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Looking for a unique, family-friendly activity this Summer? The Pacific Northwest is a great place to learn to catch and cook crabs! This activity is suitable for all ages and with a few tips in hand, you’ll be able to reach your catch limit in less than two hours!
Here is what you will need!
- License: You can either get an annual license or a 15-day license. These are both sold online through the state, or at a sporting goods store. If you are crabbing for red crab, you will only need a Shellfish License and aren’t required to record how many you catch. With Dungeness Crabs, you need a Fishing License and a Catch Record Card that you will need to turn in at the end of the season. Kids 15 and younger do not need a license, but will need to submit a Catch Record. You can easily submit these online. Be sure to keep your Catch Record on you to avoid the $80 fine!
- Trap: There are two options here!
- Cooler filled with ice (to help calm down any feisty crabs!)
- Bait (fish head, chicken drum sticks)
- Zip ties
The first of the season typically starts in early July and runs until around Labor Day. There are some restrictions on which days you can go crabbing, and this will vary by location. It’s best to check regulations for your area before you go. Regulations for Washington can be viewed here.
Our family goes crabbing in the Des Moines area, which is Zone 11. Here, you can only go crabbing on Sundays and Mondays to protect the supply. There are a few different places in the area, like Redondo or the Des Moines Marina. We prefer the marina because you can go crabbing right off the pier. I like to drop my net cages and tie them off, then head over to The Quarterdeck! This is an amazing coffeeshop located just a few yards away from the pier! You can expect to catch Red Rock Crab off the pier in Des Moines. Although if you go out in the boat you will have more luck catching Dungeness. However, crabbing by boat requires a lot more gear and there are more restrictions that you may want to research.
The basic restrictions are as follows:
- Limit 6 per day per person/per license
- Shell size needs to be 6.25” for Dungeness and 5’ for red rock
- You can only catch the males
Let go crabbing!
First you will want to zip tie your bait (I use chicken legs) to the bottom of you crab net. (2-3 legs is preferred.) Have one person hold on to the end of the rope, the other person throws the net like a frisbee. Once it reaches the bottom, tie your tope to the railing and set a timer for 15-20 minutes.
When the timer goes off, pull up your net! You will need to move quickly to keep the crab from climbing out. Using your tongs, add your catch to the bucket. Measure your crabs to make sure their bodies are over 5 inches and that they are all males. (Your measuring tool should have a diagram showing you what to look for and how to tell if you have a male or female.) Add the keepers to a cooler full of ice and throw the rest back.
Repeat this process as many times as you’d like or until you get to your catch limit for the day.
If possible, I would get two net traps. Some areas can do better than others so I like to put may traps in two different areas of the pier to cover more area.
For the most part, the further down the pier you go, the better chances you will have of catching something! It can get pretty windy at the end of the pier so I usually stick to about midway down.
Once you get home with your catch, you’ll want to put them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Then, using a canning pot with wire rack, I drop the crab into boiling water and cook with the lid on for 15 minutes. Your crab will be a bright red when it is fully cooked.
Once your crab is fully cooked, you’ll want to add it to an ice water bath. You can either freeze as is or clean and enjoy right away!
To clean your crab, simply pull the top of the shell from the back of the crab, rinse out and remove all of that yellowish-green goo, and you’re all set! Melt some butter and squeeze a bit of lemon and add salt. Crack, dip and enjoy!!!
Red Rock Crab is much more flaky then Dungeness so it can take a bit more work to remove it from the shell but the is so sweet and delicious, it’s worth it!