How to Catch King Crabs

How to Catch King Crabs

Fishing for King crabs is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. You’re braving below freezing water, towering waves, and frigid winds – all on a nice day. Catching a king crab is no simple task and should be done by a professional with experience in the industry. If you have the experience and knowledge necessary to start fishing for king crabs, this article will be quite useful to you.

King crabs are one of the most popular fishing industries in the world. Plenty of commercial demand for king crabs of all kinds exists and calls for a constant supply of king crabs. In order to catch a king crab, you’ll need to know the best spots, have the right tools, and come prepared to fight for your life in more ways than one. Still sound appealing? Here’s what you need to know before you set out.

Where to Find King Crabs

No matter which king crab you’re going after, you better be prepared to bear the brisk winds and freezing waters that accompany the endeavor. King crabs are sensitive to water temperature so you’re never going to encounter one that isn’t in below freezing waters. The most bountiful location for king crabs will be the ocean around Russia and Alaska. This body of water is the perfect temperature all throughout to host tons of species of king crab.

Narrowing your search down to a more specific location will require you to know what type of king crab you’re after. The depth at which you can encounter each species will vary as well. There are three main types of king crab that commercial companies will fish for and that you’re likely to be searching for as well. These are the blue king crabs, the golden king crabs, and the red king crabs. The conditions for each one will vary and your success in catching them will as well.

The blue king crabs are most often found off the coast of St. Matthew Island and the Pribilof islands. You’re likely to encounter them anywhere from 600 feet to the intertidal zone. Golden king crabs are closer to the Aleutian-Adak islands and live in much deeper waters. Sometimes twice as deep as the blue king crabs. Red king crabs – the commercial favorite – are in more shallow locations with 600 feet being their maximum.

Your best bet for finding the red king crab is to look for a silty ocean floor. Typically, you’ll encounter stilts of red king crabs in Bristol Bay, Norton Sound, and the Gulf of Alaska. These are the most popular fare as they are much less difficult to catch in terms of location. This is also the least aggressive of the three king crab variants. Once you’ve located your king crab of choice, it’s time to deploy the tools and know how on catching them.

How to Catch King Crabs

The process of fishing the king crabs isn’t the hard part, necessarily. Getting yourself out to the right location to drop your pots will be the tough part as you might have to head down towering waves and freezing conditions. Once you’re in a location that boasts plenty of king crabs – closer to ice walls means colder waters and colder waters means more crabs – you better have the right tools. The most important tool for a king crab fisher is a pot and buoy.

catching king crabs

Drop your pot, mark it with a buoy, and leave it around for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Once you return, if the bait was appealing enough for them, you should be pulling in a major score of king crabs. Depending on the number of pots you have, you could be looking at hundreds, maybe thousands of them in one group. King crab fishing is going to net you a fair sum of cash if you’re good at it.

While it may just be a waiting game in terms of bringing the king crab in, it’s a long process that takes plenty of skill and knowledge to do properly. Even just finding them requires knowledge and an understanding of the local area. If you’re not careful and no one on your boat has any experience catching king crabs, you could be setting yourself up for a dangerous expedition. The waters are rough and freezing and one wrong move could send your boat upside down.

Best Bait and Setup for King Crabs

It is widely agreed upon that there are only two types of bait that you can use to bring in king crabs. These are typically chum and bits, but they are of the same fish almost every time. The best bait to use is herring or codfish. These two species of fish are found quite often in these waters and are a favorite snack by the king crabs – red, blue, or gold. A fun fact about these fish is that they tend to hunt king crabs when living, but are their feast when dead.

Anglers have found that sticking true to the local fare is likely to bring in a large cash of king crabs. If you stock the pot with plenty of herring and codfish, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many king crabs you’re able to bring in. As long as you’re in the right location, the bait will work wonders on the local king crabs. Just as important as the bait is the tool you’re using to capture and retrieve the king crabs. You’ll want a strong and dependable pot.

These pots are steel boxes that are made out of a frame, covered in a wire mesh. You can find pots that are as big as 800lbs, though most tend to fall closer to the 600-700lb range. These steel cages are simply lowered to the ocean floor and have a buoy marking where they’ve been placed as well as how deep they are. The bait goes inside and the crabs enter in search of food. Most commercial king crab fishing boats will have around 150-250 pots on board.

Bringing the King Crabs in

Once your pot is lowered and the bait is placed, it’s time to play the waiting game. Most commercial fishers will use this time to go to their next destination and place more pots. The best practice is to have multiple locations where you’re intending on placing a line of pots. If you keep your pots in a line, bringing them up will be much simpler and quicker. After you’ve finished placing all of your pots, come back to your first drop spot and get ready to bring the pot back in.

This is a tough task that requires plenty of skill, strength, and teamwork. These pots are already 600-800lbs without the crabs inside. Fill them up with 50-100 crabs and you’re looking at well over 1,000lbs per pot. You’ll need a vessel that can handle that weight and a crew that knows what they’re doing. Be careful not to bring it up too quickly or you could damage the pot and boat. If done correctly and carefully, you’re looking at a hefty sum.

Once the grab is on board, they should be unloaded and sorted by deckhands. They should be sorted based on size and how they compare to regulations. If you’re fishing with a company, you likely have a minimum size and weight requirement for each crab. If the crab is too small, send it back and keep those that fit the needs. Some local restrictions could be at play as well as to how large the crab can be. Be sure to know size limits and restrictions before embarking.

Legality of King Crab Fishing

There are plenty of restrictions and rules that apply to king crab fishing. These are in place to keep the king crab population safe and to support a healthy growth of the species while still allowing the industry to exist. First, and most importantly, is that only the male king crabs may be taken back. If you bring in any females, you are subject to large fines and further punishments.

There are also quota limits that will be placed on each vessel before the start of each season. These limits will change based on the season and are determined by the growth of the king crab population. If the population is beginning to lessen, Alaskan waters become subject to tighter maximum quotes, so be aware of how much you’re allowed to bring in.

In order to fish for king crabs, you have to have the proper license and be a registered boat. There is much that goes into the process of becoming a king crab fisher, but all of it is done in the interest of the crabs and the environment you’re fishing in. Bringing in a king crab is a strenuous task that should only be done by professionals. We hope this article is helpful to you and provides you the information necessary to start king crab fishing. 

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