Cook’s Adventures: Fearless Foraging for Dungeness Crab

Ever grab a hand bare-handed? Here’s why Langdon Cook thinks it’s a good idea.
A mess of Dungies is a good excuse to be social

Tropical scenes in our corner of the continent are infrequent, but last summer, on one of those bluebird July days, I watched a guy in board shorts, tank top and sandals casually employ a foot pump to inflate a small rubber raft a stone’s throw from the Mukilteo ferry. Satisfied with its seaworthiness, he hopped in and paddled his passenger—a baited crab pot—a few hundred yards offshore. By the time he came back, I was done pulling on my wetsuit, with the same aim in mind, and we nodded to each other knowingly.

I was off to scare up some crabs with snorkel and fins. He was off to scare up some pints at a nearby pub while his trap did the work. Admittedly, my method requires more commitment—a full wet suit, for one thing, and the desire to chase Dungeness crabs among rocky nooks and crannies 20 feet below the surface.

While free-diving for crabs is good sport—laying hands on a pissed-off Dungie while holding your breath is as hectic as it sounds —I must admit I like that guy’s style. The important thing, after all, is to get the crabs. Most recreational crabbers use a pot or ring net baited with salmon heads. There is also the art of wading for crabs at low tide with a dip net. We’re lucky in the Puget Sound region to be surrounded by a crabber’s paradise, with good sport crabbing in all directions, from Hood Canal to Saratoga Passage to Shilshole Bay right off Seattle. A boat is useful for setting a pot, but a dock works, too. All you need is 10 to 60 feet of depth.

At the end of the day, a mess of crabs is a good excuse to be social. “I’ve been getting invited to a lot of parties,” allowed my beach friend, who said he’d been hauling in a limit of five crabs a day. Besides the crabs, you need two other ingredients: newspaper to cover the table and cold beer (a bottled variety doubles as a handy claw cracker in a pinch). The rest, including the soon-to-be-burgeoning guest list, just takes care of itself when Dungeness crab is in the house.