You will find a random sand crab here there if you dig enough, but what you really want to find is a bed of them. This is pretty easy with one exception – bean clams. Freakin’ bean clam beds look very similar, and at some beaches (like TP) they are just about as common sometimes. You’ll hear “look for the V’s in the sand” to find sand crab beds, but bean clam beds do this too. Also, you may find these two types of beds overlapping, which just makes it harder to make bait because you’re picking thru the bean clams. Eventually, you’ll figure out how to tell the difference pretty easily.
So you find a bed… now what? You can dig with your hands as you need them, a lot of people do. I prefer to get “enough” bait, whatever that may be at the time, that way when I get a wide open bite I’m ready. Using something like a plastic (so it doesn’t corrode) collander makes this much easier. Or, if you want to make bait in under 10 seconds, you can use something like a sand crab “trap”…
Now your hand/collander/trap is full of sand crabs… what are you looking for? You’re looking for sand crabs big enough to cover up your (most likely #6) hook. Typically this is a crab as big as a nickel or so. They aren’t always around, early and late in their cycle you’ll find “micros”. Dime sized sand crabs placed back to back on the hook work well too.
Another key is finding female sand crabs with roe, the bright orange egg sack seen in the photo above. If possible, you want every crab in your bait holder to have the orange roe. You will find that fish will actually pick off the roe without taking the bait. If they’re really bad about this, try placing the crab on the hook so the point comes out through the roe.
Also, like other crabs, sand crabs molt and go thru a “soft shell” mode, they’re a lighter grey and mushier. These are little juicy delicacies, but I’ve found I only get one cast to get a fish before I have to replace them.
As for the fishing, it’s not a bad idea to concentrate your fishing areas around the sand crab beds as well. Sand crabs are a natural food source for the surf line fish, so they’ll likely know where the sand crab beds are located and be hanging nearby.