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Soft Shell Crab Season for Outer Banks NC

Soft Shell Crabs Outer Banks NC Seafood

If you have never tried soft shell crabs before, you HAVE to do your best to try one during your next Outer Banks vacation.

Soft shell crabs are extremely tasty, and you don’t have the hassle of cracking open a crab shell to get to the crab meat.

During a certain window of time in the calendar year, blue crabs shed their shells. All crabs shed their shells at some point, but we’re mostly concerned about blue crabs because they are delicious and are the only softshell seafood that’s supposed to be sold in stores.

Blue crabs go through many growth stages and may shed their hard outer shell some 20 or more times during their short, three-year-long lifespan.

Each time the crab loses its hard exterior and begins to molt, the specimen must be removed from the water to prevent the shell from hardening.

Timing is everything when catching these guys!

Soft shell crab season on the Outer Banks lasts about five months with the start of the season around late April and concluding around early September.

How to tell if a blue crab is molting?

If you decide to go crabbing to see if you can catch a soft shell crab yourself, you’ll be interested to know what to look for. Experienced crabbers look for a faint line next to the backfin, which is a key indicator when determining if a blue crab is getting ready to shed its hard outer shell.

  • A white line on the backfin means the crab is likely to shed within seven to ten days.
  • A pink line means the crab is likely to shed in the next two to seven days.
  • The Red line means shedding is going to happen very soon.

So if you catch a crab that has a white line on the backfin, should you put it back and wait seven to ten days to try and catch it again? Well, you can, but it's unlikely you’d catch the exact same crab again!

Most commercial crabbers have controlled tanks to keep the crabs alive while they wait for the molting to take place. Of course, if you are on vacation and going crabbing for the first time, you won’t have this setup handy so you can either toss the crab back into the water or take it home and crack open the shell to access the delicious meat inside.

Best place to buy soft shell crabs on the Outer Banks?

You can’t buy soft shell crabs everywhere on the barrier islands. Any locally-owned seafood market is a good place to shop for fresh fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters. Skip the seafood section at Harris Teeter or Food Lion, many of the items they have are not caught by fishermen of the area.

If you don’t want to cook soft shell crabs yourself, many area restaurants have them on either their regular menu or specials menu. Here are some places that we recommend:

  • I Got Your Crabs in Kitty Hawk
  • O’Neal’s Sea Harvest in Wanchese
  • Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe in Nags Head

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