It surprised the heck out of me to discover that if you love crab, freediving may be the right (as in the most delicious and cost-effective) sport for you. That’s because when it’s done efficiently, freediving for crab in BC can be one of the highest yielding wild game harvesting activities that you’ll ever do.
If you can manage to find a few good crabbing spots at the right depth for freediving, you can walk out of every dive with a few tasty critters almost every time. When you consider that buying a Dungeness crab can cost up to $30-45 dollars each or more, you’ll more than make back the price of your equipment after a year or two of steady crab harvests.
This essential guide for freediving for crab in BC will provide you with helpful insight into how to find the right crab spot for freediving, how to spot a crab underwater, how to get them into your dive bag without getting pinched in the process, and will give you some of my all-time favourite crab recipes that have always impressed my dinner guests.
Please note that this guide is for freedivers who are interested in harvesting crabs in British Columbia.
If you want to start freediving, I would recommend that you look into freediving classes in Vancouver like Performance Freediving International and do further research online, as I’m not qualified to offer advice on how to freedive.
Finding a Spot to Go Freediving for Crab in BC
Finding a crab spot for freediving is similar to finding a deer spot for hunting, namely that the best way to find a spot yourself is to get to know the science of where the wild game will be. Get to know the crab you’re looking for and use the satellite feature on Google Maps and Navionics to check for oceanic depth.
I personally never look to harvest red rock crab because I find that I enjoy Dungeness crab way more. It’s a much meatier critter with a lot more flavour, in my opinion.
Here’s some tips I’ve learned about Dungeness crab that help me find them:
- Start by searching at local beaches and popular crabbing spots, like at local fishing piers where you often see crabbers going
- They migrate, so they may not be in the exact same place all year-round
- They are typically found below the low tide line, in sandy or gravelly areas, and in areas with eel grass
- In spring, adults can be found buried in sand or in tidal pools, where they can hide and wait for their new shells to harden
- Obviously follow harvesting regulations in BC for crabs in terms of size and sex and for goodness sakes, buy a tidal water fishing license online before you start harvesting
- I usually find crabs between 10’ and 25’ of water, but you can definitely find them deeper than that
Fun facts about Dungeness crabs that you can impress your friends with:
- Dungeness crabs are the largest crabs from Alaska to California
- Female Dungeness crabs can lay up to 2.5 million eggs in their lifetime
- Dungeness crabs are friggin’ tasty with sweet meat that’s pretty easy to access that varies in texture depending on the time of year they are harvested (winter crab is better)
Of course, the easiest way to find a crab spot is to talk fisherpeople up and hear what they have to say about the best and worst crabbing spots around Vancouver and BC in general. Talk people up and search online forums for tips from other freedivers, anglers, and crabbers in your area.
How to Spot a Crab Underwater
I fully admit that I probably don’t get most of the crabs I happen to swim by – but that’s because you can’t see them very well!
Crabs will often bury themselves in the sand to catch their prey, which means that unless you freedive with a gardening rake in your hand (highly unadvisable), then you’re going to have to accept that you’ll miss out on most crabs in the water.
However, it’s definitely possible to get your bag limit of crabs in a single dive if you know what to look for when you’re hunting for crabs.
Here’s a few hints on how to spot a crab underwater:
- Crabs will often be partially visible between or wedged partially underneath large rocks and boulders or underneath a bed of seaweed and eel grass
- When Dungeness crabs are scuttling around around 15’ away from you underwater, they tend to look white or gray coloured, not orange or red
- If the viz is really good, you’re in luck, because you can often spot crabs from the surface at 10’-25’ of depth
- If the viz is really bad, then you’re going to have to essentially dive bomb underwater until you hit the ocean floor, and swim around at the bottom until you happen upon a crab or run out of breath (this is real tough, so give yourself a lot of credit for trying at all)
- Crabs will occasionally surprise you by being directly underneath you during a routine dive or they will be sitting on top of a rock at a depth of 5’ – the trick is to always be ready to grab them!
How to Grab Crabs (Without Getting Pinched)
People often ask me whether I’m scared of getting pinched when I pick crabs up while freediving. To be really frank, I’m not scared at all, but maybe I just ate too much crab as a child and am desensitized to how freaky they look.
But I’m still understandably careful when I pick them up, even though they don’t frighten me, because I’m a cautious person who values her fingers.
Knowledge and practice go a long way towards confident and safe crab harvesting:
- Approach the crab from behind (if possible) and pick the crab up from the back end with your dominant hand
- Tuck your thumb underneath its body and keep your fingers firmly on its back
- The crab won’t be able to pinch your hand if you keep your fingers tucked in and out of the way of those pesky pinchers
- Pop that critter into your dive bag and enjoy the rest of your swim
What if the crab tries to pinch you?
Occasionally, you won’t be sneaky enough and the crab will notice you trying to pick them up. They’ll turn their pinchers towards you or stand up on their back legs and try to pinch you.
I’ve found from personal experience that it’s best to make a mental note of where they are, leave the area, and come back after about 15 minutes or the end of your dive. They’ll usually let their guard down again, at least enough for you to swoop in behind them and get them into your bag.
All-Time Favourite BC Crab Recipes
Easy Crab Recipe
Boil a large pot full of tap water until it comes to a boil. Drop your cleaned crab legs in and return pot to a boil. Let boil for 13-15 minutes. You may need to lower your temperature slightly to prevent it from boiling over. Drain and serve with lots of melted butter mixed with lemon juice and minced garlic. Yum!