Bill Varney – SURF LINES

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Thursday, December 27, 2018
Perch Fishing for Winter Slabs
Friday, June 21, 2019
Surf fishing and safety at the beach

Sand Crabs, Free Sand Crabs, Are Here!
Sand Crabs, Emerita analonga, are found along the Western coast of both North and South America, the African peninsula and most tropical regions around the world. As of 2019, 10 species of sand crabs have been recognized across the globe.

In California we have two distinct groups of sand crabs. Those that come to the surface, spawn and feed once the water is 60 degrees or warmer and a sub species, north of Santa Barbara through Washington, that thrives at the sand’s surface in water as cold as 45 degrees.

A PERFECT SAND crab fished on a 4-pound setup tricked this solid bean for Kevin Sullivan of Ventura.

In tropical waters south of Baja Sur, you’ll find yet another sand crab. In water temperatures that range from 70 to 95 degrees, this crab flourishes in soft sand near rock structure. Unlike crabs to the north, these crabs do not congregate on the open beach… but instead, are always looking for rocky shores for a bit of shade and safety.

So why do sand crabs work so well for surf fishing? The simple answer is that they occur in huge numbers along the coast and have become the primary food source for surf fish. But there’s more to the crab than meets the eye. Sand crabs have two distinct characteristics that fish love: First, they often contain bright orange row and provide both a visual and olfactory attraction. Second, the side-effect of growth is the shedding of their hard shell. The result, soft-shell sand crabs provide an attractive food that surf fish can’t resist.

To find crabs , start by looking near the waterline for groups of birds on the beach. Many seabirds use their beak to probe the sand for crabs. Sand crabs like soft sand, they don’t enjoy rock or pebbly areas.

THIS NICE BARRED surfperch couldn’t resist a soft-shell sand crab offered by Larry Betancourt of San Diego.

When you first arrive at the beach, begin your search between the high tide mark and the ocean for signs of sand crabs. Look for moving water, receding from each wave. As a wave recedes, look on the wet sand for little “V’s.” This is the characteristic ripple formed by a bed of crabs. Using their extended feather-like antennae, sand crabs feed on plankton that rides the crest of each wave. With practice you will find they are easy to see grouped in bunches and become exposed as the water recedes between waves. The warmer the water, the closer they will be to the surface.

Sand crabs always swim, crawl and dig backwards. When a wave washes over them they can quickly relocate and dig back in leaving only their eyes and breathing antennules exposed. These are the appendages that reveal their location as the waves recede. They always settle in looking out to sea. You should approach them from above, on higher ground, to improve your chances of catching them in numbers.

Beginning in May, crabs congregate near the high tide mark to begin their spawn. As summer progresses crab beds will appear at both the high tide mark and on sand bars only accessible at low tide. So look for them near the high tide mark in spring and as summer progresses, they will also be found on the outside sand bar easily accessible during low (and especially at minus) tides.

COVERING YOUR SAND crabs with a wet piece of kelp is an effective way to keep them fresh.

Watch carefully as the waves roll out for anomalies on the beach that appear as ripples on the surface of wet sand. Dig here as this is where you will find the crabs.

The best way to catch crabs is with a galvanized crab net. Promar makes an excellent galvanized crab rake, which can be purchased at your local tackle store. You’ll also find a light-weight crab catcher that clips to your belt at www.surffishtackle.com. Make sure all parts are well galvanized and rinse thoroughly with fresh water after each use.

When picking through crabs, touch each crab to see if it’s soft and pliable. I’ve found that medium-soft crabs (those with a shell softness equal to pressing in a pop can) are the best bait. Test the waters by trying different hardness and sizes of crabs to see what fish in your area are foraging on.

After finding a patch of “V’s,” approach slowly and wait for the water to rush in and over the area before standing on it. Once covered by water, step forward and place the net in the water and allow it to settle to the bottom. A surprise approach means crabs will be less likely to dig deeper into the sand and will be easier to catch. Continue as you “crab” to look up and down the beach to find more V-shaped clusters.

Other effective ways to catch sand crabs are by hand digging and by using a colander or a clothes washing bag. A clothes’ washing bag is something your mom may be aquatinted with: a bag the size of a pillowcase that is made of netting and is used for cleaning fine washables. Simply, unzipped the top, scoop sand into the bag and then pull it to the water’s edge where the sand washes away and leaves a net full of crabs.

SAND CRABS IN tropical climates, like those found in the East Cape in Baja, have longer legs and are almost white in color.

Two good times to catch crabs are on a large incoming high tide and at peak low tide. Peak high tide is usually going to be your most productive time. Time of day is not usually important unless there is excessive beach traffic that may drive crabs down. Peak low tide is when you will find congregations of crabs on exposed sand bars.

Pay attention to the sand once you reach the beach. When you first walk on the beach near the water, feel the sand with your bare feet. As you walk you’ll notice that the sand varies from soft to firm as well as coarse to fine grain in different areas. Crabs prefer soft, fine-grained sand that is easy to burrow into and rely upon it until their hard shell develops.

Here are a few tips on how to keep your sand crabsfresh and lively. Keep and transport your crabs in a waist bait bucket. A small piece of wet kelp helps to keep the temperature down and the bait fresh. If you plan to keep the crabs overnight, place them in a dry plastic container (no lid) and cover them with damp newspaper or a moistened cloth.

Be sure not to crush them. I place the bucket in a cool dry place inside a large ice chest. If you feel they may become too warm (as they prefer the air temperature to be between fifty-five and seventy degrees) you may place a frozen bottle of water adjacent to their container. By all means, don’t place them in saltwater or the refrigerator, as they will expire in just minutes. Lastly, be sure not to disturb them. Otherwise, they will be cranky (and dead!) in the morning.

Summer’s almost here and so are the crabs. So take a few extra minutes to search and find sand crabs and you’re sure to find the fish that are looking for them too!

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Learn about equipment, bait and how to find fish at the beach by joining Bill Varney and CCA California this summer for a series of on-the-beach surf fishing clinics. Visit www.fishthesurf.com and look under “Topics/Seminars” for all the details. Check out Bill’s Surf Tackle and New Line of Surf Rods at: www.surffishtackle.com .

FRESH CRABS ARE a great way to get into some big, early-season corbina like this one caught by Keath Beifus of San Diego.

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