How to Catch a Mud Crab in Derby



Derby is a small town of around 4,500 people about 220 km north-east of Broome on the north-west coast of Australia. It is parked on the edge of King Sound and has the highest tidal range of any port in Australia. Visit the pier at low tide and you will wonder why on earth it is even there, but watch as the tide floods in from seemingly miles away and you soon discover why the pier is so high. The town is a great access point to the Gibb River Road, visits to the Horizontal Waterfall, the Buccaneer Archipelago and a strangely “famous” Boab Tree, but, it also offers some great fun on the high tide – hunting mud crabs. Read on to find out how to catch a mud crab in Derby.

P6180423-300x225The whole area around the town is mangrove filled mud flats, and so it comes as no surprise to find that there is a plethora of little areas where you can catch your very first mud crab, but it can even be as easy as doing off the main pier of the town itself. If you don’t have any equipment don’t worry, you can pick stuff up in town. It can take a little time to attract a crab, so you might as well keep some fishing gear with you as well and fish of the pier at the same time. Fair warning here though, the fish that you catch in this part of the world can be as long as your leg, so don’t get too small a rod!


If you don’t have any crabbing gear already, head off to the fishing and hardware store in Derby and pick up a crab net, some rope to lower it from the pier with, a 20 litre plastic bucket and a screwdriver. The net will be around $10, Care_Banks_-_Blue_Crab_-_01so will the bucket and the rope probably about $7. Then head off to the supermarket and pick up about 6 tins of no-name brand cat food.

The net will come with 3 ropes that run from the support ring to to a single point normally held by a floater. Connect the rope you bought to this mounting point. Make sure the rope is long enough to make it from standing on the pier to the ground beneath the pier.

The crab net will come with a bait trap the looks like a giant safety pin – if they don’t come included buy 1 or 2 of these too. Pass the bent arm of the “safety pin” through CrabNetBaitHolderthe bottom of the net, along a little and then back into the inside of the net. If you close the bait trap (safety pin) you will have some on the outside and the long, straight arm on the inside. The bait holder can’t fall through the net this way. This “safety pin” is going to hold your cat food as the bait.
The idea is to puncture a hole in the side of a cat food tin, then put another hole in the other side of the tin opposite the first one. Use the screwdriver to do this. Once there are holes in opposite sides 7782228506_3b44de78e5_oof the tin, you will now be able to pass the long, straight leg of the”safety pin” through the tin. Put the holes in the SIDE of the tin, not the top and bottom. Once complete you should have the long arm of the bait
trap running through the cat food tin on the inside of the net and the bent arm runs out of the net then back in to hook the tin to the inside bottom of the net. Now the basics are set to go. (Actually, probably do this baiting of the net once you are ready to drop it in the water – it is a little messy)

How to Catch a Mud Crab in Derby

Head down to the main pier at Derby once the tide is high enough to cover the rocks on the shore, it is in the mud among these rocks that the mud crabs hang out. Check that the cat food is properly secure in the net and wont get washed out, and lower the net down into the water just far enough along the pier to be sure the net is sitting on the flat ground just in front of the rocks, not ON the rocks. You want the sides of the net to sit flat on the ground so the the support ring of the top of the net sits on top of the support ring of the bottom of the net. i.e. the net sits flat on the floor. In the muddy water of Derby, you won’t be able to see the once it goes under, but you’ll be able to tell when it is at bottom. Tie off the excess rope on to something on the pier and wait.

The screwdriver size whole in both sides of the can is going to let the cat food eak out in the tide. This is going to smell tantalizing to the mud crabs and they will follow the scent back to the can. Once they get to it, they will try and eat what is coming out of the hole. When they get sick of that, they will reach out their massive pincers an simply start punching holes in the can. They can cut the hole thing open easier than a tin opener will. They will sit there for some time working all this out and having a feed. The can, of course, is pinned to the middle of the net so they won’t go anywhere during this time. Pull the net up when the crab is hanging out in the middle of it and sides will trap the crab as they pull up and then continue up to you on the pier. Voila you have caught a mud crab.

It is best to allow for around 10 minutes from when you first drop the net until you next pull it out and check if there is a crab in it. Unlike fishing, you can’t “feel” the crab, and because the water is so muddy, you can’t see it, so it is a little hit and miss. Every now and then you should just head over to your rope and give it a good hard yank and then keep yanking until it comes out of the water.The Muddies aren’t just going to sit there and go for a ride, they are going to try and get out so you’ve got to be quick.

If you get one up and on to the pier you should always throw back the females. Once male can fertilize many females, but the females have to be there to fertilize, so let them go. To identify a crabs sex you look on the underside. If they have a thin abdominal flap they are male, if the flap is wide, its female and you should release it. See the pdf here on Mud Crabs

Now for the bucket. If this is your first time, the bucket is here to protect you as well as carry the crab. Once the crab is on the pier, jam the bucket down on top of it. Mud crabs are tough buggers. Their pincers can cut off any appendage you put near them in a second, and they are going to be pretty feisty when you get them out of the water. They will fight back! Jam the flat bottom of the bucket on top of them to stop them running away and stop them from getting their claws up. If possible leave a little of the back of them sticking out so you can get to it. Now, at this stage you may have a crowd gathering around. If you have never picked up a crab before, ask around to see if there is anyone who has. Better to get help then lose a toe or a finger. If there is no one else around then you have to pick them up from behind. There are a couple of videos to watch below. Be VERY careful and be aware they can get their claws under their belly, so if you stick you fingers under their belly too far, you are going to lose a finger. Once you have a good grip, remove the bucket, lift the crab and throw it in. Voila, you have a mud crab.

The most you can catch is 5 and it has to be at least 150mm wide. Western Australia fishing rules are here

If you can, put it in a freezer for a while to send it to sleep before boiling, otherwise just chuck it in a boiling pot of water to cook.

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