Fishing with crabs in Islamorada is done all throughout the year. There are many species of fish which enjoy a delectable crab once in a while. Often times there are many fish that you wouldn’t even think that will eat a crab. Typically the most common targets with crabs are tarpon and permit. Tarpon typically like the larger blue crabs while permit prefer smaller sized ones, of course the size of the target fish may call for a different sized crab. For tarpon the most common methods of fishing with crabs usually involves drifting. The most standard rig is using a heavier spinning or conventional rod loaded with 50 lb braid, or 30 lb mono. Most guides nowadays prefer fishing braided lines as you can fish heavier line, get more line on the spool, it doesn’t have near the amount of memory like mono filament which will twist up on you after reeling against the drag on a fish, and it is very tough and long lasting. Now one drawback of braided line for tarpon is there is no ‘give’ in the line, so we usually put a good 15 or 20 feet of 60# monofilament on top of the braid, then have that go to your main leader. The main leader consists of a swivel, about 8 feet of 80# or 100# monofilament, and your hook (usually something in the 6/0 to 8/0 range, J hook or circle hook will work), and a bobber up near the swivel. Tarpon fishing with crabs can be good all throughout the year, but usually starting in the spring through early summer is when they work the best…
Crabs should be hooked through the corner of their shell, try to avoid hooking them in the meat as that will kill them after some time. I like to use a smaller hook to start the hole when hooking them on, that way you won’t dull your main hook. Drifting often works best as it keeps the crabs from spinning in the current, especially when the tide is running hard. You can anchor in certain areas with them, however if you are in hard current (typically around the bridges) it is usually better to drift. If you see your crabs spinning funny when you are anchored, then there is too much current to stay and fish like that. You want to try and set your drift up with the wind and tide so you drift over areas where you know tarpon are. I like to try and fish two baits at least, and keep them out a good 50 to 100 feet. It is important to check your crabs for weed or grass once in a while, as they will often try to bury themselves in that stuff when it floats by. You can do this by slowly lifting on the rod tip once in a while and see if it feels heavy, especially at night when you may not be able to see the bait/bobber. When a tarpon bites you usually just want to reel, with a J hook giving them a small thump after you reel and get tight is OK. With a circle hook just keep the rod pointed at them and reel, and wait about 15 seconds before lifting the rod top. Using crabs for bait in Islamorada for tarpon is a lot of fun!
Fishing for permit with crabs is also a lot of fun. This can often be done in similar fashion to tarpon fishing, and you may even catch one on accident doing that once in a while. Though when targeting permit specifically you will want to use much lighter leader, usually fluorocarbon. 30# to 40# test is usually good for larger permit, and sometimes it may require you to go down to as light as 20#. I like to have 5 feet of leader or so, to prevent permit from being able to see your knot connection to your mainline. The long wind-on leader is not required here, so going straight from 20# braid to your main fluorocarbon leader works well. They can be very picky so fluorocarbon is usually a must. A smaller hook of 3/0 to 4/0 size is usually sufficient, I prefer a circle hook for them. You can drift areas where you know permit are, or set up and anchor and let them hover over a wreck, structure, etc… that has permit schooling around it. Permit crab fishing can be very tricky. Sometimes you can cast to permit as well and using a small jighead works well for this, or even just a bare hook with a crab on it. If the permit are not biting what you are offering, usually you need to go with lighter leader, smaller hook, or try to get the presentation out further away from the boat. When casting to permit, try to lead them sufficiently – you don’t want to bop them right on top of the head, but rather through 15-20 feet in front of them and let them swim to your bait as it drifts down in front of them naturally.
Capt. Rick Stanczyk