The following list includes some of the most common shellfish that are used for bait in Virginia saltwater fishing.
The Atlantic blue crab is found in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters of Virginia. When in the hard shelled stage, these crabs make excellent bait for tautog, sea bass, red hake, porgy and other wreck and reef dwellers. They are fished as cut bait and occasionally fished whole.
In the soft-shelled or “peeler” stages, blue crabs make excellent bait for drum fish, croakers, sea trout and other fish of the Chesapeake Bay. They are fished as cut bait or whole, depending on their size and the species targeted.
The green crab is an introduced species that is sometimes available in tackle shops. Their shell size can be up to 3″. In Virginia, green crabs are fished whole or as cut bait for tautog.
The Jonah crab is a species of crab found off the Atlantic Coast of Virginia. It is closely related to the Dungeness crab of the Pacific Coast. Jonah Crabs have black tips on their claws and their shells have 9 teeth on each side of the eye. Jonah crabs are used for bottom fishing on shipwrecks and for deep dropping.
Mole crabs are used for bait while surf fishing for species including pompano, speckled trout, whiting, and sea mullet.
Mole crabs can be caught in the surf by digging a hole in the sand at the very edge of the wash. Allow water to enter the hole, and swish it around. If the area is home to mole crabs, they will be seen darting through the water before they quickly burry themselves in the sand.
Fishermen also gather them with special metal mesh scoops or with meshed wire nets attached to poles. They can sometimes be purchased at bait and tackle shops in some areas.
Fiddler crabs are found along beaches, marshes and mud flats. They are sometimes gathered by fishermen and used for bait for species such as tautog, scup, sheepshead and black sea bass.
Fresh shrimp are available in Virginia from spring thru fall from seafood markets, farmers markets and roadside vendors. Shrimp are sized by “count”, the value being the average number of shrimp specimens per pound. For example, shrimp of 16/20 count means there are 16 to 20 shrimp per pound. Shrimp are an excellent choice for bottom fishing on structure such as fishing piers and artificial reefs.
The hard clam is the most popular American clam. The largest hard clams are called chowder clams and are used for cut bait for species such as tautog, spadefish, black drum and croaker.
The ocean quahog is also known as a mahogany clam, mahogany quahog, black quahog and black clam. Quahog may reach 3-6 inches in diameter.
The Atlantic surf clam is harvested commercially off the coast. Surf clams range from 4 to 8 inches in length. They are sometimes available fresh but may also be found in tackle shops as a shucked and frozen product.