Hardback crab is a generic term for any species of crab which is not in a state of peeling and therefore has a hard shell. While peeler crab has a reputation of one of the UK’s top baits, the hardback crab is not as highly regarded. This is because hardback crab is much more difficult to mount onto a hook, and lacks the scent trail that a crab in the peeling process has.
While cod and bass may eat hardback crabs an angler specifically fishing for these species would have their chances of catching increased massively by using a peeler crab, or a more mainstream sea fishing bait such as ragworm, lugworm, mackerel etc. Hardback crab is therefore limited in its use as a bait to two main species – wrasse and smooth-hounds, as these fish have the powerful jaws and teeth needed to crunch through shells and feed on the flesh inside.
Finding Hardback Crab
Hardback crabs are very easy to gather. Simply go to any stretch of coastline with rocks and turn them over and collect the crabs from underneath (always return rocks to their original position). Alternatively, from a rock mark or pier a dead fish (such as the remains of mackerel which has the fillets used for bait) can be placed into a drop net which is then lowered to the seabed. Retrieving this after half and hour or so should see it full of crabs which have come to feed on the fish. In terms of size it is the small to medium hardbacks which are the most use for bait. Very small crabs and larger ones which are too big to use as bait should be returned to the sea. As the common shore crab (Carcinus maenas) and the velvet swimming crab (Necora puber) are the most numerous these are the species most likely to be found by anglers searching for hardback crabs to use as bait. The other species that may be found is the brown crab (Cancer pagurus, also known as the edible crab) but there are sometimes local restrictions and by-laws on taking this species. With the common and velvet swimming crab being so abundant the brown crab is best left alone and not used as bait.
Storing Hardback Crab Baits and Bait Presentation
Hardback crabs can be stored in a lidded tray with a little seawater and seaweed in a fridge for a few days. The seawater is important as crabs need to keep their gills damp to be able to breathe, so if they dry out they will die. However, crabs are so numerous and abundant many anglers are able to simply collect them shortly before their fishing session to save the bother of storing them. Hardback crabs do not need a large amount of preparation prior to use. They should be humanely killed by piercing them between the eyes with the blade of a knife and they are then ready to use. One of the main issues with this bait is making it stay on the hook, but this can be achieved with bait elastic/cotton.
Fishing for Wrasse: When targeting wrasse with hardback crab as bait it is best to float fish. Presenting the hardback crab bait in mid-water alongside a cliff face, close to a rocky area or along a harbour or pier wall can see wrasse dart out of cracks and crevices to attack the bait. Anglers report that catch rates are good with hardback crab so there is no need to waste valuable peeler crab when targetting wrasse. Smaller crabs can be threaded onto the hook by removing a the rear legs and driving the hook through one leg socket and out of the other. If the bait seems too large then the claws can be removed. Bait elastic or cotton – such as the popular Ghost Cocoon – can also be used to ensure that the hardback crab remains on the hook. When hooked in this way a hardback crab will easily remain securely attached to the hook when lobbed out a short distance on a float rig.
Fishing for Smooth-hound: When fishing for smooth-hound larger crabs can be used. They can be hooked in a similar manner to peeler crabs with the hook being pushed through a leg socket and then back out of the body of the crab. However, there are no hard and fast rules about bait presentation of hardback crabs and many anglers experiment with ways of presenting this bait for smooth-hound. Some anglers try to remove some or all of the shell to release more of the scent from inside the crab, while others combine it with a strip of mackerel or a ragworm to provide more scent. A top tip when targeting smooth-hound is to use a bait which is half peeler crab and half hardback. This provides an attractive bait with an additional scent trail, while also effectively making the supply of peeler crab last twice as long. Again it is best to use bait elastic or cotton to ensure the crab stays on the hook as it is cast out.