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Peeler Crab


A Beginner’s Guide to Using the Peeler Crab

            While practically everyone knows about eating crab, very few people other than experienced fishermen know about the virtues of the peeler crab.  Not as a delicacy to eat, but rather as one of the best baits to use at certain times of the year to capture some of the best fish ever.

            Crabs are crustaceans, and part of the Arthropod family.  Crustaceans are best identified by the rigid external shell they sport, which serves as their home and protective defensive mechanism.  The shell develops at a very early age, and the crab soon outgrows this exoskeleton as its body size expands.  As the crab gets larger, so must the shell.  The hard composition of the shell, however, does not allow growth.  In order to be able to grow, the crustacean must discard, or molt, the shell that is confining and grow a new, larger shell.  During its youth while growth is rapid, a crab will likely molt as often as every few weeks.  This rapid growth soon slows, and molting then occurs once every several months, although very large crabs will generally molt only once each year.  The term “peeler crab” refers to any crab that is undergoing a molt.

            When molting, crabs must be able to eliminate their exoskeleton.  The shell will become dull in appearance, and may show signs of cracking.  An inner skeleton has already begun to form, and as water seeps into the cracks of the old shell, the new shell takes in the extra moisture and expands.  This growth encourages more cracks to form in the old shell, causing it to split and finally simply fall off.  When this happens, the crab enters into a particularly vulnerable state; unable to protect itself and making it especially attractive to a number of predators that enjoy feasting upon the succulent flesh of the crab.  Therefore, it also becomes a valuable tool for fisherman as very productive bait.

            The peeler crab as bait is not insurance that fishing yields will increase double fold, especially if the technique of attaching the bait has not been finessed.  Experienced, tried and true fishermen who know which fish will be attracted to the crabs at what time of the year; vital knowledge to using this unique bait.  The catch that can be enjoyed, depending on the geographic area, are cod, coalfish, flounder, whiting and bass among others.

            Use of this molting crustacean is not as simple as just popping it on the hook, either.  It takes some know-how in order to use crab for bait, as well as a bit of time.  After finding the crab, it must be killed and immediately dismembered.  This is done by removing the legs, claws and the shell, which should show signs of cracking.  Difference parts of the crab’s shell plates, such as the tail plate, side cheek plates, central body plate and mouth shields are best removed, as well.

            Once the crab is dismembered, it can be mounted on the fishing hook.  Many recommend using short shanked hooks, and using elastic line to secure the soft crab meat to the hook to prevent it from falling off when casting out the line.  Most fishermen will wrap the elastic line around the crab bait several times, avoiding the hook area to ensure it is still usable.

Some fishermen will make an event of “peelering”, or hunting for the molting crabs en masse; after which they will dismantle them and freeze them for later use in fishing.  When this process is used, the lungs of the crab must be removed before freezing.

            Peeler crab can be very effective bait.  Practicing the techniques for preparing and using the crab can result in achieving higher catch yields, as many experienced fishermen will attest.