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HomeNL-2013-10 Kayak Crabbing

Kayak Crabbing
August, 2013
by Ken Anderson

Every year I spend a few months in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington where sea kayaking, day hiking, backpacking, and biking are taken for granted. Canoeing, however, is limited.

Which brings us to the subject of crabbing. You know, those ocean-bottom dwellers with claws and a bad attitude.

One of my kayaking friends paddles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca with crab traps on his kayak, drops them in a “secret spot”, and returns a few days later to harvest Dungeness crabs. One might think hauling crab traps onto a kayak in open water is a bit cumbersome, eh...

I might add one Dungeness crab is a meal for one person. Washington State mandates a minimum size of each catch and limits the catch to 5 male crabs per licensee per day.

I helped my friend harvest crabs by using my kayak and his. He paid me for my service with crabs which I could only receive if, and only if, I had a Washington State license.  It also meant he got 5 and I received any “excess” up to 5 crabs.

I convinced him the crabbing would go better in a canoe and, just by chance, I’d brought a 17’ foot tandem canoe well suited for large bodies of water. So… one fine day we canoed to his pots on an outgoing tide planning a return with either a slack or an incoming tide.

We reached the crab pots faster than if we’d paddled a kayak, recovered two pots, dumped all the crabs into the boat, put the keepers in a bag, and returned the rest to the ocean. Each of us had the 5-crab limit. The boat handled the entire adventure crab with ease.

The return was a bit different than the going out. We spent too much time chatting with two volunteer lighthouse keepers who’d watched us from shore. The slack time faded into an incoming tide when suddenly a strong wind blew toward us from our take-out site; now we literally faced not just a strong wind but a heavy chop the combination of a strong wind and opposing tide brings. 


Kayaks do better in a chop than canoes, eh. The return trip took roughly twice as long as the time it would take a kayak.

The next day my paddling partner complained about sore muscles. Something about using muscles he didn’t normally use kayaking. No more canoeing for him!

So, next time out, my wife and I crabbed by a marina known for decent crabbing early in the season. First time out we collected quite a few crabs but kept only two for dinner.

The marina location was out of legal-sized male-crabs fairly quickly. I retrieved over 20 crabs one afternoon all but one of which were females and the male was too small to keep. My crabbing ended for the season at that marina for a lack of ocean-paddling canoeists.

During a regular kayak trip I watched a local on a stand-on-top board do what I do in a canoe. He paddled to his buoys, pulled up his pots, selected his keepers by throwing them into an on-board bucket, put the rest back into the ocean, reset his pots with fresh bait, and paddled back to his launch site. Stand-up paddling, I’m convinced, is the new frontier.

The author, Ken Anderson