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Written By: Cal Kellogg, October 9, 2012
For Norcal outdoor enthusiasts, the fall has so much to offer that even if the season stretched out for six months, a sportsman would have a tough time sampling all the great action the fall months have to offer.
A very preliminary list looks something like this. Stripers in the Delta, trout chasing bait at reservoirs, duck season, deer season, pheasant and quail seasons, lingcod moving shallow to spawn and….well you get the idea, so much to do, so little time!
If you’re a saltwater angler, there’s likely one more thing sandwiched near the top of your “fall to do list”…I’m talking about crabbing.
The general crab opener for much of the north state is slated for Saturday, November 3 (be sure to check the regulations for information about limits, methods of take and your specific location).
I’ve been crabbing on and off for the better part of 35 years. It’s fun, it’s addicting and if you’ve never had fresh cooked crab you are really missing out on some fabulous eating!
Some of the folks reading this have probably been crabbing longer than me and there are undoubted others who have never crabbed but would like to. With crabbing season about a month away I’ll toss out some of what I’ve observed over the years. I think this information will likely be most useful to the new crabbers out there, but there might be a thing or two that will resonate with the veterans too.
There is a bunch of different crabbing gear on the market and we don’t have room for a full blown gear discussion. If you are a boater looking for gear I would advise that you buy traditional cage style pots that are heavy so they stay put. For the would be pier anglers out there, I’ve done very well with super simple net ring traps weighted with a quartet of lead sinkers.
Glossing over the traps, what I really want to take a close look at are the cornerstone concepts of crabbing including best times, locations, baits and baiting strategy.
If you are fishing from piers you really don’t have a choice about where you drop your pots (don’t worry there are dozens of productive piers and jetties dotting the coast). Boaters on the other hand have the luxury of being selective about where they drop their gear.
You can find Dungeness crabs in areas of rock, but you’ll find the largest numbers of crabs on bottoms composed of sand or sand and firm mud.
I try to set my pots in water ranging from 25 to 60 feet deep max simply because I don’t want to kill myself pulling deepwater sets. Early in the season it’s easy to find productive shallow water action. As the season progress and the shallows get cleaned out a bit, you’ll either have to move deeper or do some prospecting to find some shallow water areas that have been overlooked.
When we refer to the best times for saltwater fishing, we are generally referring to the tides. As a general rule I like to crab incoming tides that are of a moderate size. Current is essential to crabbing success because it’s the current that broadcasts the scent of your bait. You want a long steady current flow, not a big surge. Typically you get this kind of flow with an incoming tide. The outgo tends to produce heavier current. If you leave your pots out overnight you’ll obviously be working multiple tides. Day crabbers should stick with incoming tides if they have a choice.
So now that we’ve got an idea of where and when to drop our gear, the next step is getting a supply of high quality bait. A lot of folks think that since crabs on scavengers they’ll eat just about anything. That may be true to some extent, but just as with other forms of fishing for the best success you’ll want to put some time and effort in making sure you have the most effective bait available.
Over the years I’ve tried all kinds of different baits, but these days I rely primarily on three: turkey wings or chicken wings, squid and sardines. Scent draws crabs to your trap. Once inside you want the crabs to find plenty of tasty hard to eat food. The sound of crabs having a party inside your trap, does nothing but attract more and more crabs. If the crabs inside the trap run out of snacks not only will the trap stop attracting new crabs but the crabs you’ve already got inside will get restless and unless your traps are really fool proof some of them will find their way back out!
Crabs make their living cleaning up fish carcasses. If you use something like filleted bottom fish carcasses for hanging bait, crabs clean the bones in nothing flat. Apparently they don’t get much practice dealing with the turkey skin because it takes them a lot longer to clean a couple turkey wings than it does a lingcod carcass.
When I bait my traps I like to put a bait bottle inside crammed full of chopped squid and sardines. I wire a pair of turkey wings inside making sure that they are suspended in the center of the trap. It’s the scent of the chopped bait that draws the crabs in, but it’s the turkey that keeps they eating and satisfied once they get inside.
Pots baited the way I’ve just described will catch plenty of crabs, but you can take things one step further and make your sets even more effective by incorporating Pautzke Crab & Shrimp Fuel into your baiting routine. Crab & Shrimp Fuel is a combination of oils and amino acids from salmon eggs and other feeding stimulants that attract crabs from a wider area than the scent of standard baits alone
You can add Crab & Shrimp Fuel to your jar baits right before you put them into the water, but I prefer to prepare my bait at home. After chopping or grinding my squid and sardines I put the bait in a bucket, pour in Crab Fuel and mix. I then bait the jars and put them in a garbage bag and toss all of them into the freezer.
Next I put my turkey or chicken wings in large one-gallon zipper bags, pour in a good shot of Crab Fuel and then put the bags in the fridge. I like to marinate them for at least 24 hours and if you can let them soak for two or three days they’ll work even better!
As I mentioned earlier I like to work shallow water areas and if possible I like to work close to port. This means I’ll usually have competition in the form of other angler’s pots soaking in the vicinity of mine. Using Pautzke Crab Fuel requires a bit of preparation time, but it’s worth it because out on the water I’m confident that my bait will out fish the bait in the other guy’s pot every time…Well that is unless he reads this piece and stocks up on turkey wings and Crab Fuel too. Did I just shoot myself in the foot…?
Well we’re out of space for now. I wasn’t able to touch on any of the finer points of crabbing like the pro’s and con’s of cooking your crabs alive and then cleaning them versus killing, cleaning and then cooking, but maybe I’ll do a follow up piece in the future and we can talk about that and more.
For now, get your traps in order, start stocking up on a supply of bait and grab a few bottles of Pautzke’s Crab & Shrimp Fuel to tip the odds in your favor. Before we know it we’ll be out on the ocean chasing crustaceans. I’ll be the one screaming like little girl because one of those $#%&! crabs clamped onto my finger. It happens to me every fall!
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