Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Crab Quest Part 1: The idea

There’s an easy way and a hard way to tackle a new project.

The easy way is to surround yourself with knowledgeable people who can share their skills and show you, step by step, how to get the job done.

The hard way is to be bullheaded and plow forward, woefully ignorant, and learn through a series of mistakes and small disasters, only consulting the experts afterward to determine what went wrong.

The hard way is the method I’m most familiar with and I’m pursuing in my quest for Dungeness crabs in the waters here on the North Coast of California.


I don’t recall exactly when it happened, but earlier this year I saw something that sparked my interest in crabbing.

I was cruising around Trinidad Bay in my sea kayak when I observed a lone individual in a pickup drive up to the beach and quickly launch a small aluminum boat filled with a couple crab pots. He jumped in the boat and roared off into the ocean, disappearing in the fog bank. About five or ten minutes later he returned – minus the crab pots – loaded his boat onto the trailer and sped off.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but later it got me pondering – the individual I saw single handedly set his crab pots in about 15 minutes. It would probably take him about the same amount of time to retrieve the pots and his catch.

If I could somehow copy his method, I could squeeze crabbing into a normal workday – dropping pots in the morning and retrieving them in the afternoon, all the while maintaining my work schedule without missing a beat. Then, in the evening, we could enjoy fresh crab, all free-of-charge and courtesy of Mother Nature.

Catching crabs wouldn’t be a social affair or a leisurely expedition. It would be a quick harvest, like stopping at the local market on the way home from work to pick up dinner, but without the cash register. It was pure genius.

All I needed to do was pluck these delicacies off the ocean floor. How hard could that be?


Ideally, I would like to have a 20,000-square-foot steel building filled with a variety of boats and related equipment to meet all my maritime needs – small and large sailboats, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, speed boats, hover craft, dories, paddle wheel boats, Zodiacs, torpedo boats, barges, submarines, destroyers, and, of course, a small tug boat.

And in the case of crabbing, I would like to start with a 26-foot aluminum boat with duel outboards, center console, GPS, depth finder, electric winch and a few Victoria’s Secret models to serve as deckhands.

But I’m of modest means and my garage is small, so that setup will have to wait. Here’s what I have for crabbing:

• A 14.5-foot Perception Carolina sea kayak with rudder. The boat is basically an elongated Clorox Bleach bottle with room for one person. Even if I had a Victoria’s Secret model volunteer to be a deckhand, we wouldn’t both be able to squeeze into the cockpit (Although we would certainly try.) The kayak is sturdy, lightweight, nearly maintenance free and can be dragged over rocks. It moves quickly through the water and there’s no engine to breakdown and cause headaches.

• Due to the laws of physics, my crab pot needed to be lightweight – something that could be raised from the kayak without flipping me over. I purchased a lightweight “crab trap” from Murphy’s Market in Trinidad for $29. It’s a square trap and measures a little more than 2’x2’ There are little doors on each side that swing open and allow crabs to crawl inside, but close behind them. This traps the crabs inside. The entire contraption breaks down flat for easy transporting. By the way, Murphy’s has a nice selection of crabbing and clamming gear and the guys in the butcher shop are very helpful.

• I purchased 100 feet of nylon rope at McKinleyville Ace Hardware and I found an old float in my garage. The nice thing about Ace Hardware rope is that it comes with a velcro strap that holds it all together. Those straps come in handy for holding the crab trap on a kayak, although I still use some rope to make sure it’s secure.

• I purchased a “crab gauge” for $1.49 that is used make sure the crabs I catch are legal to keep. It’s tied to a rope.

• In the event that I actually catch some crabs, I have a blue canvas bag to put them in.

• I have a pocket knife that is wickedly sharp.

• I’ve got all sorts of little ropes to tie all this junk onto my kayak.

• I have a lifejacket which I wear religiously whenever in the water. I’ll spare you the safety lecture and just say this: I’ve written my fair share of stories about people – some of whom I personally knew – who died in the water but would have survived with a simple lifejacket.

• I have a valid California fishing license pinned to my fancy, over-priced Pantagonia stocking cap, which makes me look clownish and silly, but keeps me warm.

So with all this equipment, and appropriate attire, I was ready to go crabbing.
(Coming soon: Jack goes crabbing and gets wet and wild with a whale.)


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