How to Use a Crab Trap? A Comprehensive Guide

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Using a crab trap or pot is one of the most popular ways to catch crab, especially if you are chasing dungeness crabs. While they are generally not as efficient as using a trotline, they require a lot less effort (or skill), and far less bait, making them a great choice for those who just want to head out on the water for a few hours to catch some jimmies for dinner.

Crab traps and their various types, including pull traps, pyramid traps, two ring crab nets, slip ring traps and more are all simple to use and come with their own benefits.

In this article, we’ll cover how to use a crab trap / pull trap and provide some tips to ensure you come home with your full catch. We’ll also take the time to answer some common questions that new crabbers frequently ask us.

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How a crab trap works

Crab traps are used to lure and trap crabs and are utilized by both commercial and recreational crabbers to catch everything from dungeness and stone crab to red rocks and more. They generally consist of a wire structure that bait attached to the center that attracts crabs to enter the trap. 

The entry points will typically be funnels on the side that crabs can walk into but have difficulty exiting. Allowing the trap to catch multiple crabs while it sits in the water without the need for any kind of assistance.

There are some traps such as the two-ring crab net that require more active use, as they sit on the seafloor and need to be pulled up the moment the crab walks into the deep net. These types of traps take more skill to use as the crabs can easily walk in and out of the circle of the net as they please if you are not looking and don’t pull up. 

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How to Set Up and Use a Crab Trap

Setting up and using a crab trap is easy, regardless of the trap type you are using and it is common to use multiple at the same time to maximize your ability to catch your legal limit.

With that being said we’ll cover 5 steps below showing you how to use a crab trap. 

  1. Select a bait and bait the trap

With your traps in hand you are ready to get started. First you will need to select the bait you will be using to lure / attract the crab. Popular crab baits include chicken neck, razor clam, salmon heads, and a range of other oily meats that give off a strong scent. 

With your bait selected you will want to add it to the middle of the trap, this can be done with a line or a bait cage. Either way you choose to go you will want to ensure your bait is securely attached to the middle of the cage.

Once you have attached the bait, and effectively baited your trap you can move on to the next step.

  1. Attach your line to a crab buoy

A buoy is used by crabbers to allow for easy identification of the traps in the water as well as for reporting and tracking purposes often required by state and provincial Wildlife / Fishing & Game Departments.

With your buoy on hand you will want to write down your identification information in the correct place then attach the buoy to your line. The way you attach your line to the buoy will depend on what buoy you have as some will have loops, lines, or hollow centers to which you will attach your line.

Once you have determined where you will be attaching your line you will want to make use of a non-slip mono knot or clinch knot to ensure your line stays attached.

With your traps baited and buoy attached you’re ready to begin looking for spots to locate your traps.

  1. Choose an area to locate the trap

Selecting an area to locate your traps is incredibly important as it will be the primary determinant in whether you successfully catch any crabs.

With this in mind it’s best to test a couple locations before you drop all of your traps in one spot. Finding the best spots will take time, it’s often a combination of talking with other local fishermen, testing yourself and reading online. 

With an area in mind you can drop your traps and begin the process!

  1. Let the traps soak

Probably the easiest of all the required steps is letting your traps soak. This stage is absolutely required and just consists of letting your traps sit in the water for 1 – 2 hours to see if you get any initial catches.

If you’re seeing a lot of activity in your first location after an initial soak you can begin dropping more traps to increase your odds of hitting your legal catch limit.

As mentioned, you will want to let the traps soak for a minimum of 1 ½ – 2 hours before you move on to the next step which is pulling the traps.

  1. Pull the crab traps

The reward of all your efforts is pulling your traps, you will simply want to go to your buoys if fishing from a boat or, just directly pull your line if crabbing from a pier, and lift your traps out of the water.

Luckily when you pull your traps there are crabs inside; at this point you will want to use a crab gauge to measure them and ensure they are harvestable, and that’s it. 

As you can see, setting up and using a crab trap isn’t particularly hard, the real determinants of your success will be what bait you use and where you locate your traps.

All things that can be easily improved with some testing during a day out on your local waters.

Related Questions

Where can you rent crab gear?

Renting crabbing gear can be tough, you can check local marinas or bait & tackle shops but it’s generally best to buy your own traps or even just use a hand line if you can’t afford a trap just yet.

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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.