Come and catch some Norfolk Gillies in Wells-next-the-Sea

Children (and their adult helpers) have been catching crabs off the quay at Wells for donkey’s years. Legend has it that the harbour crabs are so numerous because they get to eat all the children that fall off the quay and into the water! Here’s everything you need to know to take part in this popular Wells activity.

Crabbing at Wells-next-the-Sea

Everyone should try their hand at crabbing at least once – for many people it’s the one thing that they most associate with childhood days at Wells. It’s easy, fun and kids love it.

You can buy an inexpensive crabbing kit from several shops around town. Shop With a View, directly opposite the quay, is probably the closest.

Crabbing Essentials

There are four basic pieces of equipment that you need to go crabbing for gillies (or gillying for crabs):

  1. A bucket
  2. Some line
  3. A weight
  4. Some bait

The Bucket

If you want to go green, bring a re-useable garden bucket, rather than a cheap, disposable bucket. Lightweight plastic buckets do get blown off the quay into the water, adding to plastic waste.

You’ll need to quarter or half-fill your bucket with seawater – not fresh because that will kill the crabs.

The Line

Back in the day this would have been good old-fashioned garden string or twine, however for the last few decades string has been supplanted by indestructible bright orange nylon. Now it’s eco-friendly to use bio-degradable string again.

It needs to be sufficiently long to reach the bottom of the harbour wall and strong enough to last the day and not break when wet.

The Weight

You need to make sure that the bait will sink to the sea bottom. Crabbing kits usually come with a circular metal fishing weight, but traditionally you’d use a “lucky” stone with a hole through it. Tie your weight to the line leaving enough free line at the end to attach the bait.

The Bait

The stinkier the better – crabs are not picky eaters. Tie the bait to the end of the line – you may find it helps to use a giant safety pin to attach the bait, and tie that to the line through the hole at the end.

Fish heads, uncooked bacon, butcher’s off-cuts, prawn heads – all are tempting morsels for a hungry crab. Use your imagination – you may discover a new irresistible crab bait and be immortalised in crabbing lore.

The Art of Crabbing

Lower the baited end of the line over the edge of the quay, into the water and down until it reaches the bottom.

If you’ve chosen a good spot to crab, and the crabs are feeling peckish, you won’t have to wait very long before you feel a tug on the string.

Wait just long enough for the crab to get a firm hold, then carefully start to bring the line up – slowly and smoothly, trying not to dislodge or knock the crab off against the harbour wall.

With luck and a steady hand you’ll successfully raise your prize crab all the way up over the top of the harbour wall and into your bucket.

No one is really sure how to win at crabbing. Some people say it’s catching the biggest crab, others say it’s the largest number. It doesn’t matter, because no one keeps score and there aren’t any prizes.

Crab Care

Crabs can safely be held from behind between a finger and thumb. It’s safe for the crab and you won’t get pinched.

Crabs can be kept in the bucket of seawater for a while, but don’t keep them there all day, or keep too many at a time – they’ll get stressed and may attack each other.

Keep an eye on the crabs in your bucket – aggressive males don’t make good bucket-mates, so be prepared to remove the odd trouble-maker.

At the end of your successful crabbing adventure, return the crabs to the water unharmed, so they can join their friends at the base of the sea wall eating all the leftover bait, and someone else gets the fun of catching them again tomorrow.