Crabbing is one the best, most easily accessible recreational fisheries there is. You do not need a bunch of special gear or tackle. You just need a couple of things, easily obtainable from your local sporting goods supply store. Then you need a little bit of knowledge and you will be set. Ok, let’s get started.
What do you need
First and foremost, get a license and be legal. In Washington state you can get your license through Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. They will also provide you with the most current regulations and information about seasons. Anything specifying a regulation here may be out of date so be sure to check with your local Fish and Wildlife agency before engaging in any kind of fishing activity. Failure to have a current license or to follow regulations will result in dumping whatever you caught, fines and potentially jail.
Now that we got the serious part out of the way, let’s go shopping for our crab gear. Everything you need can be found at your local sporting goods store that sells fishing gear. Often hardware stores will also carry this stuff when crabbing is in season. You will need one crab pot, there are requirements for the pot, so again, check with your local fishery agency. In Washington State each person is allowed to fish two pots, maybe you get two. You will need line, between 100 and 150 feet. You will need a crab buoy so you can find and retrieve your pot and the bounty inside. If the line you get is the type that floats you will need a line weight. You will want a measuring guide to make sure the crabs you keep are the proper size. Finally, you will want to have a bait box or something to hold the bait and keep the crabs interested.
Here is my crabbing gear: pot, bait box, line, buoy, weight and measuring guide
Do I need a boat?
I believe most people use a boat to go crabbing, it certainly makes more areas accessible. However, you do not need to crab from a boat. You can crab from a pier or you could use a kayak or even a paddle board. Using different techniques than I describe here you can even catch crabs in shallow water, where there is eel grass, by scooping them up on a pitchfork or a shovel or a net. Whatever you do, do not let access to a boat be a limiting factor.
When can you go
Your local fishery agency will determine seasons. In Puget Sound the Dungeness season generally runs from roughly the beginning of July through Labor Day weekend. Then they normally have a winter season that starts sometime in October and runs through the end of the year. However, check the rules before heading out.
Where should I go
The most important thing is where. The second most important thing is probably bait. I am primarily talking about Dungeness here. These you will find wherever there is a sandy bottom. I’ve caught them anywhere from 30 feet to 100 feet of water. In Puget Sound you can also fish for Red Rock Crab. These are smaller, but still tasty. You find these where there is a rocky bottom. Watch others and talk to people to see how successful they are at a given location. Don’t give up, sometimes you have to be patient to find a productive spot.
What bait should I use
Common wisdom tells us that crabs will eat anything. Therefore you can use anything for bait and people do. You will see people using everything from salmon to chicken to cat food. I have had the most success using salmon. If you go to the fish counter at your local grocery store they will often sell you, or give you in some cases, the trimmings and heads and spines from the salmon. This is pure gold as bait.
Catch some crabs
Load your bait box up with bait, make sure the doors on your pot open and the lid is shut. Carefully lower your pot into the water. You will want to make sure you have enough line so the pot actually touches the bottom. You will want to allow at least another 15 feet of line beyond the pot touching down to allow for the tide change. If you are using a line weight be sure to attach it to the line after you play out a few feet of line beyond the pot touching down. You do not want your line floating on top of the water when the tide goes out and you have excess line in the water. It can get caught in the boat props.
Now you wait for your pot to fill up. How long you wait depends on you. Some people leave the pot overnight. I have even talked to folks who will leave it for a week. My secret is that I only leave the pot for one to two hours. I try to time that around a tide change. My theory is that once the bait is gone there is nothing to keep the crabs interested and it is possible for them to get out. Also, if the spot you are in isn’t working then you can move and try a different spot. If you choose to leave your pot overnight or for a long period of time be sure to weight it down. People lose pots all the time from the current sweeping them into deeper water.
I have a pot full of crabs, now what?
You pull up your pot and it is full of crabs. Now you need to sort them. Today in Washington you can keep 5 properly sized, 6 1/4″ or greater, male crab per day. Get rid of the females and juveniles.
To handle the crabs grab them at the back, far away from the claws. They will be a little more subdued if you flip them onto their back. Use your measuring tool to check the width. You measure at the widest part of the back shell. To identify the females flip the crabs over onto their backs. The ones with the wide abdominal apron are females, the narrow abdominal apron designates the males. Finally, make sure none of the crabs are in the soft shell stage. To check push the elbow of the claw forward and gently press on the body where the claw normally covers. If it depresses the crab is soft and you should return it. Carefully return the crabs you cannot keep to the water.
Clean and cook the crabs
You have a choice, you can cook the crabs and then clean them, or clean them and then cook them. I prefer the latter. To clean them pop out the abdominal apron then pull the back shell off and the body of the crab will come out in two pieces. You can also just flip them onto their back and quickly slice them in half with a quick, hard blow from a large knife. Then pull the back shell off.
Now, pull the mouth parts and the gray lungs off. Then clean the gunk out by spraying with a hose or dunking them in and out of water.
A batch of cleaned crabs
Next you need to cook them. I advise cooking them outside. The odor from cooking crabs indoors lingers for a while. Bring a pot of water to a boil. I season the water with some crushed garlic cloves, and either salt or Old Bay. Once the water is boiling, toss your cleaned crabs in and boil for fourteen minutes.
Cooking crabs in a pot of boiling water seasoned with Old Bay and Garlic
Time to eat
Now put the bowls of crabs on the table. Serve with melted butter and squeeze some lemon juice into the butter. Sourdough bread and corn on the cob are great sides. Enjoy!
Cooked crab for dinner