Crab fishing is just OK, but they taste great. Markets are carrying them at $7.50 per pound, this is an incentive to go catch your own. To buy a crab trap go to your favorite fishing pro shop, two in Rohnert Park, and talk to the salesmen. If you plan to fish in tidal waters, work the incoming tide. Set your pots at slack tide, the short period between the low and the high tides. Depending on the type of trap you have you can let them soak for hours, if you’re using a ‘ring’ net or a ‘star’ net you will need to check them every half hour or so. Both are designed to capture the crab whilst feeding. The ring style is the cheapest, like a hula-hoop with netting and a bait box, usually purchased separately, wired into the netting. The crab sneaks in and chows down on your bait, you yank up the ring and hope that the big ones are hanging on when you pull it in. Many tend to drop off during the retrieval. They run around in the bottom of the boat with claws raised in defense. They will put the pinch on you so treat those claws with respect, even the small ones hurt, a lot.
The star or pyramid shaped crab trap has the bait box wired onto the bottom. When the trap is tossed overboard it hits the bottom and falls open in the shape of a star. Enter the crab who thinks it’s a free Thanksgiving dinner. You give them 30 minutes or so and yank up on the line. This is done quickly before they can react and skitter away. Once you have yanked on the line the trap is closed and you can take your time pulling it in. Once aboard the trap opens up and the crab dance begins. It is possible to grab them sans the pinch if you grab them by the back of the shell but not too far forward. The non-pinchy legs will scratch ineffectively at your fingers, mostly.
The professional crab trap can cost more than $100 even over $300 for well-made ones. This type has a one-way door with a little port-hole for the undersize crabs to exit. These pots can stay on the bottom for hours. At the other end of the price scale is a fishing line crab trap. It sports a bait box with several sliding loops dangling off. The idea is that the crab comes in to eat, you yank on the line and catch the crab’s leg in one of the loops. They do work, kind of, but they are a hoot for a kid to fish from a pier or off a rocky or sandy beach.
Bait is most anything, they like chicken backs and love fish, some folks use a can of cat food and poke holes in it. It would be worrisome if Mr. Crab gets frustrated trying to pinch out a bite and moves on. The best bait is a thing that you are already familiar with; some stores will sell you the fish carcass after they have taken off the fillets. This is the best crab bait and it can be frozen in bait box portions and this is very handy when you have to load up the bait box with cold, stinky hands. The fun part is when the crabs are running around in the boat, even boys will scream like a girl. All of a sudden seven bucks a pound is looking good.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.