5 Essential Tips: How Do Crab Traps Work – A Comprehensive Guide

Crab traps are essential tools for catching crabs, offering hands-off convenience, specific species targeting, and safe trapping methods for both recreational and commercial crabbers.

how do crab traps work 5 Essential Tips: How Do Crab Traps Work - A Comprehensive Guide

Crabbing is a popular and rewarding activity, whether for recreational purposes or as part of commercial operations. For those new to the world of crabbing, it can be helpful to understand how crab traps work and the various types available for different species of crabs.

A crab trap, also known as a crab pot, is a device used to catch crabs by luring them into an enclosed space where they cannot escape. These traps are designed with specific features in mind to target different crab species, such as blue crabs or Dungeness crabs. Crab traps come in various sizes and materials, with some being more suited for recreational use while others are meant for commercial applications.

Crab traps offer several benefits for both recreational and commercial crabbers. They allow for a hands-off approach to crabbing, as you set the trap and leave it to do its job while you go about other activities. Additionally, crab traps can increase your chances of success by targeting specific species and providing a safe and effective means of capturing crabs without causing harm to the crab or the environment.

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Types of Crab Traps

Recreational crab pots are typically smaller and lighter than commercial pots, making them easier to handle and transport. They are designed for use in calmer waters, such as rivers and canals, and are perfect for targeting blue crabs or other smaller species.

Some popular recreational crab trap options include the Promar TR-55 (best overall), SMI Heavy Duty Crab Trap (best for Dungeness), American Blue Claw (best for blue crabs), Promar NE-111 (best collapsible), and Offshore Angler Square Crab Trap (best budget).

Commercial crab pots are larger, heavier, and more durable than recreational pots, making them ideal for use in rougher waters and targeting larger crab species, such as Dungeness crabs. These traps feature more rugged materials and construction to withstand the harsh conditions of commercial crabbing. Commercial crab pots often have larger entry holes and stronger wire mesh to accommodate bigger crabs.

Anatomy of a Crab Trap

A crab trap sitting on a wharf full of male Dungeness crabs in British Columbia, Canada.

The main components of a crab trap include the wire mesh, which forms the cage, the leads or entry points for the crabs, the bait box, interior leads that guide the crabs further into the trap, and a latch or door for accessing the trapped crabs.

The wire mesh is typically made of stainless steel, galvanized steel, or another corrosion-resistant material to withstand the elements. The leads are strategically placed openings that allow crabs to enter the trap but not escape.

The bait box holds the bait that lures the crabs into the trap, and the interior leads guide them further in, making it more difficult for them to find their way out.

Finally, the latch or door allows for easy access to the trapped crabs, making it simple to remove them and reset the trap.

How to Use a Crab Trap

To lure crabs into your trap, you’ll need to use an effective bait. Common bait choices include fish carcasses, chicken necks, or other meaty scraps. Place the bait in the bait box and secure it within the trap.

Once your trap is baited, submerge it in the water where you believe crabs may be present. Be sure to attach a buoy or float to the trap’s rope so you can easily locate and retrieve it later. Crabs are attracted to the scent of the bait and will follow it into the trap through the leads, becoming trapped inside.

Using fresh, high-quality bait is essential for successfully attracting crabs to your trap. Frozen bait can be used, but it’s important to thaw it completely before placing it in the trap to ensure its scent is strong enough to attract crabs.

If using fish carcasses or other perishable bait, consider keeping it on ice until you’re ready to set your trap. Additionally, it’s important to check and refresh your bait regularly, as crabs may be less attracted to old or spoiled bait.

To increase your chances of catching your desired crab species, it’s essential to choose the right type of trap and bait. Research the habits and preferences of the specific crab species you’re targeting, such as their preferred habitat, diet, and size. This will help guide your choice of trap size, wire mesh, lead openings, and bait.

After Setting a Crab Trap

After setting your crab trap, allow it to soak in the water for an appropriate amount of time. For crab pots, this can be between one to two hours, while for crab rings, a shorter soaking time of 15 to 30 minutes may be sufficient.

When it’s time to check the trap, pull it up slowly and steadily to avoid startling the crabs and causing them to escape. Inspect the trapped crabs, removing any undersized or unwanted specimens before resetting the trap with fresh bait if necessary.

It’s important to monitor your traps regularly and avoid overfilling them, as overcrowded conditions can lead to cannibalism among the crabs. To prevent this, check your traps frequently and remove any trapped crabs before resetting the trap. Additionally, consider using multiple traps to spread out your catch and reduce the risk of overcrowding.

Best Crab Trap Options for Getting Started

Here are a few of our favorite crab traps to get started.


Promar TR-555 Folding Crab Trap with top Door 24"" x 22"" x 13""", Multi

Promar is a well-known brand in the crabbing and fishing industry, producing high-quality traps and accessories since 2002. Their best overall crab trap, the Promar TR-55, is a collapsible, compact, sturdy, and easy-to-use trap designed for blue crabs. It features durable vinyl-coated wire mesh, an escape ring, and a bait box.


SMI offers heavy-duty crab traps specifically designed for catching Dungeness crabs. Their SMI Heavy Duty Crab Trap is made with stainless steel components and a rubber-covered bottom for added durability. It features three entry doors with elevated ramps, a large opening for easy sorting, and comes as a complete kit with lead rope, buoy, bait box, crab gauge, and harness.

American Blue Claw

This brand specializes in crab traps for blue crabs, offering the American Blue Claw ½ Crab Trap Kit. The kit includes a float, 15 feet of line, and a crab pot made from rubber-coated galvanized wire mesh. The trap is half the size of a traditional crab pot, making it perfect for short soaks and multiple deployments in different locations.

Promar NE-111

Promar NE-111: Cotton Crab/Crawfish Net 18" Top Ring, 10" Bottom Ring,White,One Size

Another excellent product from Promar, the NE-111 is a collapsible crab trap suitable for various crab species. Priced at just $20, this trap is perfect for family crabbing outings. It features a cotton mesh net for bait attachment and can be easily rinsed and stored flat after use.

Offshore Angler

Offshore Angler offers budget-friendly crab traps, such as their Square Crab Trap. Made from heavy-gauge steel wire, this simple yet effective trap weighs only one pound and has dimensions of 10 ½ x 10 ½ x 10 ½ inches. However, it does not include a crab line.

How do crabs get in crab traps?

Crabs enter crab traps through openings designed to allow them in but prevent their escape, lured by bait such as fish or chicken placed inside the trap.

How long do you leave crab traps in the water?

Crab traps should be left in the water for varying durations depending on the type of trap, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours for crab rings or collapsible traps, and 6 to 36 hours for crab pots.

Do crab traps sit on the bottom?

Yes, crab traps sit on the ocean floor, where they are more easily accessible to crustaceans and baited with different types of fish and squid to attract crabs.

Can crabs escape crab traps?

Crabs generally cannot escape crab traps due to the design of the trap openings, which allow them to enter but make it difficult for them to exit.

How long do you leave a crab trap in the water?

The duration for leaving a crab trap in the water depends on the type of trap, with crab pots typically left for 6 to 36 hours and crab rings or collapsible traps left for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

How much does the best crab trap cost?

The cost of the best crab trap can vary depending on factors such as size, material, and design, but high-quality crab traps can range from $30 to over $100.

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