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Puget Sound Dungeness Crabbing

On the calm summer waters of our Puget Sound, many local seafood connoisseurs indulge in a tradition that has lasted for the last half dozen generations. Small boats work the nearshore waters, the baiting and setting and pulling of pots all for a payout of big hardshell crab. Dungeness Crab are one of the tastiest critters that we pull from the waters of Puget Sound and they draw 250,000 Northwesterners to the salt every year.

Dungeness Crab are prized for their deliciously sweet meat and their abundance in Puget Sound. They can easily reach 8 inches (measurement across the carapace) and weigh a hefty two pounds. They prefer a habitat of eelgrass beds, sandy or gravel sea floor, and typically live in waters less than 150 feet in depth.

Catching Dungeness Crab is a fairly straight-forward endeavor. It is as simple as picking a spot, setting a baited crab pot, letting it soak for a few hours and then harvesting your catch.

Puget Sound Crabbing Spots

The Puget Sound has far too many Dungeness Crab hot spots to mention, but here are a few of my favorites…

North Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Spots

North Puget Sound offers great crabbing in the shallow expanses of its largest estuaries. Padilla Bay, Skagit Bay and Birch Bay are great places to catch Dungeness Crab in less than 50 feet of water. The North Sound features large eelgrass beds which are the preferred habitat for Dungeness Crab.

  • Utsalady Bay north of Camano Island
  • Camano Island State Park
  • Port Susan near Tulalip & Camano Island
  • Padilla Bay
  • Guemes Island
  • Skagit Bay
  • Birch Bay

Central Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Spots

The Central Sound experiences the greatest number of crabbing enthusiasts, the greatest number of boats, and yet it offers up limits of Dungeness to those that crab its waters. Setting pots with the Seattle skyline in view can offer a possibility of full pots & limits for everyone on the boat (especially early in the crab season).

  • Apple Cove Point near Kingston
  • Browns Bay near Edmonds
  • Port Madison near Bainbridge Island
  • Alki Point near West Seattle
  • Shilshole Bay near Ballard (Seattle)
  • Blake Island near Bremerton

South Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Spots

South Puget Sound features an expansive shoreline with many islands, inlets and bays. The entire South Sound is very productive for Dungeness Crab, yet it receives less fishing pressure than other areas of the Sound.

  • Poverty Bay near Redondo
  • Nisqually Reach
  • Case Inlet
  • Carr Inlet

Hood Canal Dungeness Crab Spots

Hood Canal features some of the Pacific Northwest’s best Dungeness Crabbing. Anywhere along the Canal shoreline in the 35 feet to 80 feet range can offer great crabbing. A few of my favorites are…

  • Squamish Harbor
  • Dabob Bay
  • Lilliwaup
  • Potlatch State Park
  • The Great Bend
  • Twanoh State Park

How to Catch Dungeness Crab in Puget Sound

Catching Dungeness Crab in Puget Sound is a fairly simple task. The majority of folks who target Dungeness utilize boats. Catching crab from shore or pier is possible, but boating greatly increases your chances.

What do I need to catch Dungeness Crab in Puget Sound?

There are a few key items needed to effectively catch Dungeness Crab…

  • Shellfish License with Puget Sound Crab Endorsement
  • Crab Pot, Crab Trap or Crab Ring
  • 50’ to 100’ of leaded line
  • Bait Box or Bait Pin
  • Red & White Buoy labeled with crabber’s information
  • Bait (Salmon Head/Carcass, Filleted our Rockfish, Turkey Drumstick, Chicken, Herring, Squid
  • Crab Measurement Device
  • Cooler with Ice

To effectively set crab pots in Puget Sound, it is important to familiarize yourself with the area you will be working. By looking at a nautical chart, one can decipher roughly how deep to set pots. In an area like Everett’s Jetty Island most crabbers set pots in less than 40’, therefore 100’ of leaded line will do nothing but add extra tangles and frustration. If you plan on crabbing in Hood Canal near Lilliwaup, 100’ might be a perfect amount of line. Understand the area’s currents and tidal patterns. Areas with heavier currents like Admiralty Inlet may require heavily weighted pots, where expansive shallow areas like Birch Bay do not require as much weight.

I prefer to set my pots in a specific area. If I am setting four pots, I will run them in a straight line so they are easy to find and manage. When visiting a new area, I prefer to vary the pot depths until I find the depth where crabbing is most productive. For instance, I might set four pots at 45’, 65’, 75’ & 85’, and relocate them after the first pull. I often find that my pots eventually end up fishing a fairly specific depth, which can vary based on location. When I head down to Tillamook Bay, Oregon: 25’ to 35’. Shilshole in Seattle: 65’ to 75’. Hood Canal: 45’ to 65’.

Soaking Pots & Rings

When using pots & traps a soak of at least 2 hours is ideal. Crab need a little time to seek out the bait and work their way around the pot to find the entrance. Crab can find their way out of a pot, but as long as there is some bait left to feed on they will stay. Make sure to use plenty of bait for an overnight soak.

When using rings, a 15 minute to 30 minute soak is ideal. Rings lay flat and Dungeness need to simply scurry over to the bait and begin feeding.

Crabbing Rules for Puget Sound

It is important to understand the fishing regulations for Puget Sound. Check out the WDFW RECREATIONAL CRAB FISHING REGULATION PAGE. Currently, the daily limit is 5 Male Dungeness Crab per person with a minimum size limit of 6 ¼ inches. Always carry a crab measurement device and keep only Dungeness that are larger than the minimum. Dungeness Crab molt throughout the Spring & Summer, and any molting soft-shell Dungeness has to be released. To determine whether a Dungeness is hard-shell or soft-shell squeeze the back leg or the underside of the carapace, if it flexes with ease, throw it back. There are specific openings each week, and being aware what days are open and what hours are open is important. Soaking crab pots overnight can be very productive, but there might be rules as to when you can set and pull your pots.


Article Categories:
Shellfish · Washington

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