Friday, December 16, 2005

Crab Quest Part III: Crabbing under a full moon

My crab mentor gave me excellent advice. He instructed me on what bait to use, where to drop my trap and when to go. He also mentioned something about “bait cups” and offered to help me make one.

I turned down the offer because I thought I had a bait cup, even though I didn’t.

As Donald Rumsfeld once said, “...there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

That pretty much summed up what I knew, or didn’t know, about bait cups. All I knew was that I had a small cage filled with bait. It looked like a bait cup, but it wasn’t. Or was it?

On Dec. 6 I woke up, did some chores, made the 10-minute drive to Trinidad, launched my kayak and dropped my crab trap. It was quick and uneventful. Within an hour, I was back to work filling racks with newspapers, returning phone calls and going about my daily routine.

Later that afternoon I returned to Trinidad to retrieve my trap. Everything was going smooth. A porpoise swam by me. I located the buoy marking my trap and pulled it up with great anticipation. I was disappointed to discover I had caught a single, tiny starfish. There was no crab and my bait was gone.

Two words came to me: Bait and cup. I wasn’t sure what a bait cup was, but I knew I needed one.

So it was back to the expert, who explained that a bait cup is a container with small holes that holds your bait. He suggested an empty plastic peanut butter jar with small 1/4-inch holes drilled in it. The container would be suspended from the top of the inside of the crab trap. The small cage, from which my squid escaped, should be reserved for larger bait, like old chicken pieces.

So I took his advice and returned a week later on Dec. 13. Once again, I set my pot in the early afternoon with plans to return a couple hours later.

Unfortunately, there was more work to do that day then I expected. Two separate newspaper racks were jammed and required some serious TLC. Such is the glamorous life of a small-town newspaper publisher. After the racks were repaired, I raced home and connected my trailer and kayak to the car. The sun was already setting and I didn’t relish the idea of kayaking on the ocean at night. When I think of nighttime and the ocean, the opening scene of “Jaws” comes to mind.

When I arrived, several other crabbers were coming and going and the sun was casting an orange glow on the beach. To the east a full moon was rising.

I literally ran down with the kayak in tow to the surf. I wanted to paddle out, get my trap and return before it was dark.

I paddled fast and located my trap just yards from the red buoy south of Prisoner Rock.

As I pulled it up, it felt heavier than usual. As it neared the surface, I noticed things crawling around inside. There were eight Dungeness crabs inside, and almost all of them looked to be legal size.

This is when I noticed a problem. The trap was heavy and while I was able to pull it to the surface, I was unable to lift it onto the kayak. This wouldn’t have been a problem in a regular boat – I’m capable of lifting the weight. But in a kayak, a sudden thrust could result in the boat capsizing. I struggled with the trap and eventually found a solution – I flipped the entire trap upside down and let it land on top of the kayak. Explaining the physics of this maneuver and why it worked would probably require a diagram and some mathematical equations. Suffice it to say, I got the job done, but it was uncomfortable. Had there been any more crabs in the trap, it would have been a questionable maneuver.

I tossed one small crab back because it was undersized. For good luck, I tossed a legal size crab back in the ocean. That left me with six big Dungeness crabs.

By the time I returned to the beach, it was dark except for the light of the full moon overhead. I placed to crabs in the sealed rear compartment of my kayak and returned home – victorious.

For the next several days, we dined on crab – crab with butter, crab with cocktail sauce, crab sandwiches and crab cakes. And, sometimes, just plain crab. Delicious.

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