fisherman walking on the beach

How to Catch Sand Crabs Out of the Sand to Use as Bait

Ah, the thrill of surf fishing! There's nothing quite like standing on the shoreline with a rod and reel, waiting for that big catch. But did you know that using sand crabs as bait can greatly increase your chances of hooking a prize-worthy fish? Sand crabs are a favorite snack for many fish species, making them an excellent choice for bait.

Plus, catching these tiny crustaceans can be a fun activity in itself! In this article, we will discuss how to locate the perfect beach, understand sand crab behavior, gather the necessary tools, catch them by hand, use a sand crab trap, and handle and store live sand crabs as bait. So grab your gear and let's get started!

Locating a Suitable Beach for Catching Sand Crabs

To successfully catch sand crabs, you first need to locate a suitable beach. While these little critters can be found on beaches worldwide, they especially thrive in temperate or tropical coastal areas where the surf is gentle and the sand is fine. If you're unsure whether the beach you've chosen is suitable for sand crab hunting, a local bait shop or knowledgeable angler can often provide helpful suggestions.

Once you've chosen your destination, you should plan to hunt for sand crabs on an outgoing tide, as this is when they are most easily accessible to humans. Sand crabs burrow into the sand near the shoreline, where they can feed on bits of food brought in by the waves. During an outgoing tide, they move closer to the surface of the sand, making it easier for you to collect them.

Watch for signs denoting a healthy sand crab population on your chosen beach, such as shorebirds like seagulls or sandpipers, which are known to feed on these crustaceans. Another sign of a good sand crab beach is the presence of small holes in the sand that resemble small air pockets – these can indicate burrows of sand crabs below the surface. Lastly, consider any environmental restrictions, beach-access limitations, or safety concerns that may affect your hunting. It's important to ensure that you're being respectful of local ecosystems and regulations while enjoying this fun pastime.

Understanding Sand Crab Behavior

To successfully catch sand crabs, it's essential to understand their behavior. These small crustaceans live in the swash zone – the area where the waves break and wash up onto the beach. They dig into the sand and create burrows, usually facing the ocean so they can catch their meals of microorganisms washed up by the waves. You'll typically find them scuttling along the shoreline, especially during low tide.

One key characteristic of sand crabs is their sensitivity to vibrations. They primarily rely on their sense of touch, as they have poor vision. As a result, any movement or noise in their vicinity can disturb them, causing them to quickly burrow into the sand.

Knowing this, you should move slowly and quietly when approaching the areas where you suspect sand crabs to be hiding. Keep an eye on the wave patterns and watch for low tides, as more sand crabs are likely to be exposed during that time. Low tide is also the best time to observe their burrows, which can appear as tiny holes, around the size of a pencil, in the wet sand.

It's important to note that sand crabs are nocturnal creatures. While you can still catch them during the day, your chances of finding a greater number of sand crabs will significantly increase at night. So, if you're planning to catch them as bait for a night fishing trip, make sure to visit the beach after sunset.

Gathering the Necessary Tools

Before heading out to catch sand crabs, it's important to have the right tools on hand. While many people catch sand crabs by hand, having a few extra tools can make the process easier and more efficient. Here are some items you might want to bring on your sand crab-catching adventure.

1. A bucket or container with a lid: You'll need something to hold your live sand crabs while you continue hunting for more. Make sure the container has a tight-fitting lid to prevent escapes but also includes air holes to keep the crabs alive.

2. A small shovel or trowel: Although you can certainly dig with your hands, using a small shovel makes the task easier and less messy. Plus, you can dig deeper in the sand than you can with your hands, increasing your chances of finding sand crabs hiding out below the surface.

3. A sand sifter or fine mesh net: Catching sand crabs can be made easier by using a sand sifter or a fine mesh net to scoop up sand and then shake it to reveal hidden crabs. This can save you time and help you catch more crabs than you would by hand alone.

4. Gloves (optional): For those who might be wary of the feeling of sand crabs in their hands or are worried about being pinched, wearing gloves while hunting can be a good idea. Just make sure the gloves aren't so thick that they limit your dexterity.

5. Towel and change of clothes: Catching sand crabs can be a dirty business, so it's a good idea to have a towel and a change of clothes on hand for clean-up afterward.

Once you've gathered all of the necessary tools, you're ready to head out to the beach and start your sand crab-catching adventure!

Up close photo of a mole (sand) crab

Catching Sand Crabs by Hand

Once you've located a good beach and have your tools ready, it's time to start catching sand crabs. Catching them by hand can be a fun and accessible method for all ages. To begin, slowly walk along the shoreline as the waves recede, and watch for tiny, V-shaped movements in the sand. These are often the sand crabs digging down into the sand to hide. Look for the size that you want to use as bait, keeping in mind that fish are often more attracted to larger sand crabs.

Be prepared to act fast! When you spot a sand crab, quickly dig into the wet sand with your hand or a small hand trowel before the crab has a chance to dig deep and escape. Scoop a handful of sand containing the crab and carefully rinse it in the water to reveal your catch.

To properly catch the sand crab without harming it, gently pick it up between your thumb and forefinger, taking care not to squeeze its soft body. Hold the sand crab by its back legs or just behind the carapace to avoid getting pinched by its claws. Remember that these creatures can't withstand exposure to air for long periods, so once you've caught enough, proceed with handling and storing them as bait for a successful fishing expedition.

Using a Sand Crab Trap

Now that you've learned how to catch sand crabs by hand, let's discuss another method – using a sand crab trap. Traps are convenient and can catch multiple sand crabs at once, making them an efficient option, especially if you need a large number of sand crabs for bait.

First, you'll want to purchase a sand crab trap specifically designed for capturing these creatures. These traps are typically small, mesh or wire traps with funnel-like openings, which allow the sand crabs to crawl in but not escape easily. They are available at most bait and tackle shops or online.

To set up your trap, start by positioning it horizontally on the beach, close to the shoreline where you've observed sand crab activity. Make sure the trap openings are facing the water as sand crabs are more likely to crawl in from that direction. If your trap has a stake, gently push the stake into the sand to secure the trap in place.

Next, bait your trap with a small piece of fish, shrimp, or other sea creatures that sand crabs are known to feed on. Place the bait inside the trap to entice the sand crabs.

Once your trap is set up, you'll want to keep a close eye on it. Check it frequently, preferably every 15-30 minutes, to see if you have caught any sand crabs. When retrieving your trap, handle it gently so you don’t accidentally release your catch.

When you've caught enough sand crabs, carefully remove them from the trap and transfer them to the storage container, which we'll discuss in the next section. Remember, be gentle when handling sand crabs, as their small exoskeletons can easily be damaged.

Handling and Storing Live Sand Crabs as Bait

Once you've successfully caught your sand crabs, it's important to handle and store them properly to keep them alive and fresh for bait. Place the sand crabs in a container with a damp cloth or a small amount of seawater to keep them moist. Having too much water in the container may drown them, so just enough to cover their legs should suffice. Poke some air holes in the container to provide proper ventilation. When transporting your sand crabs, try to keep them cool and out of direct sunlight. During your fishing trip, periodically check on your bait to make sure they're still alive and ready to entice fish!


Catching sand crabs can be an enjoyable and effective method for collecting bait. By understanding their behavior, choosing the right beach, and utilizing proper techniques and tools, you'll be able to catch sand crabs like a pro and increase your fishing game in no time!

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