Come Fishing for Blue Crab on Cape Cod

CATCH YOUR LIMIT OF KEEPERS

CLASSIC AMERICANA | FAMILY FUN OFF THE COAST OF MASSACHUSETTS

Come with me. Out to the Cape. Cape Cod that is. This is the East Coast. And it’s wicked awesome. Stick your toes in the big wide swaths of beautiful sandy beaches just beyond Boston. Swim in the ocean. The Atlantic Ocean. Stroll through darling little towns that will charm your socks off. Covet their classic flower-boxed wood-shingled houses. Have a lobster roll. Try the clam chowdah. Kayak through the wetlands looking for herons and egrets and turtles and otters. Spend the day crabbing for blue crabs.

CRABBING IS COOL FROM COAST TO COAST

Crabbing? Yes. Crabbing. You can here. It’s cool. As an Oregon Girl, I grew up crabbing on the Oregon Coast. On that side of the country, we hunt for Dungeness crabs. Under my family’s influence and with many opportunities to practice, my kids now know the ins and outs of how to fill bait boxes and pull up pots in bays all along the west coast. They can tell you the difference between a keeper and tosser, a male and a female and how not to get pinched by either. Most of the time anyway. But you don’t have to be an expert to catch crabs. On either coast.


RELATED: CRABBING ON THE OREGON COAST

Classic Americana on Cape Cod | Day Out Catching Blue Crab off the coast of Massachusetts | Oregon Girl Around the World
THE EAST COAST EQUALS BLUE CRABS

On the East Coast, you catch blue crabs. Before I moved to Oregon at the age of nine, my family lived in South Carolina for three years. We spent many weekends in and around idyllic Hunting Island seeking out crustaceans in the coastal estuaries of South Carolina. I remember tying chicken bits to a long piece of string and tossing in our hand lines with feet firmly in the warm shallow water. Slowly we pulled in the piece, hoping for a crusty crab with chicken in its clutches. Deftly and delicately with a swoop and a scoop, the crabs would be collected in our net. Winner, winner! Crab dinner.

My kids caught the blue crabbing bug on travels to Delaware when they were little. Cheap nets and frozen chicken offered hours of entertainment on a nearby dock of a bay. So when we learned you could find them around Cape Cod, we were hooked and dedicated a day to crabbing.

Their scientific name Callinectes sapidus, means “savory beautiful swimmer.” – National Geographic¹

CRABBING ON CAPE COD

Unlike their Dungeness crab cousins, who crawl along the bottom, blue crab are swimmers. See those paddles in the back? So to catch them, you need to find moving water. Their natural habitats are brackish estuaries and coastal wetlands. Lucky for you there are many around Cape Cod. You’ll need double-ringed dip nets or a long pole net to scoop up catches from a weighted hand line and chicken on the bone for bait. Make sure your nets have wide holes so the water rushes out.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED
  • Ring nets
  • Weighted hand lines or drop lines with a hook for bait
  • Bait (chicken on the bone)
  • Long poled net
  • Gloves to pick out crabs
  • Cooler with ice
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Drinks/Snacks

The equipment is not expensive and easy to find at tackle shops, hardware stores and some grocery stores all around the Cape.

Where to Find Blue Crabs on Cape Cod

This list is not exclusive. These are places where we found success. Ask around for the best blue crab spots at your local fishing and tackle store. Someone is sure to have a secret location that will help ensure success.

Double-ringed dip net with chicken bait secured
Crabbing off pedestrian bridge over Herring River | Bells Neck Conservation Area, Harwich MA

Checking for keepers

WILD ABOUT WETLANDS

Our favorite spot on Cape Cod for crabbing had to be in the beautiful and serene Bells Neck Conservation Area outside Harwich, Massachusetts. Find your way to the pedestrian-only bridge that spans the Herring River for a perfect place to plop in your nets. Turn off Bells Neck Road onto unpaved N Road. Park at the end and walk to the bridge. We dropped our double ringed dip nets over the side of the bridge into the deeper moving water as it emptied into the more shallow and calmer bay beyond.

Crabbing requires patience. Make sure you’ve brought drinks and snacks to keep your crabbers uncrabby. Exploring the boggy wetlands down the path beyond the bridge in Bells Neck offers a diversion along with a lesson in biodiversity and coastal ecology. But don’t tell the kids that. They just loved finding tons of funny little fiddler crabs past the long grasses and all over the muddy shore. Fiddler crabs are feisty and cool with their dominant right front claw.

Did you know that wetlands are essential coastal zones that mitigate carbon from local environments? Making sure that we conserve, prioritize and protect these delicate ecosystems from pollution and development will preserve them for future generations. Teach your people to tread lightly and remember to pack out all the trash you bring in. Be a good steward and remove any other rubbage you might find.

GOOD TO KNOW
MASSACHUSETTS STATE BLUE CRAB REGULATIONS
  • Crab season is from May 1st – December 31st
  • Crabs must be 5″ wide measured from spike to spike
  • It is only legal to keep male crabs
  • Daily limit = 25 crabs/day
  • No permit required unless using commercial traps or SCUBA

These rules are current as of October 2017, but be sure to check with the State of Massachusetts to comply with current regulations.

Small, but powerful. Watch your hands.
GOOD TO KNOW
  • Keep your keepers on ice in your cooler.
  • Do not put them in a bucket of water. They will drown as they need lots of oxygen from moving water.
  • Do not eat any crabs that have died before you cook them. Crabs have bacteria in their flesh that multiplies rapidly upon death and releases toxins that can make you sick.²
  • Cook crabs alive at the earliest convenience to kill bacteria and prevent toxin release.
  • The ice makes them sleepy and easier to plop in your pot.
  • Steam crabs over water or water/beer mixture for 7-10 minutes or until shells are bright red. Old Bay Seasoning optional.
  • Lay out newspaper and get your mallet ready to crack and pick and enjoy the sweet meat.

For more tips and tricks to stalk your own savory blue swimmers out on the Cape, check out this post from Affordable Cape Cod Vacations.

Did you catch your limit? I wish we had. Maybe not enough for a true Cape Cod crab feast, but we did have fun. For hours. Without phones. Or screens. Together. Outside. In a wicked beauty of a spot. A real reason to celebrate. Cheers to that.

 

Oregon Girl Around the World

43 thoughts on “Come Fishing for Blue Crab on Cape Cod

  1. I’m so glad you mentioned Delaware because that’s where I’ve done most of my crabbing. THIS kind of crabbing, of course. I can think of plenty of other places that might win for THAT kind of crabbing, but I digress … Fun post about this good old-fashioned shore activity, and fantastic photo of that crab in the net at the top of the post. He’s so beautiful I want to use him as art in my house!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes! Delaware is the most popular place to find blue crab – either to catch or to eat out! We love crabbing – so fun. And the blue crab are truly unique and beautiful with that blue color and sharp spikes! Cheers from Copenhagen where crabbing is popular, but more for sport as they are oh so little!

  2. As ever Erin a beautiful post, great pictures and the ultimate parent treat No Cellphones! I have only crabbed in Devon, with no intention of eating anything we caught. Everything was put back and instead we feasted on fish and chip straight off the newspaper.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Do other people eat the crabs? Aren’t they quite small? We do go “crabbing” here in Scandinavia – but mostly just for sport – way too tiny to eat!

  3. I love sea food but ironically, crab is one of the only seafoods I’ve eaten that I don’t like. Still, this looks like it would be a fun family activity. #FarawayFiles

  4. Clare Thomson

    Wow Erin, those crabs are massive! Our family would totally get on board with a day spent crabbing here. Crabbing is one of our favourite things to do on the Suffolk Coast in the UK – it’s just so much FUN! Mind you, the crabs there are toddlers compared to these! I can’t tell you how much I’m longing to visit New England. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! Funny thing is blue crabs are much smaller than the Dungeness Crabs we catch on the West Coast!

  5. Jacki L

    I can’t say I have ever been crabbing, but I sure have enjoyed eating blue crab in Maryland! Glad you could make it a family fun activity with your kids. What great memories for them!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Do you eat them covered in Old Bay seasoning and with a hammer? We loved that when we visited Dewey Beach Delaware!

  6. Trish @ Mum's Gone To

    I’m now thinking I’ve deprived my son of a childhood memory and life skill by not teaching him how to go crabbing! You really are an expert, Erin!
    #farawayfiles

  7. Such a fun activity to do, and it seems like there’s a certain amount of success guaranteed which helps motivation! I’d happily spend time catching the crabs but I’m really lazy about cooking and preparing them…haha! #FarawayFiles

  8. So fun! Cape Cod has a special place in my heart. My grandparents had a house (now owned by my aunt) in Osterville and we would visit a few times every summer. CC is one of the most serene places in America. BUT I’ve never been crabbing! Been snailing, fishing and sailing but never crabbing. Looks fun! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Ok – did you eat the snails?! What I really wanna do is catch my own lobstah!! Lucky you to spend summers on Cape Cod!

  9. What fantastic fun! I love your writing style – the opening paragraph had me hooked! I’ve only ever WATCHED people crabbing – you can do it in my hometown in Kent, uk. But really have no excuse as to why I’ve never tried it! I must do something about that… #farawayfiles

  10. This looks like lots of fun for all the family. I grew up ‘crabbing’ on the North Norfolk Coast, although the crabs we caught were significantly smaller than yours! #FarawayFiles

  11. Wow, crabbing definitely looks like an interesting experience. I’m not sure I’d have the patience for it! But I’ve always associated New England with crabs, so I guess it’s a classic pastime. #FarawayFiles

  12. Ruth

    I have never been crabbing but it looks like a nice way to catch some good food. I love crabs. Have to admit I do not like to take the meat out of the shell but I’ll go thru the effort to taste the delicious meat. My husband even eat the soft shell ones. He once had a soft shell crab burger (ewwww). #FarawayFiles

  13. You do the best activities with your kids 🙂 Crabbing looks like lots of fun (with a little patience thrown in). I know I’d be the skittish one, always scared of getting nipped. What an awesome day out with the family though! #farawayfiles

  14. This sounds like so much fun! I had no idea about the moving water and bacteria, thats good to know. I’m definitely putting this on my bucket list. We recently discovered that there are clams on our local beach and it got us thinking we need to do an activity like this! #farawayfiles

  15. babycantravel

    You had me at lobster roll & clam chowdah! What a fun experience for the whole family! Especially doing something screen free! #Farawayfiles

  16. Lyn

    I’ve seen Cape Cod in so many movies, its a place I’d love to visit, especially to enjoy some mouthwatering blue crab!

  17. Fun times! We did a bit of crabbing in South Carolina, but didn’t seem to catch many keepers. #Rookies. I think we definitely have better luck with lobster rolls and chowdah! Mmmm….gotta love New England! 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  18. Well, you learn something new everyday. I never knew you could use chicken to catch crab. I would have assumed to use fish bait. My son would love to do something like this! #FarawayFiles

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