Fishing crabs requires a little more thought than simply retrieving in a regular pattern. Have you ever observed a crab?
If you get the chance, pay close attention to how they react to a perceived threat. Their first response is often contrary to what is expected – while many do flee to structure in order to hide, a crab that is cut off from or doesn’t have structure doesn’t run off at a million miles an hour; it often stands still, pinchers up and ready to fight.
They’re rather arrogant little guys. And this is your first clue as to how they should be retrieved. After the initial strip, let the crab sit still – not quite in front of the targeted fish, make it appear that the crab is ‘checking out’ the approaching threat. Maybe a short strip (a couple of inches) to attract attention.
I find what works for me is to cast ahead and beyond the fish from a position ahead of the fish (see below diagram). Give the crab a long strip so that the fly finishes just on the fisherman’s side of the fish. Here you need initiate all sorts of self-discipline and let the fly sit still, especially when the fish turns towards to investigate.
I find that this point the fly is often eaten but if it isn’t a SHORT strip will entice a reaction. If often two or three short strips and the fish is still interested but hasn’t committed, let the fly sit still again.
Here I want to highlight the effectiveness of keeping a crab fly stationary. There’s a story that Jack Sampson tells of a British chap who caught a silly amount of Permit in a short amount of time using a stationary fly – it blew the maestro’s mind! My first run in with stationary crab flies being eaten was when targeting Permit in the Seychelles. Several times, after leading a Permit with a cast, the fly which was unmoved would be eaten by a bonefish, emperor or snapper. As frustrating as this was, it made me realise the power of an unmoved crab fly and the willingness of fish to eat a pattern that was not being manipulated by the angler. Later, I found that some fish which would turn down a retrieved fly would eat the stationary instead. Try it – it takes nerves and self discipline but it works.
If at this point you haven’t had an eat on the stationary fly, you may want to let the crab ‘flee’ the area. Remember that when crabs book out, they do so in the following manner: a long, fast continuous movement along the bottom. (This may differ for swimming crabs) They don’t swim up into the water column like a shrimp or small baitfish may.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is often this movement that a floating line creates as you retrieve a crab fly that causes fish to spook.
And this why I’ve taken to fishing crabs with a line that has a sink tip or even entire sinking head section. Not only does a line of this nature load quickly and turn over beautifully into the wind, but it also sinks very quickly. This helps the crab get to the bottom quickly but more importantly; it keeps the fly there when retrieved. I believe that my increased hookups on crab patterns recently are largely due to this important factor.
You need your fly to act as a natural crab would. This is why Charlie and other shrimp patterns are fairly easy to fish – a spooked shrimp (or even small baitfish) darts away from a threat in short movements away from the threat, often in an upward direction into the water column. This is the natural movement of a fly being retrieved on a floating line.
Keep your crab on the bottom and you will increase your results…