There are dozens of species of crabs in North American coastal waters, from the eraser-size Florida mole crab to giant Alaskan king crabs that won't fit in a washtub. All of them have in common that at some stage of their lives, they are high on the list of edibles for local game fish.
In Florida, there's no better spring and summer tarpon bait than the "pass crabs" that drift through the west coast passes by the thousands from April through July. They max out around 4 inches across the carapace, and have well-developed swimming legs on the back of their shell.
Catching pass crabs is straightforward; get out on the early part of an outgoing tide near one of the passes, find a rip stacked up with grass, foam and debris, and dip-net the drifting crabs. You can also sometimes find them along the beaches at dawn when an onshore wind has stacked grass along the shore.
These crabs, candy for both tarpon and permit, also are tasty tidbits for redfish and snook - as well as cobia, which are known as "crab eaters" in some areas for good reason.
From Virginia to Texas, the blue is abundant and easy to catch with a trap you can hang off any dock - a piece of mullet or chicken neck draws them in.
Small blues, to 4 inches across, make the best live baits; cobia love them, and so do big redfish and drum. You can also do well cutting larger crabs in half, particularly for redfish and big black drum.
These little crabs - found on muddy shorelines, and around oyster bars and backcountry creeks - are wonderful bait for pompano, permit, sheepshead and redfish.
To catch them, take a tip from the pros and conduct a "crab roundup." Make a sort of funnel from strips of plywood about six inches tall and eight feet long, stood on edge with a couple of stakes to hold them in place. Sink a 5-gallon bucket into the sand at the small end of the funnel, then herd the crabs into the funnel.