I grew up fishing for walleye, northern pike, and bluegills on Springstead Lake in northern Wisconsin. I remember long hours sitting in a metal boat with an outboard motor, casting and recasting, occasionally bobber fishing, slowly learning which fish were bottom feeders, which ones liked to hide in snags (which were magnets for my lures), the favored baits, the right lure colors for time of day, etc. Fisherperson stuff. But mostly I remember stifling heat and crushing disappointment.
Here’s the story. I was 11 or 12, and we’d been on the water for 4 hours with nary a nibble. We were trolling through some shallows on our way back to the cabin, stopping here and there for some last casts before dinner, when suddenly I had a 3 ft. long musky on the end of my line. I could see it only 3 ft below, the kind of fish you mount on oak with lots of shellac. My dad quickly reeled in his own line and started coaching me on how to set the hook and land the thing, but moments after the fish realized its snack was attached to something, it opened its mouth and spit out my lure. I think I bawled. Fishing was pretty much over for me for a few years.
When you think of fishing in the Pacific Northwest, you probably think of salmon. Not me. Fishing for salmon is complicated; you need lots of gear and usually a big boat. For the first 7 years in Washington state, the only fishing tackle I owned was a $20 collapsible rod and a #2 Mepps spinner. I carry these on backpacking trips, because those alpine lakes are usually packed with hungry trout, and there is nothing more delicious at 7000 feet than fried fish. I know of one alpine lake in the North Cascades with fish so hungry you can catch them on a paperclip and a flower petal. True story.
For the first 7 years we lived in the Pacific Northwest, we only cared about what lay to the east: the North Cascades mountain range. I vaguely knew that there was a big body of water to my left (west) but I wasn’t “into” any water sports, so Puget Sound was little more than a pretty backdrop. But last year we bartered for a heavy old aluminum canoe, because I heard I you could catch crab out on Bellingham Bay with a very small investment in gear and know-how. That’s my kind of hobby, and I love to eat dungeness crab. It might top my list of favorite foods. When Josh and I started dating many moons ago I made him a crab dinner and he wasn’t impressed, and I wondered if the relationship really had a future. It’s still not his favorite food, but he’s come around.
Crabbing season opened last week, and we were excited to get the boat out on the water. We had big expectations.
The season is open Thursdays-Mondays in this area, so we paddled out and dropped our pots on Thursday after work and excitedly paddled back out on Friday to pull them up.
Just one lonely female (which had to be thrown back). That’s the face of disappointment. Let’s have a closer look.
Day 2, same story. So our first weekend of the season was a bust, and as Gen-Xers, our attention span for an activity is closely tied to feelings of success and achievement. We waffled about whether or not it was worth the time and effort of the paddle the following weekend. Fortunately, we talked ourselves into it, and now have a different story to tell:
Crabs have to meet 3 criteria to be keepers:
- They have to be larger than 6 1/4″ (this varies by region)
- They have to be male
- They can’t be soft-shell, which means they’re just finishing a molt and need to be left alone to get bigger for next year.
We didn’t quite catch our daily limit of 5 each, but we were close.
The best way to cook crab is in the seawater from whence it came. Although we transported the cleaned crab in a bucket of cool seawater, it was unfortunately too muddy for consumption, so I boiled them in 2-3 gallons of tap water and about 1 c. of sea salt. It works, but it’s not quite as good. After they cooled, we spent about an hour cracking crabs and portioned the lump crabmeat out into 1-lb freezer bags. Josh added a couple of tablespoons of milk to each bag before putting them in the freezer. (Someone reliable told him it would prevent freezer burn and seal in the moisture.) We’ll enjoy crab bisque and crab salad all winter long!
Many thanks to Puget Sound for sharing your bounties. In exchange for your crab, I promise not to let my vehicles leak oil onto the pavement, or wash my car near sewers that drain directly into Whatcom Creek, which runs straight into Bellingham Bay. I’ll dispose of leftover prescription medicine properly, so as not to further medicate the fish, who are already amped up on Prozac. I will not use plastic bags, many of which make their way to the giant island of garbage in the middle of the ocean. I won’t use fertilizers to keep my grass green, or pesticides on my apple trees. Let’s take care of each other, you and I.