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Fiddler Crabs: Everything you need to know to keep your bait alive

Fiddler Crabs: Everything You Need To Know To Keep Your Bait Alive

How To Keep Fiddler Crabs Alive In Captivity

Fiddler crabs are one of the best baits you can use for sheepshead fishing. They are often referred to as "sheepshead candy". The beauty of using fiddlers is you can buy them or find them in the wild. When sheepshead are running in the winter months these little guys are so popular, they become a high priority for many inshore anglers. Their scarcity during the sheepshead season could force you to use other baits. We want to prevent this from happening by educating anglers how to care and raise them for your own personal stock.

If you are new to sheepshead fishing and have never tried fiddlers you have to make it a priority in 2019. You will catch more fish on fiddler crabs than you will on traditional baits like shrimp and oysters. You can find fiddler crabs at select bait stores throughout your coastal areas. If you do not know a location that sells them, you can always catch your own. In a previous blog, the " Catching Fiddler Crabs", we outline everything anglers need to know for catching them in the wild. They can always be found in brackish water areas, salt marshes and other flood tide areas of coastal coast lines of southern United States.

Fiddler Crab Locations and Distribution

 Fiddler Crab Locations and Distribution (Photo Credit:UNCW)

The fear anglers have when using fiddlers if they do not use them up they are hard to keep alive for multiple days. That is actually not true. They are easy to care for with limited health concerns and docile personalities. If you were to care for your own fiddler crab population they could survive for up to 3 years. When starting your fiddler crab bait environment you will need healthy numbers of male and female crabs. You can easily distinguish the difference between them by their claws. Males have one distinct large claw while the females have just two small claws.

(A fun fact for all anglers: This is where the fiddler crab actually got its name. From the large claw of the male fiddler crabs, because it looks to be playing the fiddle.)

I am sure you have seen at low tides the fiddler crabs on the mud or in the water in marsh land areas feeding. The thought of imitating this environment would seem to be impossible. The point is you do not have to. They just need shelter and food an the fiddler crab will be happy and ready to catch your next sheepshead.

Raising Fiddler Crabs (Illustration - Nusha A. © The Spruce, 2018)

1) What Do I Need To Store My Fiddler Crabs In?

They beauty of raising fiddler crabs is you do not need anything fancy. It can be done is a recycled plastic container if you want. If your an angler and want to keep your fiddler crab bait alive all winter you may want to invest in an old aquarium that can be converted into a fiddler crab paradise. When setting up your fiddler crab home remember you have a few things that are essential.

  • Brackish Water 
  • Dry Land
  • Sand

When setting up your habitat for long term you need an area with brackish water for the fiddler crabs to be able to craw into. Just off of the water you need a sandy area for them to make homes but also land for them to craw up on to escape the water. Always remember one of the most important things that goes into keeping your fiddler crabs alive is the salt in the water. Mimicking the natural environment is crucial to their survival. You want to keep your fiddler crabs in a temperature range of 75degrees F  to 80 degrees F. Prevent them from becoming cold. All this will help preserve your fiddlers for your next trip and beyond.

2) What do fiddler crabs eat?

What do fiddler crabs eat?

What do fiddler crabs eat?

Fiddler crabs are scavengers and feed on organic materials they find in the water and mud. This ranges from dead fish, shrimp, crabs and other organic plant matter. You will not want to throw a whole shrimp or mullet in there because of the smell it will cause. There is actually crab food that you can buy at your local pet store that they will eat. This food is normally made for hermit crabs, but fiddler crabs will love it as well. Another type of food I have seen anglers use are fish food shrimp pellets. If money is not a problem then you can check out freeze dried or frozen shrimp. All of these foods are available on Amazon or your local Walmart. Fiddler crabs do not need to be fed on a daily basis. This will minimize their tank cleanings by feeding them every other day or 2-3 times a week. They will remain in good health with the frequency of these meals. One nutrient that sometime is hard to control with intake is calcium. They can get their needed calcium from shrimp exoskeletons and by eating other fiddler crab sheds. The pH of the water in their enclosure should be closely monitored. It must remain at a specific pH or acidity of 8.0-8.3. Carbonate Hardness (KH) should optimally be between 150-350 ppm. Once you have what they love to eat and the water conditioned right, keeping your fiddler crabs alive and healthy will be easy.

3) What Are Common Health Concerns With Fiddler Crabs?

Keeping your fiddler crabs healthy should be your number one priority. A healthy bait will keep producing sheepshead in the coolers. There are several things to look for when assessing the health of your sheepshead population. The first thing you should look for is over aggressive males. If the enclosure you are keeping your fiddlers in is too small, males fiddler crabs can become territorial and fight. They will end up injuring each other and you may notice detached legs and claws. If you are not doing weekly water changes you may start to notice a distinct smell from your fiddler crab enclosure. This can be from an improper water salinity or a fungus that can overtake and kill your fiddlers. If you notice your fiddler crabs are not eating try a enclosure change and see if you can turn it around to keep your bait alive. Fiddler crabs will die from time to time, make sure to remove any dead crabs in a timely manner to avoid contamination to any other crabs.

4) Is Fiddler Crab Molting Normal?

Molting Fiddler Crab

Molting Fiddler Crab ( Photo Credit: Pinterest )

If you keep your fiddler crab bait long enough eventually your crabs will molt. This is a normal process in the life of the fiddler crab. As an owner, this is a great sign. This means your fiddler crab populations are in good health and natural growth is occurring. These exoskeletons are a perfect nutrient source to the fiddlers. Leave them in the enclosure and allow for your fiddler crabs to eat the exoskeletons. If your fiddlers have molted and they have lost any legs or claws, do not worry. They will regenerate these lost limbs over the next few weeks.

5) How To Grow Your Fiddler Crab Populations?

Fiddler Crab With Eggs

Fiddler Crab With Eggs (Photo Credit: Thefiddlercrab.weebly)

The longer you have your fiddler enclosure the more likely you are to see eggs on a female. Do not get excited! It is almost near impossible to breed fiddler crabs successfully in captivity. This is due to their life cycle. Fiddler crab larvae develops in the deep water and migrate back to shore. The water in a enclosure will not be deep enough for this to happen. If you want to grow your populations you will need to go out and capture more or buy them.

Working with fiddler crabs is overall pretty easy. Keeping your bait alive through a sheepshead trip and while there is a shortage should be the concern for all sheepshead anglers. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to leave us a comment below or email us at We would love to hear your near record monster sheepshead experiences. We would also love to see all of your sheepsheads catches so make sure you send us all your great catches to be featured on our social media pages. Make sure to check out our sheepshead Species page for other great sheepshead blogs. Find informative information on fishing for sheepsheadchumming for sheepshead, finding fiddlers for bait, filleting sheepshead, or amazing sheepshead recipes. Don't forget to get stocked with our sheepshead jigs for your next fishing trip. Raising your own fiddler crabs can help you catch sheepshead all year round.

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Dick D. - June 10, 2023

I really appreciate the info and I found a spot where I can get some fiddler crabs and I’m gonna go after Some sheep head.

Bradley Smith - November 9, 2020

Once they die to you have a good way to store them afterwards or just discard?

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