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Gettin’ crabby: How to use crab lures for bream

Fishing crabs over the flats is very effective and requires lighter gear.

CRABS are on the menu for many different creatures. One of the main offenders is the old travelling grey nomad with the tinny on the roof; they just love crabs, and of course, the crustacean loving bream.

More often than not, crabs are buried deep in structure to protect themselves from predators, but the need to feed themselves and move camp brings them out into the open, making them vulnerable to big blue-lipped monsters. For this reason it makes complete sense that a crab imitation lure would be an effective asset for any keen estuary angler to have in their tackle box.

Recent advances in lure designs – both hard-body and soft plastics – has meant there’s now a great range of crab lures on the market for fishos to choose from; and these aren’t just limited to estuary species. A large array of fishes including snapper, flathead, permit, even groper will gladly scoff a crab, but for this story I have focused my attention on the bream fishery where they have more than proved themselves as a go-to-lure, especially in the tournament sector.

Now I’m a very keen fisho, but I must confess I’m no expert on crabs. Thankfully, two of the country’s finest tournament bream fishos, and crab specialists, Grant Manusu and Todd Riches live around the corner and have agreed to share some secrets.

Living next to the amazing estuary fishery, which is Wallis Lake on the Mid-North Coast of NSW, Grant and Todd have spent countless hours perfecting this style of fishing among the different types of terrain found in this great system. I’ve fished with both of these guys and admire their commitment and dedication to chasing bream. The anticipation for a bite is strong with almost every one of the hundreds of casts they make in a session.

Todd Riches with a nice bream on the Berkley Gulp! Crabby.

Grant was lucky to get his paws on a small shipment of some of the first Cranka crabs that hit Australia a few years back and had a good feeling about the lures.

“From the moment I laid eyes on them I knew almost immediately these amazing lures were going to be a real game changer, and I wasn’t wrong,” says Grant.

My first time using them was a pre-fish for a tournament here in Forster and first cast with the olive coloured 50mm crab I got absolutely blown away by a very big bream! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or both. From that moment on it was confirmed, Cranka crabs were going to be a revolution in the bream tournament fishing sector!”

Grant’s prediction became reality with crab style lures nearly always getting a mention on the podium at these events.

“Grant says bridge pylons and floating pontoons are an effective place to cast, while Todd reckons rock walls are one of the best areas to fish these lures, especially coming into winter.”

It’s a hard task for a bream to catch a crab around rocks; they are so fast and have a way of simply disappearing in front of you. It’s different when they’ve been washed off a pylon or pontoon and are adrift. They lose their agility and become vulnerable with a lack of ability to swim fast. This is a great feature of these crustaceans which makes it easy to fish lures that impersonates them.

“Often with a well placed cast these lures will be eaten with very little action. The key is not to work the lure and let it naturally sink,” says Grant.

Young-gun Todd agrees: “You never see a crab swimming up and down the water column, so small twitches in your retrieve is all the action these lures require.”

Interestingly, Grant says he has often hooked a bream on the Cranka crab and has seen many other bream trying to eat the lure out of the fish’s mouth. He even, although rarely, ends up with two fish hooked on one lure, which suggests crabs are a prime treat for a bream to get its mouth around. So when the uncommon event of a crab for lunch is on offer, the fish get competitive!

Todd says preparation and rigging in the lead-up to a tournament is crucial to his success on the water.

“You just have to fish crabs theses days to be competitive. So many comps have been won on lures that impersonate a crab and in a game where grams count, bigger fish often fall victim to these lures,” said Todd.

“My top two PB fish have both been taken on lures that represented a crab.

“Fishing them isn’t rocket science; where you find structure you will find crabs, so this opens up a huge amount of options for this style of fishing.

“I look for areas where the bottom is rocky – somewhere where there is a current flow and the fish are sitting in tight to the structure waiting for a crab to come by as it may have fallen from a rock, post or oyster rack,” Todd says.

Grant says bridge pylons and floating pontoons are an effective place to cast, while Todd reckons rock walls are one of the best areas to fish these lures, especially coming into winter. Casting up current and letting it drift back towards you is a very productive method.

“Slowly retrieve your slack line as it comes back in the direction of the boat keeping a close eye on any pull or change in the natural flow of your line that might indicate a bite,” says Todd.

“Get ready to strike and don’t give an inch in this kind of unforgiving structure or you’ll lose the battle. Be prepared to get the odd snag because tight to the structure is where you will find the big fish.”

Grant says the flotation on the trebles of the Cranka crabs has many advantages.

“The claws become extremely snag resistant as they float up in a typical defensive crab pose, and in doing so, are a target for bream wanting to dis-arm its defences. The only problem for the bream is that these floating claws have very sharp treble hooks in them resulting in instant hook-ups,” says Grant.

It seems it’s a well-known fact that bream attack the nippers of crabs first, which has resulted in Todd customising lures such as the Berkley 2-inch Crabbies, often cutting the nippers off this soft bait, which deactivates this means of defence. The hope is they “suck them straight down”.

Todd is also quick to mention how effective these soft bait crabs are in many scenarios.

“Having the option of changing the sink rate with different size jig heads makes these soft baits another go-to option while fishing. Using jig heads as light as 1/40 to keep the lure in the bite zone for as long as possible works great. For example, around floating pontoons. If you don’t get a bite in the top one metre of the surface, chances are you won’t, so you may as well retrieve your lure and get another cast back in the bite zone. The soft crabs are also great away from structure out on the flats. Look for gaps in the weed or small sandy holes, get a cast into these areas and you’re always a good chance of a bite,” says Todd.

A selection of crab lures.

Grant and Todd both agree tackle choice is more about the structure where you’re fishing than the lure attach to your line.

They prefer heavier tackle in dangerous territory with line to 10kg and reels to 2500 size, right down to 1kg line on 1000 size reels out in the safety of the flats.

Grant says a softer more forgiving rod has always been a preference amongst many anglers using any lure with treble hooks.

There’s no doubt the recent development of crab style lures and the work of tournament anglers such as Todd and Grant has opened up a deadly technique for bream anglers. Get out there and give it a go on your next estuary outing!

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