Monday, December 20, 2010

Catch Your Own Stone Crabs!

© 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™
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Trapping and Catching Stone Crab

Florida Fishing, Albert Rasch, The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles, best fishing in Florida
I got to thinking about some of the really delicious things that come out of the ocean, especially after a great day of the best Florida fishing! Among them is the oh so delicious Stone Crab Claws! For those of you who live here in Florida, and maybe some of you who are visiting, I thought I would put together some of the tips and tricks we use to harvest some succulent claws. The season for Stone Crab is currently open and stretches from October 15 to May 15.

The retail price of Stone Crab claws is always high. We have always enjoyed fresh claws and used to make it a point to go occasionally with friends on a foray for them using either commercially made inexpensive traps or snorkleing gear to dive for the Stone Crabs.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) allows anyone with a recreational fishing license to possess up to 1 gallon of claws (By the way, you can only harvest the claws, the crab MUST be released unharmed) per person or 2 gallons per vessel, whichever is less.

Again, here are two methods that you can use to catch a Stone Crab Claw dinner. You can put out your own traps or dive for the crustaceans.

  • Florida law allows any recreational angler to use up to five stone crab traps.
  • The rules for recreational traps are simple and straightforward, and must meet the following criteria:
  • Buoys must have a legible "R" at least two inches high, permanently affixed to them.
  • Traps must have the harvester's name and address affixed to them in legible letters.
  • Traps must be retrieved manually during daylight hours.
  • Traps cannot be placed in navigational channels or waterways.
  • Each trap must have a degradable wooden panel equal to the size of the entry hole on the top of the trap. This panel is designed to rot away and allow crabs and other creatures to escape should the trap ever be lost. This avoids it becoming a ghost trap.
Florida Fishing, Albert Rasch, The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
Most bait and tackle shops carry prerigged plastic and wire traps. A single trap is usually less expensive than cost of a pound of claws at your local supermarket, even in Florida!

When situating your traps, look for rocks, cover like some old tires or a shallow wreck, or sand bottom for the best results. Use large fish heads for bait as they will usually last a week, which makes it easier for you to keep up with the traps. Half a ladyfish is also very good, as is a good sized Jack Cervalle.

I would suggest that you set up all of your traps (up to five, remember) in a line about one hundred feet apart, and record the GPS coordinates at each end. Give your traps three to five days, and check them. This will give the crabs time to find your traps and enter.

Snorkleing takes a little practice, but is loads of fun! Not only will you see all sorts of marine life, but you will recover TONS of fishing gear! Seriously. Shallow rock piles and jetties are great places to started at, and of course great places for fishermen to snag and lose gear. Be careful though. Dont get tangled up in any fishing line, or snagged by a rusty old hook. Bring diagonal cutters and a mesh bag for any treasures you come upon.

Check along the bottom edge of the rocks and examine each hole for the telltale sign of the crabs. If a Stone Crab occupies the hole, you will usually see sand and broken shells littered about the the opening of his excavation.

Most divers use a short metal or heavy plastic rod with a 90-degree or more angled end to reach behind the crab and pull it out. Remember, that anything less than 90-degrees is considered a hook and is therefore illegal!

Image Credit: Pinellas Marina 
Stone crabs move fairly slowly, so in most cases you can pull them out and into the open before they clamp down on your fingers should you allow the unthinkable to happen. Once you have pulled them out of their hiding place, release them in a clear spot on the bottom. Thus exposed, they assume a defensive posture and they will raise their claws waving them up toward you to ward you off. Now grab a claw in each of your hands.

Now you have your hard won crab!  But before removing the claws, by law you must measure the claw and make sure it is over the minimum size required. . The minimum claw size is 2 3/4 inches measured from the lower tip or "finger" to the first elbow joint. At no time may you remove claws from any egg bearing females. A minor twist of the claw will cause the crab to release it so be careful when handling especially if you aren't sure they are legal size. Once you are ready to remove the claw, twist it toward the center of the crab and up. I have always avoided removing both claws, I only take one. Some folks say it doesn't matter, but I just don't feel right about takeing both claws. Call me a softy.

Note: I just found this!
Studies by the state of Florida have shown that removing both claws do not harm the Florida stone crab in any way when removed properly. In fact numerous studies have shown that by removing both claws, Florida stone crabs are forced to eat sea grass which has been proven to be more healthy for their diet and regenerate their claws faster and female Florida stone crab have more baby stone crabs since they are unable to fend off the advancements of the male crabs. Now that I have science to rely on I can create double amputees without any guilt! Study here.

Try to release your clawless crab close to the rock pile you harvested them from. If you got them from a sand bottom area, try to find the closest rocks or jetty and release them there. The abundance of food and cover will allow them to regenerate more quickly.

Florida Fishing, Albert Rasch, The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
Do not put your harvested claws on ice. Putting them on ice will cause the meat to stick to the shell. Set the claws into an empty cooler that has some ice in a container to keep it cool. I have seen people keep them in an empty bait well.

Our next installment on Stone Crabs will be preparing them for the table!

Until then, Good Hunting, and Great Fishing!

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member: Shindand Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles, Albert A Rasch, Hunting in Florida

Albert Rasch,HunterThough he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.


Ian Nance said...

We used to trap them in the canals around Punta Gorda using grunt and snapper carcasses. I've never grabbed any snorkeling, though! Brave man.

steveo_uk said...

My uncle used to be a crab fisherman of the cost of Devon in the UK, The best holidays where always when we went with him. We would baite the traps with Mackrell which was a fishing trip in itself and then go check on the crab pots. Happy times