The Claws of the Land

Crabbing season begins this month; what better reason to visit Bodega Bay?


Photo by Roseannadana, Flickr (CC)

Measuring a crab to see if it is large enough to keep legally.

Crab season opens this month and lasts well into next year, but why let commercial crabbers have all the fun? A short drive north brings you to the quaint fishing town of Bodega Bay, which offers the perfect introduction for amateurs in search of the ultimate locally sourced, organic crab feed.

After checking with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for current licensing requirements and bag limits, stock up at Diekmann’s Bay Store, where your basic checklist should include a snare or net—your two main gear options when crabbing from shore. Then head out to the waterfront.

Dungeness crabs are rarely caught close to shore and are most accessible by snare or by venturing onto the uneven, jagged man-made jetties dotting Doran Regional Park. Across Bodega Harbor, Westshore Road runs alongside coastline that is more accessible, its shallow waters abundant with small red crabs and rock crabs—which, with their large black-tipped claws and slightly fishier-tasting meat than Dungeness, are perfect in cioppino or fried with chili-garlic sauce.

Bait your traps with fish, squid, or rancid raw chicken, then cast. Unlike fishing, crabbing entails no waiting for the telltale tug that tells you it’s time to reel in. The amount of time you wait between casting and reeling in is entirely up to you.

Given this region’s breathtaking seascapes and scenery, you can pass that time looking for clams and moon snails along the sandy beach, watching brown pelicans skim the waters, or listening to the drone of the foghorn as fishing, U.S. Coast Guard and UC–Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory boats glide through the harbor, heading toward the open ocean.

With a little luck, you’ll be dodging dozens of pincers, untangling flailing claws and pointy limbs from nets and line while being attacked from all sides. There will be blood; wear it proudly. Throw the keepers in a bucket—a crab gauge is a cheap and helpful tool to measure for legal size—and cast away until you hit your limit, a storm descends, or the sun sets.

Before heading home for your crustaceous cookout, grab something for the road: Spud Point Crab Company serves award-winning clam chowder and will also cook and clean your day’s catch.

Cracking crab among friends and family viscerally concludes the trip: an honest meal for an honest day’s work—and pleasure—outdoors. That’s something you can’t buy from a fishmonger.

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