Fiddling for Bait - Fiddler Crabs

Catching Your Own Bait Can Be Fun - Or not!

Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t work out as well as I would like. As well as I would like? Heck, sometimes they fall apart right before my very eyes!

John was tired of paying those high prices for bait, and so was I. They weren't really that high, but we didn’t have the money at the time to afford what we needed. Between fishing and family, money was thin and we tried to scrimp and save.

So it was that we devised a way to catch our own bait this particular day.

We actually drew up plans and constructed a method that we had both heard about but never attempted. We were going to catch our weight in fiddler crabs! Yes, those little sideways running dudes that roam the sandy flats at low tide were prime bait at this time of year. The sheepshead bite was on and fiddlers were like a steak dinner to them.

The plan went something like this: at low tide, while all the crabs are running around on the wet sand, we would dig a hole in the sand about 2 feet deep. Simple enough so far. Next we would take several one by four boards and form a “V” in the sand with the fulcrum of the “V” being the hole we dug. The boards would be set on their side, making a little fence on each side that ended at the hole in the sand. We figured one eight-foot board on each side would do the trick. The idea here is to herd the crabs into the funnel and ultimately into the hole in the sand!

Simple, huh?

We hit the beach as the tide approached its low ebb and began looking for fiddlers. To our supreme satisfaction, they were everywhere! They were out roaming and eating, jumping in a close hole as any seagulls flew their way. Seagulls will willingly eat fiddlers, but even with as many crabs as we saw on the beach, we did not see the birds diving at them.

We were both puzzled, but hey, what the heck, the crabs are here and so are we, so lets catch some bait!

First order of business? Dig the hole! Remember those great plans? No shovel! After a “you do it”, “no, you do it” discussion that lasted fifteen minutes, I got down on my hands and knees and began digging the hole – no shovel, mind you, just bare hands.

It quickly became apparent that this hole was a bigger chore than we thought. First of all, it began filling with water coming up through the sand. Secondly, the water tended wash around and slope the sides of the hole. We needed a vertical side that would prevent anything from crawling out of the hole! We settled for what we had and went after the boards.

We wedged the boards into the sand and made a pretty good fence for each side of the “V”. Everything was set. Nothing to do now but heard the crabs!

Remember the TV commercial that came on during the Super Bowl that talked about herding cats? Keep that picture in your head.

As we approached the crabs, John started running out and around one way, and I started running the other way. Picture two nuts running around in the sand chasing crabs! We found out that they would do one of two things.

If we walked slowly, they would simply move away slowly. If we ran or walked fast, they would dive into the first available hole. So here we go, each of us walking slowly toward the open end of the “V” with crabs moving ahead of us. This is where problem number two popped up.

We had to walk so slowly that the crabs would completely avoid moving inside the “V”. Aha! We need a couple more boards to make the “V” wider! Off to the truck went John. Back with some boards, he made the “V” wider and we began again. This is where problem three popped up.

We found out how easily these little crabs, not much bigger than a quarter, can climb over a four-inch board. We are now two hours into this ordeal and the tide is coming in!

So we put our heads together and studied the situation. While we talked, it was as if they were all listening to us and watching us. We actually began talking in whispers, as if they could hear us! But the plan was this - we would slowly heard them away from the boards and then rush back and close all the holes anywhere in front of the boards. Then we could run at them and they had no place to go except between the boards. And so it was that John and I closed all the holes. We walked far from the boards, and began running in a zigzag fashion, whooping and hollering to get the crabs herded into the hole. And, do you know, it actually worked! We had a hole full of wet swimming crabs! This is where problem number four popped up.

I told John to put the bucket in the truck. He swears he did that and that it must have blown out – but either way we still had no bucket for the crabs. So with the crabs relatively calm and safe in the hole, we both head back up to the road to find something to hold the crabs.

This is where the final straw was placed on the proverbial camel’s back.

“I’ve been watching you fellas for a while now,” he said. “You guys look kind of silly running around out there. Just what is it you were doing?” HE was the state park ranger, and he was parked right behind our truck on the side of the road.

“Oh we’re catching bait – fiddlers – and we got a hole full of them,” I said. “We just need something to put them in and we will be all set.”

The ranger was so nice, and he offered a cardboard box he had in his trunk. What a deal! We said thanks and started to head back to the crabs when he said, “Oh, one more thing.”

As he handed us a long yellow piece of paper, he said, “The court date is next month, so you’ll have time to use your bait. But next time, boys, you need to park somewhere else.”

I looked at the paper – a traffic violation in a state park – and then looked up at my truck. We had parked right in front of the “no parking” sign. Neither of us even saw it when we first arrived. I actually walked over to it to see if had been freshly placed, but alas, it was there long before we were!

We got our crabs, and caught our sheepshead. By the time we finished paying the parking fine, those crabs cost us about five dollars for an eight-ounce cupful.

The bait shop across the street sells them for three.