Published: 06:00, 01 September 2021
Have you ever felt the excitement of pulling up a crabbing net from the murky waters below? Not knowing if you’ll be met with a bountiful catch of crustaceans or just the disappointment that your bait has been snatched by a cunning claw!
As summer draws to an end, reporter Megan Carr, tried her luck in some of Kent’s crabbing hotspots, here’s how she got on.
Megan Carr and her family crabbing from Herne Bay Pier and Whitstable Harbour
I absolutely adore crabbing. I've spent many summers sitting on Herne Bay Pier or leaning over Whitstable Harbour’s wall in a desperate attempt to beat my brother, Elis, in our unspoken competition to see who can catch the biggest.
As someone who hates spiders and anything with more than four legs, my fondness for crabs is admittedly strange.
Their 10 legs, including claws, cause me no bother, and their beady eyes fascinate me.
Kent is home to a variety of crab species, including the velvet swimming (or devil crab), edible crab, broad clawed porcelain crab and spider crab. However, when crabbing at the seaside you’ll most likely come across shore crabs.
The common sea creatures are normally olive-green in colour and have been labelled as an invasive species that can live in all types of habitats.
Shore crabs are scavengers and eat anything they can get their claws on.
To catch them you can use a variety of bait including chicken, fish and offal. However, for me, raw smoked bacon is a sure winner.
To catch a crab you have to make sure you use the right equipment.
Online, or by many beaches, you can purchase crabbing nets or crabbing lines. Crabbing lines are more difficult to use. Alternatively you put your bait in a net bag and drop it into the water.
It sinks thanks to a weight attached to it and crabs use their claws to grab onto the net.
While this might work for some people I have found that if you’re crabbing from a high place, such as a pier, the crabs do tend to fall off the bait as you pull them up.
Because of this, my family invested in two crabbing nets. A collapsible net bucket is attached to a long rope so you can catch the crustaceans from a high up place.
Instead of a bait bag, you secure your bait into a clip or spring at the bottom of the net.
When your net hits the bottom of the sea it flattens out allowing crabs to climb into it.
After a while you begin to lift the rope, this pulls up the sides of the net trapping the creatures inside so you can lift them up safely.
Along with your net and bait, you will also need a bucket and a little bit of water to hold your captives in temporarily before releasing them back into the sea.
To go crabbing you must check the tides. If crabbing off a pier or harbour you must make sure the water is deep enough that the crabs feel protected in order to scavenge for food.
The best seaside crabbing spots I’ve been to are the waters around Whitstable Harbour and Herne Bay Pier. However, people have mentioned that Folkestone Harbour can offer you quite the catch as well.
Herne Bay was crammed with families just like ours, all eager to catch the little green creatures in their nets.
It was lovely to see the beach bustling and the pier home to multiple fluorescent crabbing lines, all of them blowing in the wind.
Bacon seemed to be the bait of choice for most people and everyone had at least three crabs in their buckets.
It was just as hard to find a parking spot as it was to find a crabbing position but I guess that’s the summer holidays for you.
After setting up our nets and dropping them off the pier by the Helta Skelta, my brother set a seven-minute timer and we began our wait.
Crabbers beside us were complaining about the changing tide stopping crabs from entering their nets but I knew their excitement was getting the better of them.
It is so important to be patient and give the crabs time. As long as you’re in the right spot you will catch something.
Lo and behold, when our timer went off we had two medium-sized shore crabs munching on our smoked bacon.
When handling a crab, whether removing them from your net, putting them in a bucket or releasing them, it is important to be mindful of their claws.
The best way to hold them is to use your thumb and index finger and gently grip them at the back of their bodies.
By doing this you can handle them safely without injuring them and getting nipped yourself!
After our trip, we made sure to leave our spot as we found it, letting the crabs go, picking up our rubbish and making sure our nets were safely packed away.
Following our successful catch, we'd caught the bug and our next crabbing location was already on the horizon, Whitstable Harbour.
It was such a windy day, you wouldn’t have believed it was the end of August.
The waves by the harbour were surfable and after throwing our nets into the water it became clear it was tough to keep them from snagging on the outer harbour wall.
We decided to move to a more sheltered area – that was the best decision we could have made.
My dad and brother didn’t even leave their nets in the sea for more than two minutes before getting ahead of themselves and pulling up their lines.
The short amount of time wasn’t an issue at all. When they lifted their ropes their nets were teaming with crabs much to my mum’s surprise.
Every time we lowered the nets and brought them back up the bacon bait lessened but the crabs just kept coming.
We had little ones, green ones, reddish ones, large ones and even one with a single claw.
By the sounds of the few families beside us, they too were catching just as many. It was lovely to hear the children's screams of delight as they saw the creatures in their nets and compared their buckets and catches.
I live on a boat, so it was only natural that my love for crabs also extended to the rivers I’ve lived on.
We used to be moored in Gravesend Marina and after seeing a couple of seagulls with crabs in their mouths it was no surprise that I had to get my net out and see if I could catch some for myself.
Some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever caught came from the Thames.
I’m not sure if this was due to tides, the food they ate or even if it was a different species of crab, but my theory is that maybe these crabs aren’t used to getting caught and maybe that’s why they were more inclined to jump into my net!
I now live in Faversham, by the creek, and I spent months looking for any sign of crabs.
One day I saw a dead one washed up on the mud and knew the time had come to get my net out once again.
Because Faversham Creek is tidal I believe the crabs bury themselves in the mud to hide from the birds when the tide is low.
At high tide, I did get a few catches, but after releasing them I continued to catch the same three continuously. Again, I feel this is because they weren’t used to being caught and just saw my bacon as a tasty treat.
If you are thinking of crabbing soon you must remember that non-biodegradable crabbing gear is going to be banned from Herne Bay Pier from September 1.
This is due to fears it could end up in the sea and harm wildlife. So, make sure you upgrade your equipment before heading down to the seaside this September.
Overall, my family's recent crabbing endeavours were very successful. During our time at Whitstable alone we must have caught at least 30 crabs.
Following our hard work, we all felt that a reward of Tankerton fish and chips was called for.
I find it fascinating just how easy it is to catch the creatures in different waters all over our county, but for me, Whitstable Harbour and its surrounding waters are definitely the go to.
But I still feel that I need to explore many more of Kent’s crabbing destinations before giving my final verdict. Suggestions in the comments are welcome.