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Fishing with Hermit Crab
Written by Mike Thrussell
It's shape and choice of home make it easily identified from other crabs. It has one large claw and a secondary smaller one. Two long hair antennae are attached at the head. Only the legs and the front section of the carapace or shell are hard. The abdomen and tail are soft and totally unprotected.
The colouration is a reddish orange or yellow, but the soft abdomen is a dull brown, sometimes greyish brown. The hermit grows up to 3.5in long.
It's home is it's give away. The hermit needs to protect the permanently soft abdomen so it chooses to live in a discarded shell which it carries around on it's back all the time. Young hermits pick dog whelks and periwinkle shells initially, but as they increase in size they need to transfer to a larger shell, usually a common whelk shell.
When danger threatens, the hermit can fully withdraw in to the shell leaving only the end of the big claw exposed which it defends itself with.
Smaller hermits can be found in shallow pools along the low water line of surf beaches, but more so in the deeper rock pools exposed at low water along a rocky coast.
Other places to find hermits are around bases of piers and man made breakwaters and groynes that have a constant depth of water around them at low tide. Hermits can also show in fair numbers on the sandbanks surrounding estuary mouths.
The larger adult hermits tend to be found some way offshore in deeper water and are attracted to areas of mixed rough where lobster pots are positioned.
COLLECTION - SANDY BEACHES
Walk the tide line and check out any large shells, especially whelk shells to see if there is a hermit at home. It's a good bet there will be. Place these in a small bucket with a few inches of fresh sea water in.
Occasionally, when walking the low tide line on calmer days and also the banks around estuaries, you'll see hermits stranded in shallow tidal pools, sometimes slightly buried in the sand for camouflage.
It's worth working around any weed fringes and running your hands under the overhangs of small rocks in the pool as the hermits tend to hide away under such structures, especially during the suns highest period in the sky.
Also lift up any flatish stones as hermits also crawl under these, but put the rocks back as you found them.
USING A DROP NET
The best drop nets are the metal ones with a fine mesh, but those with netting also work if the netting squares are small.
You need to make sure that the drop net has enough natural or added weight to make it sit tight on the seabed in a collapsed position. Additional weight is best tied to the centre point of the net on the outside.
Tie some bait, such as a whole mackerel with some slashes in the flank to release some scent, to the centre point of the net on the inside. It's now simply a matter of dropping the net to the seabed below on a long rope and leaving it for about 30 minutes, by which time, if you've chosen your mark well, the bait should be crawling with hermits that have moved in to feed. When you haul the net, do so quickly and keep the net coming upwards at all times. Place the crab in to buckets of fresh sea water for keeping whilst fishing.
The same method works off the boats, but you're dependent on the run of tide over the mark. It's best to drop the nets half an hour each side of the slack water period, especially in deeper water areas and make sure the net is heavily weighted and secured properly to the boat.
Commercial trammel netters also drag up large numbers of hermits and for the sake of asking, they'll fill a bucket for you saving valuable fishing time.
REMOVING HERMITS FROM THEIR SHELL
Inferior methods include warming the base of the hermits shell with a cigarette lighter, or gently tapping the shell with a toffee hammer until it cracks and the crab can be prized free.
Start by placing the live hermits in freshwater to make them vacate the shells. Pack them separately, either wrapping them in cling film, or placing them in to the small sealable plastic envelopes you put rigs in to, then placing them straight in to the fast freeze compartment of your freezer in plastic ice cream containers so that they do not get crushed during the freezing process.
They last for up to 6 months at least like this and prove an excellent stand by bait.
Carry the hermits frozen in a Coleman type cool box with ice packs placed on the top and take them out one at a time as they quickly thaw once in the open atmosphere.
Generally though, bigger fish prefer the whole crab mounted with the soft body near the hook point and the claws bound up the shank of the hook. Don't worry about making a bigger bunch up of two or three hermits when fishing deeper water close to rough ground. It may not look very natural, but it catches fish.
In deeper water, expect whole crab baits to sort out rays, cod, dogfish, and especially huss and smoothound around reefy ground. Even smaller conger, pollack, coalfish and wrasse take hermit when they stray off the reef and rough on to the edge of cleaner ground.
All in all, hermit crab is not used enough by anglers and can account for excellent catches when used to target fish such as huss, smoothound and rays.
Hermit crab shells also often carry an anemone. This partnership benefits both, the crab eating some of the bits left over from the anemones kill, and in turn food caught by the crab is passed up to and shared by the anemone.