Hermit crabs are an under-rated and an under used sea fishing bait that can be very productive on its day. A large number of species can be caught when using this excellent bait, for example Dogfish, Huss, Plaice, Flounders and it is also a widely used bait for Smoothhound. Hermit crabs aren’t easy to collect but if you can find them and use them fresh they can be an absolute top bait.
They can be collected by lowering a drop net or crab pot/trap (you can find them on Ebay), from the sides of piers, jetties or rock ledges. If you know or can get contact details of a friendly crab fisherman, he might be able to supply you as hermits are a common by-catch in crab and lobster pots. Hermit crabs tend to like the same sort of terrain as lobsters so many are pulled up in the crab / lobster pots.
You can also find them around the low water mark near rock scaurs, especially after a heavy storm which has ripped up the sea bed. Just walk the low tide mark and look out for any whelk or similar sized shell. This is probably the easiest way to collect them but you need to know that they do actually reside in your local area. Ask some of the local boat fishermen and tell them what you are looking for and if hermit crabs do indeed get washed up after a storm in your area. You may find like we did many years ago that one might just offer to supply you with as many as you want. We had a constant supply of them for many a year, off a guy who we just asked for advice, sadly he passed way but we often see his wife when we are on the beach digging. That’s how we found out the local name in our area for hermit crab was Tell Pie – I know, don’t ask.
You can also find them in the larger rock pools, don’t just go barging in though, you will disturb the water and then find it hard to see anything. Have a look first, note where abouts you can maybe see a few hermits and then slowly enter the water, trying not to disturb the bottom too much and making the water look like soup so you can’t see what your doing. Also remembering to keep a look out for any peeler crabs as well!
Once you have collected a supply of hermit crabs for a fishing trip you need to be using them fairly quickly as they don’t last long out of water, probably only a few hours BUT here is the good news, they do freeze down very well.
Now this is where the debate starts, some anglers like to freeze them down in the shell, others prefer to get them out of their shell first and then wrap them in cling-film or use one of those sealable freezer bags, Tesco’s sell some nice sizeable freezer bags and cheap too. I tend to freeze them down after getting them out of the shell, I then pop them inside a freezer bag inside a tuppa-ware carton – stops them from squashing each other while freezing. I have kept them for well over 6 months or more like this, and they were still in good fettle when defrosted.
Another debate – How to get them out of the shell, you can’t just pull them out.
Now some say use a cigarette lighter under them, the heat drives the crab out, but what a way to do it to be honest, some say get a small hammer, gently tap away at the shell and then once cracked prise the shell open and gently remove the crab. Others like myself advise to just place the hermit crabs in tap water and because of the sudden change in salinity the crabs quickly come out of the shell themselves – job done. Experiment and use the method that suits you. I have a mate who swears he can’t get the crabs to shift when he puts them in normal tap water but I and a lot of others I know have no problem at all. I think he has too much alcohol in his tap water and they just like staying there for a drink!!
You will often find a small white ragworm at home inside the shell when you remove the crab and you could use this to make a ‘cocktail’ bait.
Hermit crabs are very simple to put onto the hook.
Thread them on to a hook like you would a a worm, push the hook in at the top of the body, feed it carefully down and out of the top side of the head. If your using a Pennel rig then obviously use your top hook to hold it in place, stops it from moving up and down, as it would with any other bait. You’ll find doing it this way the legs don’t interfere with a bait clip. Then use a bit of elasticated cotton to wrap the crab making sure at all times not to burst the soft body with the hook or the elasticated cotton.
Hermit Crab article by John Staten