Life for the hermit is tricky to say the least. It doesn’t grow a hard shell all over its body. Instead it settles for an armoured front end but relies on old whelk shells to provide most of its posterior protection. Once installed in a suitably vacant shell the hermit sticks its pincers and two pairs of legs out of the front. It uses these forelegs to drag its cocooned soft abdomen along the sea bed.
As it outgrows one shell, it looks for larger vacant accommodation. Once out of its home it is extremely vulnerable to predator attack and it has to make a dash for its new residence. A mistake at this stage can be fatal. Even when it finds a new shell it may be forced to share. Parasitic barnacles and small worms are regular lodgers inside shells occupied by hermits and sponges.
Gathering hermits is easy. If you’re short of time it can pay to strike a deal with offshore fishermen. These men often work the sort of depths that hermit crabs like. For a pound or two, or the odd bottle of whisky, you can guarantee a constant supply of prime hermit. Alternatively, use a large baited drop net to pick up supplies yourself. Hermit crabs are great scavengers and are drawn to anything that resembles a meal – an old mackerel carcass is enough to do the trick.
Keep them in top condition in a bucket of sea water. They keep for a fairly long time if you change the water regularly.
To extract the crab from the shell, use a gentle but constant pulling action. To make things even easier drop them in a container of fresh water. This makes them very lethargic and easy to extract.
Hermit crab makes an excellent bait for smooth hound and stingray. They also work well for bass, plaice, codling and dogfish.
For inshore work hermits can be float fished or paternostered for large wrasse. At best, hermit is a very delicate bait. You can cast them but they don’t stand up well for long-range work. For this reason they are rarely used by beach anglers. They are considered more of a dinghy or boat angler’s bait. But in areas where smooth hound and stingray come close inshore, hermits are well worth a try from the beach.
When hooking one you must take great care not to rupture the jelly-like tail sac. Pass the hook through the harder shell at the top of the body. Choose your hook size according to the size of hermit crab and the sort of fish you’re after. You can fish two at a time.
For plaice it often helps to pinch off the hermit’s head and claws – leaving enough body shell for hooking purposes. Pass a size 1/0 hook through the body remains and bring it out where the soft abdomen starts. This gives a good secure hold without damaging the bait.
For targeting larger species use the whole hermit on a size 2/0-4/0 O’Shaughnessy hook. Pass the hook right through the harder body shell, taking care not to rupture the soft parts.