An amateur's guide to DIY crustacean hunting
FEAST I'll admit, the prospect of DIY crabbing during our Bodega Bay camping trip was enough to give me pause. But the thought of a pot full of freshly caught crabs cooking over a campfire was enough to kick off a quest to add "amateur crabber" to my resume.
Taking a cue from our stomachs, my camping crew did some research. We needed advice and supplies, and a single trip to the Outer Richmond yielded both.
The owners of Gus' Discount Fishing Tackle were happy to help some flailing first-time crabber, and outfitted my group with a circular crabbing net, rope, bait bag, and crab measuring gauge. Since we were venturing outside the city for our quarry, we opted to buy bait closer to our crabbing site (the better to avoid a fish-scented car.) Upon our arrival in Bodega Bay, we headed to Diekmann's Bay Store for frozen mackerel and squid (for the crabs) and deli sandwiches (for the humans.)
Well armed, we made our way to the rock jetty that stretches past the harbor in Bodega Bay's Doran Park. We picked out a sunny, unoccupied stretch of rock, chopped up some mackerel — the bloodier the better, we were advised, since crabs hunt with their noses — zip-tied our bait bag to the bottom of the net, and tossed it into the bay. Then we got busy chatting, snacking, and getting tips from other crabbers. (One entrepreneurial crab hunter suggested using a barely-open can of cat food as bait, but we stuck with the mackerel and squid to preserve the natural order of things.)
Every 20 minutes or so, we pulled our net in to see if it had snagged any crustacean treasures. We didn't have much luck snagging specimens that met California Department of Fish and Wildlife size requirements — 5.75 inches for Dungeness (in season until June 30th), four inches for rock and red crabs (in season yearround.) We successfully netted one beefy Dungeness and one rock crab.
One of our neighbors (not the cat food guy) was a little more lucky, and managed to pull in what seemed like buckets of crabs. We begged for tips, but he was using the same trap and same bait that we were. We decided that staking out a good spot on the jetty was everything when it came to crabbing, and noted that many of our more-experienced peers took a more mobile approach to the hunt.
And then: seals. When the other crabbers saw them, they began to pack up and leave. We thought they were cute.
Pro crabbing tip: seals are not cute. If they arrive while your net is submerged, they are most likely after your bait and you are done crabbing for the day. If you stick around, you'd better be OK with your bait cage being dismantled by their nimble maws or losing your bait bag entirely. Or both.
When one of the seals was beelined for our net, we moved to the opposite side of the jetty, but to no avail. Five minutes later, it resurfaced, bait bag in mouth. To the excitement of a pack of squawking seagulls, the seal ripped it open and devoured its contents — the last of our bait.
Bait bag decimated, dreams of crab feast crushed, we headed home with the two crabbies we'd managed to catch.
They were delicious.
3710 Balboa, SF
1275 Highway 1, Bodega Bay
201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay
Day use: open 7am to sunset; $7 per vehicle
Campsite: check-in 2pm, check-out 12pm; $26–$32 per campsite