Crabs for Tarpon...How many do I need? How do I keep them alive?

A beautiful sight! My livewell with a good supply of healthy crabs, ready to go.

A beautiful sight! My livewell with a good supply of healthy crabs, ready to go.


Name: Chip Willimon

Subject: Drifting Crabs
Message: Loved the Bahia Honda tarpon show. I pull my skiff down from NC to Islamorada every year for a week of chasing tarpon. We do well letting the boat drift with the current in the channels with crabs but have never fished them from an anchored boat like you were on that show.

I totally identified with the presentation you were making, dropping the crab back under a float on a natural drift with the current. Very similar to what we are doing from a drifting boat, but you were targeting a big body of fish concentrated right under the bridge in a small area. But from an anchored boat, when the drop back of the crab is done and you wind the crabs back does it not kill them very quickly pulling them against that heavy current? How many crabs do you take when fishing them in that manner? Seems like you could go through three dozen really expensive crabs really fast.

(Sent via Saltwater Experience TV Blog)



That is a great question.  You are right that you can go through some crabs quickly.

There are some things that you can do to help preserve the life of each crab and make them last alot longer.  Here are 5 tips to making your crabs last longer:

1. Be careful how you hook them.  Hooking a crab into the white part of the body will kill it very quickly.  Try to put the hook through the very edge of the crab between the brown edge and the white part of the underside of the crab.  Get it as close to the edge as possible and "drill" the hook through like I show in this permit video at 3:16.  I also try to use a small gauge wire that is still strong enough to land a big tarpon.  The same applies for tarpon.

2.  Keep the crabs in the water.  If you hook a fish and reel the other line in, make sure that crab gets in the water.  This can either be in the livewell, still hooked to the rod or hanging over the boat in the water.  If you take a break, get a tangle...whatever...make sure that crab gets in the water and stays there all the time. 

3.  Feed them!  If you have crabs left over at the end of the day, they can easily make it through the night and actually make it for many, many days afterward.  One trick to making these crabs last is to give them A LITTLE bit of food.  cut a chink of mullet, rip a pilchard in half, grab a 3 inch piece of dolphin scrap from the filet table.  A little goes a long way, but too much will poision the water and kill them too.  Give them enough that they will finish it by morning.  This makes a HUGE difference in the longevity of your crabs and keeps them from eating one another.

4.  Lose the Shrimp!  If you are fishing with both live crabs and live shrimp, you often end up with some of both at the end of the day.  Crabs can easily make it overnight with just a little fresh water trickling into the livewell, but shrimp won't.  When shrimp die, they put off a toxin of some sort that kills the crabs.  I never keep them together any more.  I have tried too many times and killed everything in the well when the shrimp die.  Keep them separate or just toss the shrimp.

5.  How many?  I will take 36 crabs tarpon fishing and permit fishing if they are available at the marina.  I buy more crabs than I would shrimp because I know that I can keep them alive for a week or more by taking care of them at night.  I replenish every day.  When tarpon fishing, I do prefer the smaller, permit sized crabs, but I will select some larger ones too just in case.

I hope that helps! 

Tom Rowland

Here's how great the fishing can be:

Watch "Tarpon Invasion Bahia Honda" (2018) on Waypoint TV