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.

The Little Blue Hut

Instead of buying plastic lines and buckets that often end up in the Quay or in landfill, you can hire sustainable Gilly sets from The Little Blue Hut located on Wells Quay near the Harbour Masters Office.

Each Gilly set includes a metal bucket, hessian hand-made drop nets and hessian baited bags – just add water!

£6 to hire one set
£10 for two sets
Returnable ready-baited hessian bags are available for £2 each

Open daily at weekends and school holidays from April to October 10am-4pm weather permitting. Cash and card taken. Further information on Facebook.

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-usable garden bucket or hire a metal one, rather than buying 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 tap water because that will harm the crabs. Use the pump by the pontoon entrance ramp (by the harbour office) to fill your bucket with fresh seawater.

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. Hooks should not be used as these can be dangerous.

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.

Drop nets may make gillying easier but it’s much more fun to use a traditional crab line and watch the crabs cling to the bait as you reel them in!

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 too many at a time as they need room to move and breath. Crabs are solitary creatures and don’t like crowded spaces. The more crabs in your bucket, the more oxygen is used up so return them to the sea as soon as you can. Don’t put bait in your bucket as this also uses up essential oxygen.

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.

If it’s a hot day, try to keep your bucket in the shade and add fresh seawater every hour or so, otherwise the crabs could boil.

At the end of your successful crabbing adventure, don’t be tempted to throw your catch straight over the quay – return the crabs to the water gently, ideally at the water’s edge, then someone else gets the fun of catching them again tomorrow.

Final Points

The use of drop nets is discouraged as they can trap marine life and get tangled around boat propellers if lost or discarded.

Please take all your rubbish (and gillying gear if you’re using your own) home with you.

Remember – if you leave it on the quay, it ends up in the sea!

Happy Crabbing!