With the arrival of autumn, I’m taking this opportunity to look back at the summer which seems to have gone by all too quickly.
One of the summer pleasures of living in the coastal region of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. is crab season. The waters of the Salish Sea are typically abundant with delectable Dungeness crab, yours for the taking with a crab pot, some bait, and a valid crab license from Washington Fish and Wildlife Department. It also helps to have friends with a boat to carry you out to the deeper waters where these shellfish tend to congregate.
I am lucky to have such friends and was invited (okay I ‘fished’ for the invitation). to go along with them one summer Sunday ‘crabbing’ in the bay. The thought of coming home with a bucket of Dungeness for dinner set me in action. I hopped out of bed early to meet them at the boat launch by 7 a.m. I grabbed my plastic bucket, my camera, a thermal bag with packed snacks and a bottle of water and headed out the door. Low tide had just passed; the water was flat and smooth. It would have perfect for kayaking if the skies hadn’t been so smoke-filled from the fires burning in British Columbia to the north. The sun was a ball of red, as seen through the smokey cover.
We had the bay to ourselves as we headed out towards nearby Portage Island where my friend Roger’s brother reported catching his limit of crab the day before. Each license holder in Washington is entitled to five crabs. They must be males and measure more than six and three-quarters inches across the back of their shell from point to point. Roger pointed the bow of the boat towards the West and we sped off.
Portage Island is a small, uninhabited island located just off the Lummi Peninsula, north of Bellingham, WA. and is part of the Lummi Nation‘s Tribal Lands. During very low tides, it is possible to walk from the island to the peninsula, which is how. it is said, the cattle that roam free on the island arrived. People too are welcome on the island for day trips to explore its 1,400 square miles and observe the bird and wildlife that live there.
As we approached the southeastern point of Portage, Roger slowed the boat and switched on the radar. We were looking for a spot that was ideally 65 feet for the crab pots. We bobbed around for a while until we found a spot closer to Hale’s Passage that was deep enough. Roger cut the engine and lifted one of the two rectangular metal cage pots onto the side of the boat. Tina, his wife and my friend, opened the bag of chicken parts that had been soaked in sardine liquid to make the bait more attractive to the crabs.
The pot was tossed overboard, along with the buoys attached to them so that we could find then later. Roger steered the boat out further looking for another possible location. After cruising around a bit, we settled on a spot that was about 70 feet deep and threw the second crab pot, loaded with the chicken bait into the water. Now we had only to relax and wait an hour before we would haul up the pots and pull out our fresh shellfish.
Tina turned on some rock music on the player as we kicked back, munched on our snacks and enjoyed the cooler temperatures brought by the smoke-covered skies. Part of the ritual of crabbing is this waiting time filled with talking, laughing and eating. Before we knew it, an hour had passed. Roger started the boat and we motored back to our first crab pot.
Roger attached the handle to the pulley and began to crank in the metal wire pot. All three of us were anxious to see just how many of the shelled creatures we’d caught. Water streamed from the pot as it lifted out of the water. About half a dozen crabs sat in the bottom. With the pot balanced on the side of the boat, Roger lifted them out of the pot one by one, their large claws pinching as he did. Carefully, he rotated each one so that Tina could measure each one. Disappointed, we tossed one after another back as they weren’t large enough to keep. By the end, we had one keeper.
But we weren’t discouraged, we still had another pot to check. We moved the boat over to that buoy and repeated the process. Unfortunately, none of the crabs in that pot measured up.
Not dissuaded, Tina loaded the pots with more chicken and we pitched them overboard once again to give it a second chance. And again we waited patiently another hour with our hopes still high that we’d haul in a mess of the tasty crustaceans. When the hour had passed, we pulled up the pots once again.
Our luck was slightly better this second time but not overwhelmingly so. Although there were several crabs in each of the two pots, only three were large enough for us to take home. By now, we had invested nearly four hours of the day to this adventure and though we had started out early, it was already nearly noon. We still had to get back to shore, hose off and clean the boat, take the crab back to Tina and Roger’s house where we’d cook them in a pot of boiling water (the worst part of the process for me) so that they’d be ready to eat later that day.
That evening, we sat down to our separate dinners to savor our catch of the day. To say that there’s nothing like a mouthful of that sweet, white and flaky crab meat taken fresh from the water that very day is an understatement. I’ve now lived in the Pacific Northwest for a little more than 20 years and I still am grateful and excited whenever I have a meal made of food caught, grown and cooked right from the waters and farm fields of my surrounding area. There truly is nothing that compares to the taste.
For me, catching and eating fresh crab is now part of my summer. I can not imagine a summer without it. Crab season lingers into the fall as the leaves begin to turn color but the activity is mostly something I now associate with summer. And although autumn is clearly here, and gives me something to look forward to for next summer.