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31 May 2023
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Everyone knows that one of the best parts of coming to visit the Outer Banks is the access to fresh seafood right off the dock, especially crabs. But what if we told you that it was easy to try your own hand at catching crabs in one of the sounds of the Outer Banks? For decades, guests and locals alike have spent hours of summer fun with a chicken leg tied to a string trying to catch their own crabs. This venture can be a lot of fun, and if your vacation rental is located on the canal front, you may be able to go crabbing without leaving the house!

Types of Crabs in the Outer Banks

Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus)

The blue crab is the most iconic and abundant crab species in the Outer Banks. They have a distinctive blue color and are known for their sweet and succulent meat. Blue crabs are popular among locals and visitors alike and are often caught for recreational and commercial purposes. If you're here during softshell crab season (mid-April to early June), this is the type of crab that you'll be enjoying on a delicious sandwich or as part of an unforgettable Bloody Mary at Rundown. This is what you're looking for when you're crabbing recreationally.

Atlantic Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata)

Ghost crabs are small crabs that have a sandy coloration, which helps them blend in with their beach habitat. They are known for their quick movements and ability to burrow in the sand. These are the little guys that you're looking for when you go ghost crabbing, which is its own unique version of crabbing where you're catching these fellas on camera instead of on a string.

Stone Crab (Menippe mercenaria)

Stone crabs are another common species found in the Outer Banks. They have a hard exoskeleton and are known for their large claws, which are harvested for their meat.

Fiddler Crab (Uca spp.)

Fiddler crabs are small and easily identifiable crabs commonly found on the Outer Banks. The males have one significantly larger claw, which they use for courtship and territorial displays. Fiddler crabs are often seen scuttling along the shores and marshes of the Outer Banks. You may catch some of these if you go crabbing recreationally during your stay!

Spider Crab (Libinia emarginata)

Spider crabs, also known as decorator crabs, are found in the Outer Banks region. They have long, slender legs and a round, spiny shell. Spider crabs are known for their ability to camouflage themselves by attaching bits of seaweed and debris to their bodies.

Hermit Crab (various species)

While not a true crab, hermit crabs are commonly encountered on the beaches of the Outer Banks. They have soft abdomens and use discarded shells of other animals for protection. Hermit crabs scavenge for food along the shoreline and can be observed in tidal pools.

Marsh Crab (various species)

Marsh Crabs include a variety of crab species that find their homes in salt marshes along the East Coast. On the Outer Banks, you're likely to find Marsh Fiddler Crabs or Atlantic Mud Crabs. These crabs are usually very small and move among the vegitation in the marshes.

Mole Crab (Emerita)

Mole crabs are also known as sand fleas or sand crabs. These are tiny little crabs that can be found on sandy beaches and intertidal zones. Specifically, you may see these crabs if you're playing in the shoreline and see tiny bubbles coming up from the sand when the tide pulls back. Male Crabs are small with a hard exoskeleton that is about 1-2 inches in size and they are usually pale or gray. 

Hermit Crabs On The Outer Banks

How To Get Started Crabbing in the Outer Banks

An Outer Banks crab in the sand

Crabbing on the Outer Banks can be a fantastic experience that’s fun for the whole family, but what exactly is it? Crabbing is a lot like fishing except, instead of fish, you’re hoping to catch crabs that you later cook up for the whole family to eat! While most people are familiar with crab pots and their brightly colored buoys that can be seen bobbing up and down in the water as you’re driving over one of the many bridges in the area. 

However, if you’re looking to have some fun with the whole family, at minimal cost, we suggest “handlining.” 

Handlining is exactly what it sounds like and can be done from the dock in your vacation rental’s backyard or from the beach near the sound. 

You’ll need: 

  • Fishing Line (15ft-20ft)
  • Small Fishing Net
  • Bait (chicken or turkey leg, neck, wing, etc.)
  • Cooler

Tie a chicken or turkey leg to the end of the fishing line. Hold on to the free end of the line or tie it to the dock or a pole. Once the line starts to tighten to move, slowly pull it back in and use a net to scoop the crab out of the water. 

And tada! You’ve done it! 

It’s simple enough that everyone in the family can have a fun time making memories while having the added benefit of catching your own dinner! Just keep in mind that a single person cannot catch more than 50 crabs per day and any crabs you keep must be between 5” and 6.75.” Other than that, make sure you have a cooler and some ice to keep your crabs fresh and enjoy the thrill of catching your own crabs!

When Is the Best Time to Go Outer Banks Crabbing?

A closeup of several OBX crabs

The best time to go crabbing in the sounds of the Outer Banks is during the months of May, June, and July, though crabs can usually be found from late spring into early fall.

According to CrabbingHub, the best time of the day to go crabbing is from 2 hours before high tide through to 2 hours after high tide. Check the tides at or any local newspaper or radio station to find updated tide times for the best chance at a successful catch.

Where Can I Go Crabbing in the Outer Banks?

People crabbing in the Outer Banks

While hunting for ghost crabs can be enjoyable when you’re near the ocean, if you’re hoping to catch some crabs that you can steam up for dinner later, your best bet is going to be finding a spot to crab on the Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke, or Pamlico Sounds.

Historic Corolla Park, Corolla

If you’re on the northern end of the island, there’s no better place to go crabbing than Historic Corolla Park. Close to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Historic Whalehead Club, the park boasts a wide variety of ponds, sound front beaches, and boardwalks that are perfect for dipping your bait into the water and pulling up some crabs for dinner. Be sure to check out Carova Beach and the Corolla Wild Horse tours while you’re up there!

Colington Road, Kill Devil Hills

The Colington area of Kill Devil Hills is one of the most well-known spots for crabbing in the Central Outer Banks. While there aren’t a lot of places to park, you will find marinas and public parks with docks along Colington Road that will be perfect for tossing your line into the water and waiting for the excitement of getting a crab on the other end of the line.

Nags Head-Manteo Causeway, “Little Bridge”

This area, formally known as the Melvin Daniels Bridge, is located on the Nags Head-Manteo Causeway and has parking and fishing platforms that are perfect for handlining over the side of the bridge. The “Little Bridge” is also a fantastic spot for fishing, just make sure that you have your appropriate license and know the rules before attempting to fish anywhere on the Outer Banks.

Do I need a permit to go crabbing?

Not usually. According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, a license “is not required when harvesting shellfish recreationally or using the following the recreational gears: hook and line or bait and line…collapsible traps, seines less than 30 feet, dip nets, landing nets, cast nets, gigs, or spears.”  The method above, which is often described as “chicken necking” or “handlining,” does not require any sort of license, just permission of the owner if you are crabbing on private property.

Where do I get crabbing supplies?

You should be able to find fishing line and a small fishing net at one of the local tackle shops up and down the island. T.W.’s Bait & Tackle and Bill’s Marine are two local favorites. You can also find everything you need at Walmart on the way in while you’re doing some grocery shopping.

What should I use as bait for crabbing?

Traditionally, for handlining, it’s best to use raw chicken or turkey necks, wings, legs, etc. tied to the end of your fishing line.

What do I do with the crabs once I’ve caught them?

You will need to clean and cook the crabs before eating them.

Ideally, you will want to make sure the crabs are dead before trying to clean them. The easiest way to do this is to cook them in boiling water for 60 seconds and then let them cool in an ice bath when finished.

Then, using a pair of kitchen scissors, you will want to cut off the eyes and mouth. Remove the abdomen, which is a small flap of shell on the bottom of the crab before using your fingers to pull out the gills underneath. Hold crab under running water to rinse out the rest of the unwanted inside parts before cooking the crabmeat in your preferred method.

Book Your Next Crabbing Adventure on the OBX Today!

One of the most fun and easy ways to crab during your Outer Banks vacation is to stay at a vacation rental listed as “canalfront.” Take a look at one of our beautiful canalfront vacation homes to spend your Outer Banks vacation near the water and take advantage of the perfect area for crabbing right outside your back door! Many of these homes are located in Kill Devil Hills, which is centrally located in the middle of the Outer Banks, meaning that when you’ve caught your dinner and enjoy your fill, you’ll only be a short drive from the beach, and many of the amazing sights and things to do on the Outer Banks!

Would you rather buy your fresh, local seafood instead of catching it? No worries! Check out our list of local Outer Banks Seafood Markets! Check out some of our available Outer Banks vacation rentals for families of all sizes. You're sure to find your perfect spot. Keep an eye on our specials and deals and book now before your dream Outer Banks beach house fills up for the summer. Give our wonderful Guest Services Team a call today at (866) 884-0267 or take a look at our available rentals to get started planning your next historic adventure to the Outer Banks. And don't forget about our layaway plan, which makes booking your dream vacation easier than ever. So don't wait. We're booking Outer Banks vacation rentals year round and we're excited to help you create memories to last a lifetime. We're here to help make your OBX vacation fun, exciting, and hassle-free. Give us a call today!

Be sure to follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTubePinterest, and TikTok to stay up to date on all of our specials, new & featured homes, and tips & tricks for making the most of your next Outer Banks vacation.

Pack your bags, leave your worries behind, and escape to the Outer Banks—a place where relaxation is not just a luxury but a way of life.

We’ll see you at the beach.

About the Author:  Lauren is an Outer Banks local, mom, trained historian, and travel enthusiast. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with her nose in a book or cuddling with her cats.