How to Use a Crab Trap

How to Use a Crab Trap

Before you can learn how to use a crab trap, you must know what one is and why you would need one. A crab trap is a mesh that has been designed to only fit adult crabs in them by using tempting bait. There are traps for both beginners and experts. The reason you use them is obvious; to trap crabs. It is the best way to get them because unlike fish, you cannot just drop a line with a hook on it and catch crabs. You have to drop the trap in the salty ocean and hope when you pull it up, there will be several delicious crabs in them. They make catching crabs easier. Crabbing is both a fun family activity and a commercial business. Check out our other publication highlighting the best crab traps and pots.

Varieties of Crabs to Catch

There are many different varieties of crab that you can catch.

  • Dungeness crabs – these are some of the most popular crabs to catch. They are found everywhere and most are large enough so that one crab will feed two people.
  • Pacific red rock crab – this crab is usually found in a rocky area and is smaller than the Dungeness crab
  • Blue crab – this is a sweet-tasting crab and is quite small. They are found all over the Gulf and East coasts of the United States. This is one of the most commonly caught crabs. Since these are smaller crabs, you need to make sure the mesh wiring on the trap is not too wide.

There are many different types of crabs and you can learn more about these types of creatures here.

Types of Crab Traps

Before you can learn how to use a crab trap, you should know about the different types so you can use the right one to get the type of crabs you want to eat. These traps can range in price from twenty dollar netting ring traps to the one hundred dollars for sturdier coated stainless steel pots.

1. Ring Traps

This is the least expensive and simplest type of trap you can use. They are easy to deploy, lightweight, and collapsible. This is a great trap for anyone that has limited boat space or a beginner. They are made from two concentric rings using mesh netting to connect them. When a person deploys the crab trap, it will lie completely flat on the seafloor. It will let the crabs walk in and feed on the bait.

When you pull it up, the outer ring will rise above the lower rings so any crabs that are still inside are trapped. Since this is the type of trap where the crabs can walk in and out, you must retrieve it quickly. Generally, if you leave it submerged for more than fifteen to twenty minutes, you will lose the bait and pull up an empty trap.

When you pull up the trap, make sure that you pull it up rapidly without pausing. The reason is that because they are not enclosed on top, the crabs inside can just climb or swim out if you are not quick enough to get it out fast. To keep the trap level when you are pulling them out, many will use a special four-point harness.

This type of trap is ideal when space is at a premium. Many who are crabbing will use this type of crab trap to test the waters, so to speak, to see how many crabs are in the area and how easy they are to catch before dropping in a larger trap.

To use this trap, you would stand on a pier and throw it into the water like a Frisbee. You do not even need a boat if you use this type of trap for crabbing. After letting it lie on the ocean floor or the recommended period of time, you use the rope to bring it back in. Do it gradually to separate the two metal rings.


  • Great to use for Dungeness crab
  • They are weighted well for easy sinking
  • Easy to pull in
  • Great for twenty-thirty minute sets
  • The rope is orange-colored so you can spot the traps easier
  • The sides can collapse when it is on the seafloor.


  • The netting is too large if you are crabbing for blue crab
  • The crabs can escape easily after they eat the bait
  • They need to be checked frequently as the crabs can walk or swim in and out.

The ring traps, both kinds are very popular to use among the Washington and Oregon Coast and primarily used in protected bays and river mouths.

2. Slip Ring Traps

This type of trap is made from two identical sized metal rings that are spaced six to ten inches apart by the frame. When you put it in the water, one of the rings will rest on the seafloor while the other ring will be directly above it. In this trap, the crabs are also able to walk in and out directly from all directions to feed on the bait. There is also a third ring with netting attached that rests on the seafloor.

This is where the harness is attached to the trap and when pulled, the cylinder of the netting pulls upward. It will completely enclose any crabs that are still inside the trap. They are not able to get out of this trap when you pull it up and out of the water. This type of trap works similarly to the simple ring traps.

With a sling ring trap, there is one difference. The top is enclosed so when you pull it out, you do not need to be as fast doing so because the crabs cannot escape. The drawbacks to this type of crab trap are that they are bulkier and heavier but on the plus side, they are better at keeping the crabs from getting out when pulled to the surface. The traps need to be checked often since crabs can crawl in and out while laying on the seafloor.

The pros and cons of this type of crab trap are the same as the above ring-type trap.

3. Cage Traps

This type of trap is also referred to as a ‘pot’ or cage crab traps. They are enclosed fully and have one-way doors that will allow a crab to crawl inside but they cannot get back out until you take them out. This is the most effective trap but they do require a different technique than both types of ring crab traps.

Since the crabs cannot get out once they are inside, you can leave this type of trap to soak in the ocean for hours at a time. You do need to remember that once all of the bait is gone, there will be no more crabs entering the trap. Most of the ones that use this type of traps are professional crabbers and will drop the traps in the morning and pull them up later that evening.

The one-way doors on this trap are not foolproof so there are times that a crab can get stuck in the door and jamming it open If this happens, the other crabs inside could escape You also need to make sure that you are baiting the trap correctly. If not, the crabs can crawl on the outside of the trap and steal the bait.

Some of the other features you should look for if choosing this type of crab trap are a rot-cord system that will disable the trap if it becomes lost and one or more escape hatches for the smaller crabs. In many areas where you go to crab, these traps are required by law and no other traps can be used. Before you head out to catch crabs, make sure you check with the local law enforcement to see just what type of trap you need.


  • Perfect traps for a Dungeness crab
  • Durable design
  • It folds down so you can easily transport it
  • These are great for several hour sets


  • Not designed for eastern blue crabs
  • Some do not come with a bait container
fishing with a crab trap

Crabbers generally use a West Coast crab pot or cage to catch Dungeness crabs. This type of trap uses two funnel-type openings where the crabs enter. The Maryland crab pot usually has four openings and is two cubic feet in the shape of a cube.

How to Use a Crab Trap

When you use a crab trap, it does not require that much human intervention and is very easy to do if you follow the instructions. 

  • Locate the bait in the trap – you should always make sure that the bait is tied securely in the trap in case of strong sea currents. Just put the bait in the middle of the trap and tie it neatly and securely. When you are putting your trap in the water, make sure that you do it slowly so that you do not jostle the bait out of place.
  • Line, cord, and buoy – when you are choosing which buoy to use, make sure that it is one that you can remarkably recognizable in the water. A buoy is what you attach your trap to so that is why it is important that you can recognize it and locate where it is in the water. The best ones to choose are green, red, or orange. The line should be weighted so it can sink easily in the water. It also has to be long enough for the trap you are using to reach the sea bottom. This is so the crabs can just walk into the trap. The cord, or rope, needs to be sturdy enough to lift the trap from the water as it will be heavy with the crabs inside. You do not want it to break when pulling the trap up. 
  • Locate the trap – this means that you want to put the trap where the crabs are so you can tempt them to get into the trap. Many will place their traps at low tide or in a small channel in branches off the main creek. A good rule of thumb to remember is that if you get crabs, then use the same spot the next time you want crabs but if you do not get crabs after using the same spot two times, move the trap to a new spot. Most crabs prefer to live in saltwater but some like to live in brackish water, which can include inlets, saltwater marshes, and bays. You are also more likely to find crabs under pilings, bridges, or sunken shipwrecks.

One important thing to note is that if there are no water currents, you will probably not have any crabs entering your traps. Check the trap in the first 20-30 minutes to make sure that there are crabs in the area. If you do not check, then all your efforts may be pointless if you are not getting any crabs. 

Types of Bait to Use for a Crab Trap

  • Fish – some of the best choices of fish bait include bunker, salmon, mackerel, and cod. You should cut the fish bait into one-third to one-half the size of the original size for the smell to travel easier in the water to attract the crabs.
  • Human food – one of the most common human food to use are chicken necks because of their long-lasting time and they are inexpensive. As long as it gives off a funky scent and sometimes oily scent, you can use it as bait. You can also use bacon, hot dogs, etc. Some have even suggested using fragrant cheese but unfortunately, cheese dissolves quickly in water.

Some use eel, which is recommended, or other animal carcasses to attract the crabs to the traps. Before baiting your trap, make sure that you check the local regulations on just what types of bait that you will be allowed to use. Always try to use bait that is part of their natural diet, like razor clams or fish.

Tips for Using a Crab Trap

  • Night-time crabbing – if you decide to go crabbing at night and do not want to stay out all night, you will need to use a trap that does not require checking every few hours. You want a sturdy trap where the crabs cannot get out of once they are inside. Night-time crabbing can generally get more crabs.
  • Put it in a current – make sure that the trap you use is secure and strong so it does not float away. If you put it in correctly, it will enable you to catch more crabs. They like to hang out in areas with a strong current. One important thing to remember is that not all currents are filled with crabs. 

An important tip to remember is that if you are crabbing in a new area, lower your trap, leave it for an hour or so, and then pull it back up to check for crabs. After that time, you should see some crabs if there are any in the area. You can either move the trap or just put it back down and wait a bit longer. 

If you do not have a boat, you can just attach some bait to the end of a line and throw it in the water on a beach. It is just like fishing but you do not use a hook, just the bait attached to a line. If you use this method, just pull the line up slowly as crabs are smart and will figure out what is happening if you move too fast.


If you learn how to use a crab trap correctly with the right about of bait and proper trap, you can catch a lot of crabs with just one trap. Unlike fishing where you throw the line in the water and wait, sometimes for hours, hoping to get a fish, when you go crabbing you will generally get several crabs if you know what you are doing. Crabbing can be an enjoyable time, even if you do not have a boat but are near where crabs live.

Always before you go crabbing, make sure that you check the local regulations because they will vary according to where you live. You do not want to do anything illegal and have to pay a fine and/or have your crabs confiscated. In some locations, you may have to have a license and there may be size limits that could change from year to year.

Check out the types of crabs if you are a beginner because some crabs are not edible such as the spider or green crab. You will need to release these. You will also need to check the crabs you catch because if they have an egg sac attached, you will need to release them. 

Always invest in the right gear, including the trap, bait, line, buoy, etc. Doing all this and following the local regulations will make your crabbing experience very enjoyable and you will also have some great crabs for dinner that night. 

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