Dungeness Crabs are readily available along the Pacific Coast and are an extremely sought after local delicacy. Seafood lovers from California to Alaska head out to their local waters to capture these tasty shellfish, and with the proper setup, so can you! If you are just getting into crabbing on the West Coast, here are a few items you need.
There are many different styles of crab pots but basically you can separate them into two groups, round pots and collapsible traps.
Pots are usually geared more towards those looking to crab in deeper water or heavier currents. If you plan on trying to catch Dungeness Crab in the Pacific Ocean, where currents are strong, you want to pick up heavily weighted round pots. Pots tend to be heavier with the weight build into the frame, most weigh 10 to 20 pounds; they are also more expensive than collapsible traps.
Square collapsible traps are by far the most popular in areas like Puget Sound. Traps tend to be less expensive, but they are fairly light weight. I spend most of my time crabbing in Puget Sound and the inexpensive Danielson traps are perfect. We typically are setting our traps in less than 80 feet of water, so a little added weight is all that is needed to keep the trap from drifting. Collapsible traps are also easier to store, so if you plan on keeping your traps on your boat the collapsible traps are real space savers. If you are crabbing from a small boat where space is an issue, bring along the collapsible traps and assemble them one-by-one as you go!
Both traps and pots can be soaked for a long period of time. If you are planning on soaking for a few hours while fishing or overnight, traps and pots are preferred over rings.
Crab rings are extremely popular, very effective, and preferred if you are looking to catch crab in shallow waters. Rings are popular with folks trying to catch crab from a dock or pier. I like to use crab rings when I am fishing in less than fifty feet. Rings lay flat on the bottom but when pulled, they create a basket that funnels crab to the bottom and keeps them there. Because a ring will simply lie on the bottom, crabs are free to come and go as they please. Fresh bait will draw them into the ring. When using rings, allowing a soak time of about 20 to 45 minutes is perfect. Crab will quickly eat away any bait; once the bait is gone, they will move on searching for another food source. Longer soaks will yield fewer crab.
Crab Trap Harness
When pulling up a crab ring, trap or pot it is important to pull it up evenly. A ring that is pulled up slanted can allow for crabs to crawl out the edge of the ring; a trap that is pulled up slanted allows crabs to potentially escape through an open door. A 3-way or 4-way harness solves this problem. These are designed to clip to the corners of a trap, or clipped evenly around a round pot or ring for a smooth and level retrieve. Harnesses are highly recommended over just tying your line to the edge of your pot/ring/trap.
There are two options for your crabbing main line, yellow ¼ inch poly line or leaded line. Yellow poly is thinner, cheaper and it floats. Floating lines can cause problems when crabbing in an area with boat traffic. Let’s just say you have a 100’ line and decide to set your trap at a 50’ depth, lines can easily be tangled in a boat’s prop or cut off by one. If you decide to use yellow poly, be sure to clip on some weight to the line to pull it under the surface. I find snapping on a weight is a pain, and that a thin line is less comfortable to pull. Leaded lines are a little more expensive, but they offer huge benefits! They are easy to coil. They are thicker and easier to pull. They sink so you don’t have to worry about getting cut off by another boater.
Here in Washington, we have many requirements pertaining to our Crab Buoys. They must be half red, half white. Our personal information must be written on them. They must be on the surface and visible at all times. Identifying which buoy belongs to you can be challenging at times. Use a PVC staff and either paint it a bright color or attach a flag to it, this will help you locate your pot quickly. Some folks will connect a multicolored buoy to their required red/white. I am a huge advocate of any form of customization; imagine motoring into a sea of red/white buoys and having to motor around looking for the one with your name written on it!
Bait boxes are an easy way to store bait in a trap. A bait box will slow down the crabs’ attempts to devour your bait. I prepare all of my bait boxes in advance, then I put them in a cooler so they are ready to go. Attach them permanently with wire ties or zip ties, temporarily with small bungies.
If you are using a fish carcass for bait, a bait pin can be a great alternative to the bait box. Just run the pin through the mouth of a filleted out rockfish or salmon and into the bottom mesh of your ring/trap/pot.
Fresh baits work best. Save any filleted carcasses of salmon, trout, rockfish or lingcod because they make excellent bait for Dungeness Crab. Also, I have done very well with chicken, turkey legs and herring.
Crab Measure Device
Having a measuring device with you is extremely important. Every marine area has a specific minimum size requirement for crabs, and a crab measuring tool is essential. Possessing a crab that is even 1/16” under the minimum size can potentially yield you a confiscation of your entire catch and a hefty ticket.