The onset of warmer weather here in SA heralds the beginning of the blue swimmer crab season throughout our shallow coastal waters. During the cooler months of the year these tasty crabs move into deeper water with their activity slowing, but once the inshore temps kick up a few degrees, these crabs begin their migration back into shallow inshore waters.
Blue crabs are prevalent in protected coastal bays and Gulf waters, especially where tape weed dominates the sea floor. Gulf St Vincent, Spencer Gulf plus west coast bays including Streaky, Smoky and Denial Bays are all consistent crab-producing locales from November through until around April here in South Oz.
Dropping hoop nets (either single or double ring) is the most popular method of pulling a few tasty blue swimmers, with nets baited with fish frames and heads really effective on these crabs. Legally we’re allowed to use 10 single ring nets per person, or 3 double hoop nets per person. I prefer using the double hoop nets, as the extra weight helps the net sit flat on the seafloor without movement, which is important when the crabs are crawling cautiously. In areas of low tidal movement, it is possible to use single ring net with good results.
When it comes time to retrieve your nets, approach your buoys from down-wind or down-current, and pick the buoy and continue motoring towards your net, being careful not to pull the rope taught and disturb the net. Once you have motored close to your net, pull the rope like mad! A blue crab can swim out of a slowly pulled net.
I usually set my nets at differing depths, to find the optimum depth range where the crabs are crawling and feeding, but typically in the 4 to 6m depth range is ideal. I usually leave the nets in for about 15 to 20 mins before motoring back to each net and pulling them. It it’s a successful pull, then we re-set the net nearby. Make sure you have your buoys clearly labelled with your name and phone number, and stay within range of your nets; don’t venture too far.
Really good baits include fish frames and heads from salmon, herring, mackerel and even pilchards. You can clip a fish head directly to the base of your net with a stainless steel bait clip, or for smaller or softer offerings the use of a bait pouch is a good idea for containing the bait. If a crab manages to get a loose piece of bait, chances are he isn’t going to hand around with it.
While it’s legal to keep female blue crabs in SA, we generally release the females and just keep the bigger males. The males are generally larger and are more plentiful than females. The females can be quite brown in colour as opposed to the brilliant blue of a male, and their claws are significantly shorter. Any female with eggs must be returned to the water asap.
Another way of collecting blue swimmers is to go raking the shallows. This involves walking the shallows, visually looking for crabs and scooping them up with a crab rake. This allows you to ‘select’ the crabs you want, and is a fun way to spend an afternoon.
It’s a good idea to place your crabs into a slurry once caught, to slow them down. To cook your crabs, use salt water (actual salt water from the sea is the best, but if you don’t have access to collecting a bucket of salt water, then making your own salt water at home will still do the job fine). The bag limit for blue crabs in SA is ridiculously high at 40 per person, but we have a self-imposed limit of 10 crabs each which is more than enough.
Blue swimmers are a very sweet tasting crab, and it’s a relaxing way to spend some time on the water. At the time of writing the blueys are just starting to show. Fingers crossed for another good season.