Words and photos by Nate Watters
Crabbing is one of those activities you have to try at least once if you live in the Pacific Northwest and love spending time outdoors. If you do try it once, chances are you’ll be hooked. With easy access to the coastline from anywhere in western Washington or Oregon and especially easy access to Puget Sound for those who live in Western Washington, crabbing and other saltwater adventures are something to take full advantage of. Be sure to check the calendar provided by your state Fish and Wildlife department to assure that the season is open for crabbing before you head out, and also make sure to pick up a license on the way.
A recent crabbing trip to Anacortes in our boat found us in an overnight slip at Cap Sante Marina on a Saturday evening. After a quick dinner and a few nightcaps, we turned in for a quick night’s sleep. Sunday morning came fast, so we headed out toward Saddlebag Island, just northeast of Anacortes. We baited our traps with salmon carcasses from last season’s salmon catch and dropped our pots in various locations in 30-50 feet of water. If you don’t catch your own salmon, carcasses can be bought at most stores that process fish, and sometimes even grocery stores. In a pinch, chicken also works great, and sometimes even catches more crab than salmon will.
Leaving pots out for at least a couple of hours is key – usually the longer the better, though crabs can sometimes find their way out of even the best traps. With that in mind, we headed out for a cruise around Guemes and Cypress Islands for a little taste of the San Juans. Amazing scenery and plentiful parks and beaches to check out along the way make for a scenic ride and a perfect way to kill a few hours.
Once back at the crabbing grounds, we located our pots and pulled them up into the boat one at a time. This day wasn’t particularly productive, but we did manage a few nice sized Dungeness between our four pots – a prized catch in the northwest. The Red Rock Crab is the other type of crab commonly found in the Puget Sound, though we didn’t catch any on this day. Arguably just as tasty, the Red Rocks are harder to break into due to thicker shells that tend to shatter rather than crack open. With the season coming to an end, we loaded our catch into the cooler and headed home to feast.
One of the most important things to remember is that crabs need to be kept alive until you cook or clean them. Simply submerging crabs in a cooler or bucket full of water will work for a very short time, but they will eventually use up all of the oxygen in the water and die. The best method I’ve found is to use a well-insulated cooler with a small amount of ice or an ice pack inside. The Cascade Mountain Tech 80 QT Super Cooler worked wonders for us in that regard. Once your crabs are in the cooler, cover them with a wet towel, and keep the lid of the cooler cracked open slightly for oxygen flow – this will keep them alive for at least a few hours.
The great thing about crabbing is that it requires a very small investment to get into and the payoff can be very rewarding once you figure out where to go. A decent trap, 100 feet of line, and a buoy (a red and white buoy with your name and address clearly marked is required by law for each crab trap you have) can cost as little as $40. After that, all you need is bait and a way to get your trap into the water. If you don’t have a boat, you can use a kayak, a raft, or even a stand-up paddleboard to get you out to where the crab are (usually anywhere from 35-75 feet of water is a good bet).
Easier still, find a fishing pier anywhere in the area and head out with a few cold beverages and some friends for a few hours of fun. Your chances get better if you can get out beyond the piers, but crabbing from the docks can be a good intro course, and chances are good that you’ll be able to glean some information from the locals fishing there. However you decide to get out there, summertime in the Northwest doesn’t last long, but crabbing is a perfect way to get out with friends, enjoy some sun, and come back with your catch for a sunny evening crab boil in the backyard.