DIY Crabbing: Gear, Piers, and Tips

DIY Crabbing: Gear, Piers, and Tips


In San Francisco's rabid food and restaurant culture obsessed with trying the newest, latest dishes, we can forget how easy it actually is to, you know, make magic happen in the kitchen ourselves. For instance: crab. You can have crab feasts galore whenever your heart desires, if you're willing to get a proper license and get out there. Crab season started November 5th, and experienced crab catchers all claim the first two weeks of the season are the best. Here's our guide to DIY crabbing in the Bay Area, full of tips, tricks and spots to equip yourself for a day spent on the water.


There are two basic ways to crab: from land or on a boat. If you're a lucky soul with a boat, your best bet is to venture just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, which means you can catch up to 10 coveted Dungeness crabs and 35 rock crabs. Within the Bay, you're allowed 35 rock crabs per crabbing season (you can also catch slender, red and yellow crab varieties)–however, you'll be fined $1000 a piece for every Dungeness crab they catch you with, so steer clear!

If you're going to be hanging out on land, locals recommend getting started at Fort Baker Pier, Pier 7, Fort Point Pier, the San Francisco Municipal Pier on Van Ness, or the Pacifica Pier in, you guessed it, Pacifica. Just know that the latter one gets pretty crowded, so time your visits accordingly. We've also heard that the beaches just south of Fort Funston are a good way to escape the crowds and cast your bait into the sea.


The most common equipment used is a crab hoop net, which usually comes with quite a bit of rope. Buy extra rope, just in case you find yourself competing with other fishermen and want a leg up. Throw it like a frisbee, wait about 10 minutes and then calmly (but quickly) pull it back in. Bait cages come separately, and you often have to attach it to the bottom ring of the hoop net. Use knots and zip ties to reinforce them.

If you're on a boat or crabbing from a beach, you can use a crab snare. Attach it to a fishing rod, put bait in the cage, and cast it out as far as you can. Have a bucket of sea water ready and waiting for the crabs you catch to chill out in until you get home.

Liberal Fishing Tackle, 77 6th Street, 415-391-1947, SOMA

Gus' Discount Fishing Tackle, 3710 Balboa Street, 415-752-6197, Outer Richmond

Sports Authority, 1690 Folsom Street, 415-734-9373, SOMA

New Coastside Bait & Tackle, 1604 Francisco Blvd., 650-359-9790, Pacifica

Photo via tinou bao from


–You don't need a license if you're fishing off a municipal pier. Anywhere else, you need a license, or you could go to jail!

–Rock crabs must be four inches across their backs in order to keep them. Any smaller, and you're just being cruel.

–Stay away from tide pool areas and stick to deeper water. Slack water (the time around high or low tide) is the best time to crab. During slack water, crabs are walking around and foraging, because they are not getting pushed around by tides.

–As for bait, all fishermen will tell you something different. We've heard the scent of raw chicken entices crabs the most, but we've also heard that frozen squid or shrimp are irresistible to crabs. A good tip is to choose chicken with bones still in it–this makes it harder for the crabs to run away with it. Just make sure its raw and fresh.

–If you're crabbing in the San Francisco Bay, beware of voracious sea lions! They're known to steal fishermen's bait. Some ways to thwart them are to crab when the water's a little more turbulent (it's easier for them to see the bait when there's less current action), or set up a separate, baited fishing pole to distract them from your crab net.

–It takes about 10 minutes to boil the crabs until they die. The most humane way to kill them, like lobsters, is to freeze them until they go dormant–then throw them in the pot of boiling water. You can clean them before or afterwards.

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