I don’t know what it is about this odd looking crustacean scavenger that gets me so excited every year when the crab season rolls around. It may be watching the Deadest Catch TV show. Or maybe it’s the thrill of pulling a full pot, not knowing if you’ve hit the crab jackpot in Puget Sound, or if you’re just giving another monster star fish a ride to the surface.
For the most part there is no secret to catching crab with the exception of where to place your traps. Get ready now as the Puget Sound opens for crabbing on 1 July. Now’s the time to start prepping your gear and collecting of supply of crab bait.
You can actually catch crab year round in Puget Sound but we are limited to a summer season and a winter season. Through early summer months crab are molting and usually don’t have much meat in them and also you get a high percentage of female crabs which you can’t keep.
The legal size for Puget Sound caught Dungeness crabs in Washington is 6 1/4 inches across the back, it also must be a hard shell (See WDFW Regulations). The limit for crabs in Washington is 5 Dungeness male crabs per person and for Red Rock crabs is 6 per person either sex is legal on the Red Rocks. You must have a WDFW shellfish license to harvest crab.
Pots: I like two styles of crab pots. Both are made by Danielson. The first is the Danielson standard FTC crab trap. This pot is great for short soaks and its best features it holds lots of crab and its inexpensive to purchase. The other model is the Danielson Octagon trap with ramps. This model has a built in bait holder too. This pot works better for log soaks and when crab get in they can’t get out. It also holds lots of bait. When rigging both models spring for the additional cost and buy the weighted doors, these make a big difference in performance. They keep the crab in when seaweed and hits your trap. All pots must have an escape device tied with rot/escape cord should you lose a pot so the crabs can get out. Again see the WDFW regulations for size and type required.
Both styles of pots I rig with a harness so they can be correctly dropped landing on the bottom right side up. I also add 4-5 pieces of rebar to each pot for weight. The pot fishes much better when it doesn’t move, crab do not like a pot that moves on the bottom. To this I add lead core rope. Again don’t want the pot to move and the lead line sinks so it won’t get tangled up in boat pops like the cheap floating poly yellow line. I run about 150ft, as I fish in areas know for lots of current. You have to add a float red/white with your name, address and phone number on it to be legal. I run a float on a weighted staff and an additional standard float on an 8ft line so it’s easier to see and recover. I hate waiting for low tide to locate a submerged pot and double floats help prevent dragging floats under.
After dropping my pots and marking them on the Lowrance GPS with a way point I usually give my pots a good hour soak, sometimes less if I know there lots of crabs in the area. If I find one depth or area producing better I relocate my string to that area. You are allowed two pots per crabber on the vessel.
A couple of my go to crabbing accessories are the Ace Line Hauler Pot puller. Powered by a Hi-Torque 12V Motor this mounts on the Scotty downrigger base, uses the same plug in for the riggers and makes pulling pots a breeze. It also breaks down for storage. The other must have is a Danielson plastic crab gauge for measuring you crabs.
Bait: My top bait has been fresh salmon parts, tuna carcass, herring, turkey legs or chicken backs over the years. Fresh is the key, crab don’t really care for rotten anything.
Now when I head out to go crabbing I take one bag of frozen bait open the bag and drop it into each crab pot bait container. The contents of these bags fit perfect in the standard size Danielson pot. I have a whole stash of bait bags in the freezer at the ready making my crab fishing easer and much more productive.
Drop this bait down to your favorite crabbing spot and as the bait thaws it will create a burst of chum and scent that any crab in the area just can’t stay away from.
After catching a limited of crabs you want to keep them alive, I just use a bucket of saltwater and change out the water in the bucket as the day goes on.
- Place the crab/s alive in boiling, salted water and cover the pot. There should be enough water so that the crab is completely submerged, plus an additional 4 or 5 inches on top of that. Use about half a cup of salt per gallon of water or straight sea water. Cook for about 15 minutes; 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones, up to 20 minutes for large ones.
- Obviously, the crab will be hot. So, if you want to serve it warm, you’ll need to wear rubber gloves to clean it. Otherwise, put the crab in a bowl of ice water for several minutes and then drain before cleaning.
- To remove the back, hold the base of the crab with one hand and pull the shell away from the body with the other hand.
- Turn the crab over and pull on the triangular-shaped section and lift it away. Turn the crab again and gently scrape away the gills on either side with your thumb or a spoon. Also, throw away the intestine, which runs down the center of the back.
- Most people wash away the “crab butter” (the yellow, mushy stuff in the cavity). But, some consider these organs a delicacy and there are recipes that call for them. So, set them aside if you like.
- Twist off the legs.
- Rinse the rest of the body under cold water and break it in half.
- Crack the legs with a mallet or a crab cracker.
- Dig out the meat with forks or picks or however you can get to it. Eating crab is a messy affair, so just dig in and enjoy.
- Crab meat is typically served with lemon wedges and melted butter.
Remember to mark you’re punch card as soon as you keep a crab. Check the Shellfish Hotline (866) 880-5431 for any season updates or rule changes.
Capt. John Keizer