Fiddler on the Hook
Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Its embarrassing to admit, but I am a professional fishing guide that has NEVER used fiddler crabs as bait. Well, until this year that is. You see, I can typically get fresh or live shrimp reliably and have never really needed to explore other springtime bait options. Plus, you typically have to catch your own and I just didn't know where to start, or if it was even worth the effort. I've considered it before and have always wanted to try it but this year, my hand was forced.
Amid a bait shortage due to cold water, bad weather, and fresh water, bait shrimp became an endangered species here along the Mississippi coast. With the sheepshead bite in full swing and clients on the books, I knew I needed to get out of my comfort zone and figure this thing out. Several YouTube videos later, I had a plan. Traditionally, fiddlers have not been available to purchase at local bait stores but this year a few started carrying some. They are much easier to care for than shrimp which was a nice change. After getting my bucket of critters, the only question was are they as good as advertised....yes, yes they were.
A short run to some rocky bottom structure that I knew should be holding sheepshead would be my testing grounds. Hooking the crab is simple enough once you get over the fear of grabbing them, especially the males with their comically large claw. Simply run the hook from the underside of the crab and out the top. It doesn't seem to affect their movement at all. I used a carolina rig but they can also be used with a dropper, simple jig head, and there are even specialized jig heads out there for fishing fiddlers.
I found the fish hit the crabs different than what I'm used to when using shrimp. Instead of the typical repeated "tapping" I was used to, they seemed to inhale the fiddlers. I'm guessing they wanted to get the crab in their mouth where they can utilize the crushing power of their molars as opposed to pecking at a shrimp surgically with their front teeth. Regardless, the result was an easy box of tasty sheepshead with minimal fuss.
The best part is the leftover crabs can be fairly easily saved for your next trip. So now if you see me on a mud flat, shovel in hand...you know what I'm up to. I just hope my wife doesn't find the fiddler crab farm I'm running in the corner of the garage lol.
0.5 - 1.5 egg weight (as light as I can and maintain bottom contact)
#30 mono leader - 12-18"
#1 Gamagatsu Octopus hook (I also had good luck with a #2 Kahle hook)