Bait — Shore Crabs

Ken Jones

Staff member
Crabs. Small shore crabs, the kind you often see around pilings, rocks and jetties, make excellent bait for perch and cabezon. You will need to catch them yourself, but if you are in a good area, it won’t take you long to catch enough to go fishing (especially if you go out at night with a flashlight). To the north, you will find the gray to muddy-yellow, Hemigrapsus oregonensis. They will be found along mud banks, estuaries and under rocks. In southern California, more common is the greenish-purple colored crab, Pachygrapsus crassipes. They are very common around jetty rocks (just above the water line), mussel beds and tide pools. When you see reference to sidewinder crabs as baits, it will be one of these species or a similar type.

The one thing you need to do is be to be fast. They can seemingly detect the slightest movement and will quickly hasten to reach a safe hiding spot. When you spot a sidewinder approach it slowly, plan your grab and snatch, and do it fast. You might be able to grab it between two fingers while sometimes you may want to use a whole hand. As soon as caught place it is a container, preferably one with a lid. Do be careful if on a slippery jetty rock! Live sidewinders can be kept for about a week if kept in a cool plastic container under wet paper or kelp.


To fish with these small crabs, and thumbnail-size specimens are the very best, grab them by their back and hook them through the last leg socket exiting thorough the opposite leg socket.

Fish them right around the pilings, a few feet under the surface of the water. If possible, and it requires a pier built close to the water, you can try to float a small crab into a school of pileperch (which are generally right up next to pilings). Usually it requires a light, 4-6 pound test line, and a small, size 8-10 hook, but the results can make the effort worthwhile. Large rubberlip perch also find these crabs to be tasty morsels and many times crabs are almost the only bait which will catch these two larger species of perch, a condition I have seen in San Diego Bay, San Francisco Bay, Bodega Bay and Humboldt Bay. To the north, the crabs also make excellent bait for cabezon. In fact, almost 100% of the cabezon I have caught off of piers in northern California had crabs in their stomachs.

PFIC Shore Crab Thread

Date: June 10, 2005
To: PFIC Message Board
From: roadkill
Subject: What are those crabs?

I'm sure a lot of you have seen them...those little crabs in the rocks along the beach near Crissy Field near the Yacht Clubs down to the end of the jetty? What kind of crabs are they?

Posted by eelmaster

I think he's talking about shore crabs since they are in the rocks. Are they all brown w/ small claws? My buddy uses those in Point Arena for perch. He's pretty successful w/ ‘em.

Posted by guycognito

One of these two:

Striped Shore Crab Pachygrapsus crassipes


Description 1 7/8" (48 mm) wide, 1 1/2" (38 mm) long. Square-bodied. Upper surface of carapace brownish-purple or blackish, with green cross-stripes, fading to white beneath. Pincers mottled reddish-purple above, white below; upper joint of walking legs mottled green and purple; outer joints purplish-brown above, whitish below. Carapace with shallow crosswise grooves, 1 tooth on side. Eyes almost at corners, far apart. Pincers heavy, equal; fingers with spoon-shaped tips; walking legs flattened, sturdy.

Habitat On rocky and hard-mud shores; in tidepools, mussel beds, bays and estuaries; well above low-tide line.

Range Oregon to Baja California.

Discussion This crab spends at least half its time on land, but submerges now and then to wet its gills and feed.

Purple Shore Crab Hemigrapsus nudus


Description 2 1/4" (57 mm) wide, 2" (51 mm) long. Round-bodied. Upper surface of carapace purplish-black, sometimes reddish-brown or greenish-yellow; white beneath. Pincers covered with deep purple or red spots, purple or reddish above, fading to white below. Carapace oval-oblong, arched in front, smooth; 3 short teeth on margin between eye socket and side. Eyes far apart. Pincers large in male, equal, both fingers toothed, pincer tips bent toward each other, cup-shaped. Walking legs sturdy, flattened, not very hairy.

Habitat On open rocky shores, among seaweeds, and in bays and estuaries.

Range Alaska to Baja California.

Discussion This crab feeds primarily on the film of small algae on rocks, but is also a scavenger of animal matter.

Posted by neko

Sidewinders — that seems to be the common name among fishermen who use them. They’re excellent bait. I've caught some of the biggest sargo and believe is or not BSP on them.

Posted by pescare

There you go! The striped shore crab is the one I'm thinking of for that spot. Like the name games I mentioned, everyone I know calls ‘em green shore crabs. The fish that eat them don't care, I bet.

Posted by orkspace

Using the striped shore crabs as bait? I always try to use these crabs as bait, but I never seem to get any takers. I've tried using 'em at Bean Hollow, the HMB S jetty, and Fort Baker. I've tried using them whole (hooked through the mouth with the point coming up through top of the mouth/between the eyes, and hooked through the genital flap area). I've also tried just using claws (I crack them first to help the scent disperse). Any hints?

Posted by Rock Hopper

Keep trying.... there's literally thousands and thousands of those crabs on the Bodega Jettys. We've caught huge greenling and striped perch using crab halves. Also one time me and Monte were fishin’ at Blue Slide and every rockfish we caught that day spit up little crabs.

Posted by Clayman

Striped shore crabs are my FAVORITE bait for large pileperch and redtail perch in Humboldt Bay. They often work when nothing else will, and the smaller walleye and silver perch tend to ignore them. That way, you know when you get a bite that it’s a nice fish
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I have trouble hooking crabs. When I try the method Ken described, I tend to split the shell between the carapace and tail. When I try going up through the shell, the crabs die quickly, even when I hook them off to the side, to avoid anything critical.



Well-Known Member
Do these crabs hurt when they pinch your hand?
The bait sized ones can hurt if they get you in a soft spot. The big ones can definitely draw some blood.

One issue I've had when using these is the crab getting swept into the piling by the current, where it grabs onto whatever mussels, barnacles, etc., is on it, and jams itself into a crevice.

Ken Jones

Staff member
As for pinching you with their claws, definitely, and the bigger the stronger the pinch not to discount their nasty habit of grabbing your flesh and not letting go.

As for fishing by the piling, you've got to constantly be on alert. Check the direction of the current or waves and keep the bait close to but not on the piling. But, it's hard not to lose a sinker or two when fishing the pilings in this manner.


Well-Known Member
I have caught bass, croakers and lots of smoothhound sharks on them in socal bays. Not that many people target smoothhounds, but my catch rate is about 10 to 1 on them to almost every other bait.