Crabbing is fun fun! If the kids pull up loads of crabs, or just one, the day will have been a success.
They'll come home with some great memories and maybe enough crabs for dinner.
Before you head out on the water, call the following number to make sure it is safe to collect shellfish in the area: (800) 553-4133. Safe meaning safe to eat. That hotline will tell you which California counties have issues with mussels, clams, crabs, and other shellfish.
Adults will require a fishing license. Your kids might not need one. Be sure to check the CA fishing regulations though. The regulations will give you information about licenses, what types of crabs you can take, the limits for each type, and when you are allowed to take them. For the most part, you’ll be catching rock, red, and dungeness crabs in the bay.
Before you head out, study the crabs a bit with the kids. Number one, you want to make sure you are legal with your catch. Number two, it's good that the kids learn about what they are catching. They should be able to identify the crabs by themselves. That will make them feel like true fishermen, or fisherwomen.
There are basically two types of recreational traps you'll want to consider. Each trap has it's advantages and disadvantages. The first type is a square, fold up, box trap. When these are not in use, you can fold these down flat. That of course will make them easier to transport. When it comes time to go crabbing again, the sides "snap" together fairly easy to make the trap.
If the sides don't snap together firmly enough, think about using some cable ties to make the trap more rigid. Make sure you can get one side open though so that you can dump the crabs out into your boat. You don't want to be reaching into the trap to pull out the crabs. It's hard to pull them out this way. You might get "bitten" in the process.
These fold up box traps have a "entrance door" on each side to allow the crabs to enter. Once the crabs are in, they'll have a hard time trying to get the doors open again. If you're checking the traps the same day, they're basically in the trap for good. You won't have to check these traps that often during the day because of the configuration of the trap.
The following video will give you a lot of good advice on how to setup a box crab trap.
The two ring net is the second type of trap. These nets are always flat, until you pull them up. Once you pull them up, they turn into a funnel and trap the crabs. These are very easy to transport. Also, the holes in the net are very small. When you pull a net like this up, nothing will be able to escape.
There are a few downsides to this trap. Since the trap sits flat on the seabed floor, the crabs will have a chance to just walk out of your traps without a problem. That's the biggest problem.
Also, when you pull the trap up, you'll need to keep pulling it at a steady pace to keep that funnel shape. Then when you get it into the boat, the crabs are going to scramble around a bit if you set it down.
The crabs can get stuck in a trap like this. When the crabs recognize that things have gone all wrong, they will clamp onto the net with their claws. You might have to wait some time to get the smaller crabs out of the trap. Something to try if this happens though is to dip the net into the water a few times. When the crabs hit the water, they usually loosen up a bit.
No matter what type of trap you decide to go with, you'll need a bait box for each trap. Use a cheap carabiner to hang a bait box in the box traps. That will make it easy to remove the box and fill it up again if need be. Let the bait box dangle in the middle of the trap. Bait boxes will make your bait last a lot longer.
You can either buy a metal bait box, or you can make your own with some plastic chicken "wire" and some zip ties. It doesn't matter what you use for a bait box. Just make sure you have enough bait in the trap to attract the number of crabs that you want during your fishing period.
If you have a two ring trap, you can zip tie some chicken legs to the trap. But crabs will eat those down to the bone in about 15 minutes. So it is always a good idea to use a bait box to make your bait last a bit longer. Think about the size of the bait box that you're going to use when you use a two ring trap. These traps aren't that wide when they lie flat. The bait box will take up some of that real estate.
Floats will need to have some identification on them. You should be able to write on each type with a permanent marker.
Proper floats will cost more than juice jugs ... and you won't get the juice ... which the kids will love. With this type of float, you won't have to worry about them ever filling up with water and sinking. The downside of these is that they aren't that durable. They're made out of a dense foam covered with a thin layer coating. These can get chipped up quite easily.
Minute Maid, or any type of juice, jugs with a handle will work fine. Just super glue the cap on and caulk the edges of the cap so that water can't get in. This is easy to do so let the kids do it. They'll enjoy helping to get the equipment ready.
Besides the cost, the other advantage of juice jugs is that you can use a couple of different colored juice jugs on a trap line to uniquely identify your traps. Depending upon where you go, you could have a lot of other traps around you.
Here's what I found that works best. Use box traps. Zip tie all the sides together except for one side. You want to be able to open one side so that you can dump the crabs out into your boat for measuring. Mark the side of the trap that can be opened with a colored zip tie or some other permanent marking material.
Hang a metal bait box in the center of the trap using a cheap carabiner. That will allow you to easily attach the bait box to the trap and remove it.
For floats, use juice jugs. They're cheaper and it will make it easier to spot your crab trap lines when there are loads of traps in the area. Remember, once you drop the traps, you'll probably want to let them soak for about an hour. While that happens, you can take the kids over to a beach to let them run around and explore. When you motor back to your traps, it might not be obvious which lines are yours unless you uniquely "colored them.."
One of the major problems I've had was keeping the ropes untangled and organized, both in the boat and on the water. An extension cord reel is the secret to solving this problem. Tie the rope to the real using an arbor knot. Have the kids do this. It will be a good learning exercise for them. Run the rope through the floats and tie another arbor knot to connect the rope to the center of the trap. On the bottom of the reel, attach a cheap carabiner. Once your trap has hit the dirt, let out at least another 4 feet of line and then make a simple overhand loop knot in the line and hook the reel's carabiner to it. That will keep the rope on the reel from unraveling anymore. The extension cord reel, with 70 feet of rope on it, will have no problem floating.
Don't use the reel to pull up the trap. Someone should pull up the trap, while another person reels. If you are planning on dropping the trap again, don't bother taking out the loop knot in the rope.
You'll need to bring a crab gauge. You'll use this to determine if the crabs your crew caught are of legal size to keep. Get a metal one. When all the gear is scattered about in the boat, the plastic ones could get broken. If you get stopped by a warden, they'll want to see this device.
The following video will give you an idea of how to use the grab gauge. Be sure to always check the California fishing regulations before you go out for the latest size regulations. Once again, study the crabs a bit so that you can understand what you have caught. You could be catching at least three different types of crabs in the bay. You don't want to be throwing back crabs that you could legally keep.
Dungeness crabs like fresh bait. The other crabs like rock and red crabs aren't that picky. Squid and sardines are a good choice for an all around bait.
Lawson's Landing sells squid and other types of bait. It's probably easier to just buy it from them. It might be a dollar or two more, but it'll be worth it. It will be one less thing you have to worry about when you're trying to get your fishing team into the car.
If you're going to use a two ring net with out a bait box, chicken would be the best bet. Seals tend to leave that alone.
You'll have better luck if you take a boat out on the bay. You rent boats from Lawson's Landing. To rent a boat, you'll have to call in advance and make a reservation. They tend to sell out quite regularly with their boats.
After you rent a boat, you'll get instructions from one of their employees on how to operate the motor. It's really easy to do. You should have no problem motoring around.
On our trip, the boat was pretty filled with two adults, two kids, two cage traps, two ring net traps, and the other equipment like buckets and backpacks filled with snacks.
If you have your own boat, you can launch it there. They charge you a small fee to do that.
The people at Lawson's Landing are really nice and helpful. Ask them where you should go. If they are not really sure, they'll pull someone over to give you some advice. You'll learn a lot after talking with someone there. So always ask for advice, even if you have done it before.
Attached to this page is an arial image of the area around Lawson's Landing. You'll basically be launching your boat from the right side of Sand Point when you look at that image. The yellow circle in front of Sand Point tends to be good for rock crabs. Rock crabs are smaller than dungeness crabs but they are just as tasty.
You'll want to drop your traps in water that is moving slower than a "walking speed." Otherwise, the crabs might just get "washed away" from your traps.
When you pull up your traps and you have some keepers, you have a couple of options. If you're going to be out on the water for a bit, it would be best to leave the keeper crabs in your traps. Just lower them back down. Fill up your bait box before you lower the trap down though. This will keep the crabs alive until you are ready to take them home. The crabs in the trap might actually help to attract other crabs.
If you're pulling up your traps because your crew is ready to go home, dump the legal sized crabs into a bucket or cooler until you get back to shore. Don't add water. If the crabs use up all the oxygen in the water, they will suffocate.
When you get back to shore, you'll want to ice the crabs down. Place a wire mesh box or something like that on the bottom of your container that will hold the crabs until you get home. You could use your bait boxes if they are sturdy. You want to keep the crabs out of the melted ice water so they won't suffocate. Layer the crabs in ice. The ice will put the crabs into a deep sleep.
If you are heading back to highway 101, you'll pass by the Hagemann Ranch Trout Farm on the left side of the road. If it is still early in the day, you might ask the kids if they want to haul in massive trophy trout. Have the camera ready. They'll have fun doing this.
The Ramini Farm Tour is in this area. They offer tours, but you will have to book in advance. The kids would most likely find it exciting to get up and close to water buffalos. The farm uses the milk from these buffalos to make real Italian mozzarella cheese. Italian mozzarella cheese is quite different from what we in the US think mozzarella cheese is.
If you are headed back to the San Francisco Bay Area, you might think about continuing along Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH1) towards Tomales Bay. Nick's Cove is a nice restaurant to stop at and have lunch or a drink before making the trek home. They have valet parking, which is quite nice considering the road by their restaurant is quite narrow and curvy.
The Marshall Store is another nice spot to stop at if you kids are a bit older. It's an informal place right on the water. The food is really good. There's only outdoor seating which is fantastic. But it's also right on PCH1. So if you're kids can't sit still for lunch, this would not be a good spot. Traffic comes by here a little too fast. So you wouldn't be relaxing here too much with a younger fishing crew.
When you get home, put the crabs into your sink. Let them warm up naturally to see if they are still alive. It could take about 15 to 20 minutes for this. As they wake up, they'll start to move a bit. That's how you'll figure out if they are still alive. Remember, don't eat dead crabs.
You need to wash the crabs before you cook them. If you want to only cook the meat, this video on how to clean dungeness crabs will show you how to do it. The video below is another good one to watch.
The simple way to cook crabs is just to chuck the crabs into a pot and steam them for about 15 to 20 minutes in about an inch or two of water.
To go a bit further, you can steam the crabs as mentioned above and dunk the crab meat in a "soy sauce" as you eat it. To make the "soy sauce", mix together some soy sauce with garlic, ginger, and some chili flakes. You'll need to adjust the recipe to your liking. It's a simple recipe but really quite nice.
If the tides are correct, you might try doing a half day of crabbing and a half day of clamming. Actually, you could drop the crab traps before you hit the clam sandbar and then pick them up on the way out. You would have to use box traps though if you do this.
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