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Wednesday Wonders: How Do We Catch All of Those Blue Crabs?

We are on vacation this week in beautiful South Carolina, also known as the Palmetto State! I created this post to give you a shallow dive into how we catch blue crabs in the Garden City Beach area. It also serves as a little tease to our upcoming post, which we hope have up by the weekend, on making crab cakes. Both catching blue crabs and making crab cakes are an annual tradition on the Hatchette vacation. The Hatchettes have been catching crabs since before Jason was born, and a typical blue crab haul for the week often numbers over 100 crabs.

A Typical Daily Haul!

There are 3 ways we typically catch our blue crabs:

1. Toss line

2. Traps (sometimes referred to as pots)

3. Hunting in the Estuaries

Toss line

A toss line is not for those with a queasy stomach, as it involves attaching a chicken neck or other piece of raw chicken to a hook attached to a string and wooden handle (typically some kind of broken branch Jason finds around the yard). You toss the hook with bait into the inlet water. Yes, the inlet water you fish in, may swim in, and that also leads into the beautiful blue ocean! Eww! Sit and wait until you feel a tug. Slowly drag the string in, while another person nets the crab.


A trap is probably the kid's favorite method. It involves a large metal trap, made of heavy-duty chicken wire, with a bait box (yes, raw chicken is bait) in the center of the trap. This trap sits under water either with a float attached or tied to a cleat on the floating dock. When tied to the floating dock, it is usually the first thing and the last thing the kids want to do everyday, with multiple trips throughout the day - "let's check the trap". You can catch other things in these big traps. We've caught toad fish, puffer fish, flounder, and little spot, but the golden egg always seems to be the stone crab. Vacation 2016 came without a stone crab in a trap, so we are very hopeful 2017 brings better luck.

Hunting in the Estuaries

At some point during Jason's youth, he figured out that he could explore the small tidal pools within the estuaries and catch crabs without the use of any bait. This is what he looks forward to doing 11 months of the year. Jason lives for the tidal charts during this week of vacation. As it gets close to low tide, he begins getting the gear together and loading it up on the kayak: old tennis shoes, crab nets and large utility bucket. Once on the banks of low tide, old tennis shoes laced up tight, he walks in and out of the estuaries searching the small and newly formed tidal pools of low tide. Often, he will see an outline of a crab in a small tidal puddle. Jason will poke the wooden stick of the net in the pool. This wakes the crab from his camouflaged shelter, claws up, as to put up one last fight. Jason scoops the crab up with his net, and then uses the same net to catch another. This goes on for an hour or so when the waters start to fill back in for high tide. It's not unusual for Jason to walk back to the Kayak, grey mud to his knees, with a net of 10 blue crabs or more. A year or two ago, Jason tried to get our son, James, to join him on his hunt. James took one step and a sink into the deep suction of the marsh mud and James was ready to head home. Hunting in the estuaries is not recommended to others as there are many hazards: Sinking and sticking into the marsh mud - it takes a strong man to pull his own legs out of this suction // The unknown of the marsh mud (ex: sharp oyster shell) // Wildlife: Our crabbing takes place along the inlet of Garden City Beach, SC. and over the years Jason has seen turtles, jellyfish, horseshoe crabs, sting rays, eels and many other animals with teeth!

We've staged this video in a small tidal pool to give you an idea of what it's like for Jason to hunt and catch crabs through the estuaries:

What Does Jenn Do:

When I joined the family, circa 1998, I was happy to join the crab catching tradition, but I found my place to be on the shore and not walking through the deep, dirty, sticky mud in the estuaries. I also was happy to take over some cooking duties and experiment with everything a la crab- dips, soup, stuffed shrimp, but we've all settled on crab cakes as our favorite! Stay tuned for our upcoming recipe and post on crab cakes.

SC Rules and Regulations:

We abide by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Rules and Regulations on Crab Catching. Click this image for more regarding the crabbing laws in South Carolina. Additionally, it's illegal to walk through the marsh grasses, so make sure to stay out of those grasses. The marsh grasses are essential to the South Carolina Coastal Ecosystem

Click Image to see SC laws on crabbing

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