

4. Cast the hand line

After you’ve selected your fishing area you can get started, to do this simply cast your line and wait for the nibbles to begin. Once you begin feeling these vibrations in the line you will want to carefully begin drawing in your line while getting your hand net ready.

This is where the assistance of a friend can come in handy! Once you have the crab insight and it has taken the bait, you can quickly scoop it up with the net. Crabs are fast so make sure you’re on it the moment you go for it.

And that’s it. By now you should have a crab. If you intend on eating it you should make sure you either properly clean and cook it or store it accordingly for later. 

Tips & Tricks

  • You can get creative with the types of weight you choose to use for your hand line. A piece of plywood, an old broom handle, or some pipe can be great options if you have them laying around the house. They also help with reeling in the hand line as they give you something to wrap it around.
  • To get the most out of your crabbing trip try to go catch crab during the slack tide. This is generally when crabs will be the most present in the water. 


Picture of Ryan W

Ryan W

Ryan is the owner of Fisherman First and manages the team of expert writers on the site. He's fished his entire life and has been to locations across North America to catch a range of fish and crustacean from crabs and prawns to minnow and trout.