Here is my crabbing gear: pot, bait box, line, buoy, weight and measuring guide

Crabbing for beginners: How to catch and prepare Dungeness Crabs

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 Anything specifying a regulation here may be out of date so be sure to check with your local Fish and Wildlife agency before engaging in any kind of fishing activity.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

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

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

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

Cooked crab for dinner

Fishing in SE Alaska

The Lodge

The Lodge

As I posted a couple weeks ago, It’s Vacation Time, I spent 5 days fishing in Southeast Alaska with family. Here is the overview of the trip highlighting one of many possible destinations for an Alaskan Fishing Adventure.

Getting there
For us, being from the Seattle area it isn’t a bad trip. We fly from Seattle to Ketchikan on Alaska Airlines. The Ketchikan International Airport is situated on an island across from the small town. It’s an interesting flight into the airport between the cruise ships and fishing boats crowding the harbor and the seaplanes taking off and landing everywhere. After getting off the plane we have to take a seaplane to our ultimate destination. We check-in with Pacific Airways and then head down to the seaplane dock right outisde the airport doors. You climb aboard the seaplane and fly to the amazing Clover Bay Lodge over on Prince of Wales Island. Now you are ready to go fishing.

The Seaplane off to the lodge from Ketchikan

The Seaplane off to the lodge from Ketchikan

Time at the lodge
Once you are at the lodge, and you get your license, it is fishing from dawn ’till dusk with meals in between. You head out in an 18 foot skiff that comfortably takes up to 3 people. The boat is equipped with all the gear you need: rods and reels for salmon and halibut, tackle, bait etc. You are free to explore the area, but honestly, most people wind up congregating wherever the fishing was best most recently. When you head in for meals, your hopefully full fish box, is taken by the dock staff. The fish are cleaned, vacuum bagged and frozen for you. Over meals and evening drinks the conversation naturally leans toward who caught the biggest Salmon or Halibut and where! Plans are made for the next outing and the cycle starts over.

Heading out in search of Salmon

Heading out in search of Salmon

Mornings start early for most of us. People start heading out just as the sky begins to lighten, around 4:30 AM. Then some folks will go out after dinner and fish until the sun sets around 9:30 PM. It makes for a long day but I don’t know anywhere else where the fishing is this incredible. Add in the spectacular Alaskan scenery and wildlife. The wildlife we regularly see includes eagles, black bears, deer, porpoises and whales. Every year I have gone up we have had lots of whale sightings including some very close encounters. Typically we will watch humpbacks and sometimes there are orcas as well.

Going Home
Heading back to regular life is just like heading to Alaska except in reverse. However, there is the added burden of at least one or more 50 pound boxes of fresh Alaskan fish. Most of us have an extra freezer for the fish we bring back. I also recommend a smoker because fresh smoked salmon is a wonderful treat.

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It’s Vacation Time!

Most of the time we  write about things to do and see on the weekend — all within easy access of Seattle. However, August this year is vacation time for our family. There will be less time spent visiting the Briny Beach Cabin than we do the rest of the year and a bit more time out away from Washington State.

First on the agenda is a trip up north to Clover Bay Lodge, just outside of Ketchikan, AK. During this trip there is lots of time spent fishing for salmon and halibut and plenty of viewing of the wildlife including eagles and bears. Here is Chef Ellie from Kid Foodie after catching her first big one!

Her first fish!

Her first fish!

After Alaska and a couple weeks back at work it’s off to Frankfort, MI and a week spent on the white sand beaches of Lake Michigan, also known as The Third Coast.

The beach in Northern Michigan

The beach in Northern Michigan

As soon as we get back from our visit to Michigan a couple of us will head off to the happiest place on earth for one last bit of fun before it’s back to school and work!

Main Street USA in Disneyland!

Main Street USA in Disneyland!

Hopefully that will hold us over for a while. Chef Ellie will be heading back to school. I will be out of vacation for the rest of the year and we will be back to focusing our weekends on exploring sights around home.

A little unsure on the first day of Kindergarten, a very long time ago.

A little unsure on the first day of Kindergarten, a very long time ago.

Check back for the story of these adventures and as we enjoy August together.