One of the tastiest of the Florida Keys fishing seasons gets underway this week with the opening of the stone crab season October 15. While nearly every seafood lover knows that stone crabs taste delicious, not everyone is aware that it’s legal and easy to go out and catch your own claws. As long as you possess a valid Florida saltwater recreational fishing license you can set up to five traps, and collect one gallon of claws per person, or two gallons per vessel. And, in addition to enjoying your catch at the dinner table, the entire family can share in the excitement of pulling traps, and the anticipation of finding out what’s inside. Below you will find the basic information you need about catching Florida stone crabs, as well as a few tips to guide beginner stone crabbers in the right direction.
The Florida stone crab season runs October 15 through May 15. As previously mentioned, each person possessing a Florida recreational saltwater fishing license may set a maximum of five traps. All trap buoys must have a legible “R” at least two inches high permanently affixed to them, with the harvesters name and address also written on the buoys. Traps must be pulled during daylight hours, and please do not place your traps in navigational channels where they may interfere with boat traffic.
Daily stone crab bag limits are one gallon of claws per person, or two gallons per vessel, whichever is less. All claws must be at least 2 3/4-inches in length measured from the elbow to the tip of the lower immovable finger. Note that you may not keep the entire crab, only the claws, and that you may not harvest any females with eggs. Also keep in mind that you are allowed to take both claws if they are legal size, however according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) (harvesting) both of a stone crab’s claws leaves the stone crab with few alternatives to defend itself from predators.
When setting stone crabs traps it is best to place them on hard rocky bottoms, sandy areas, or grass beds. For bait, fresh fish heads is often the bait of choice, although preferences vary among fishermen. If you’re having trouble catching fish to use for bait feel free to stop by the Best Bet boats located on the Sadowski Causeway and we’ll be happy to provide you with a few fish carcasses after one of our trips. Another way to catch stone crabs is snorkeling or diving for them. Swim along the edge of rocks and look into holes for the claws. A hole with a crab hiding inside will likely have sand and broken shells around the opening. As with any on-the-water activity please remember to be safe and obey the laws. Good luck!
This past week the reef has been on fire with non-stop action from mangroves, muttons, yellowtails, black grouper, and more. When fishing the reef it’s important to be patient and wait on the current to start moving. The current has been inconsistent lately and the bite has been best when there is some flow. When the current is weak you may need to fish fewer lines to keep from spooking the fish. I suggest fishing one bait on bottom, and then flat-lining one bait up top until the current picks up and you can fish more lines.
Offshore, we’re seeing lots of current edges develop. Put out a spread on these edges and you’ll have a shot of raising billfish, wahoo, and nice dolphin. Also offshore the humps are still active with blackfin tuna, so if the forecast calls for calm seas it’s definitely worth the trip out. Dolphin fishing remains up and down with a handful of decent fish around, and the wrecks remain lively with an excellent mutton snapper bite up and down the Keys.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Set your stone crab traps! Stone crab season opens today, October 15 and runs through May 15, 2011.
KCB resident Steve Edlund with two nice mutton snappers caught on a wreck this past week.