Leon Archer’s A Sportsman’s World

When I was just a little duffer, I used to go looking under rocks in Little Sandy creek for what I called crabs.

They were actually crayfish, but everyone called them crabs, not just me.

Back in those days, bass fishermen would pay 5 cents apiece for them without blinking an eye, and I picked them up from the creek in droves for free. I sold them from our family home on Route 11, right along with my night crawlers which only brought 2 cents apiece.

A couple guys headed to the lake for bass would usually shell out two or three bucks for bait enough for a day’s fishing, and for a boy not yet a teenager that wasn’t a bad deal in the early 1950s.

It wasn’t until a long time after, when most of my own children were grown and out on their own, that I began making the acquaintance of real crabs. The first were blue crabs that I caught fishing with my father-in-law on the Indian River in Florida. They were true crabs and they needed to be treated with a little more respect than I ever gave fresh water crayfish. If a blue crab pinches you, it hurts and you will very likely be bleeding.

Blue crabs are a really beautiful creature with their blue, white and bright orange legs and claws. Their body can be blue as well, but it is more often a green color.

The really great thing about blue crabs is they are wonderful fare fresh cooked on the table. They have a distinctive, yet mild flavor that can only be described as, well yes, crab. They are not really large so picking them is a bit tedious, but it is well worth the effort.

I also got to know the stone crab while running the crab trap line in the Indian River. We never caught a lot of them, but they had massive claws, and that was the only part of the crab that was legal to keep. It was especially unwise to let one’s fingers come within reach of those big crushers.

They wouldn’t cut like the smaller claws of the blues, but they could leave a person with a horribly bruised and painful finger in a hurry.

Flavor-wise they were very good, but not as good as the blue crabs. The really good part was there was not much picking to get out the good stuff at meal time.

The crab I like best; however, I met out here in Washington. It’s the Dungeness crab that I have mentioned before in my column.

The Dungeness has to be at least six and a quarter inches across the carapace to be legal and it must also be a male. Females and undersize crabs must be returned immediately to the ocean.

The Dungeness is sort of a dark brown color on the top and beige to off-white on the legs and underside. He is not much to look at, but after he has been turned a bright orange by steaming or boiling, almost everyone finds him attractive. That is his downfall.

Dungeness can be taken with crab traps and with crab rings. The traps are only legal during part of the season, while the rings are always legal during any open season.

The rings are just netting fastened over two weighted plastic or metal rings, one about 12 inches in diameter and the other about the size of a hula hoop. A bait is fastened in the center of the smaller ring and the apparatus is lowered to the bottom 30 to 40 feet below.

It doesn’t take long for Dungeness crabs to find the bait and climb onto the rings. After about 20 minutes, the trap is pulled rapidly back to the surface hopefully with the crabs inside the basket of netting.

Sometimes as many as two dozen crabs may come to the surface on a good pull, and two or three of them will probably be legal sized males. On a good day, it doesn’t take long to get the limit of 5 keepers.

They are a very meaty crab and a limit may yield three and a half pounds of delicious crab when they are picked. I believe they are second only to real king crab when it comes to flavor. They are best when caught, cooked and eaten on the same day, but they will retain their flavor for several days in the refrigerator, and they freeze fairly well.

I wrote earlier that I wasn’t going to buy a crabbing license, because the season closed two days after I arrived in Washington; however, it has opened back up for the fall/winter sport crab season and I’m going crabbing. Catching a couple limits will more than pay the cost of the license.

Ben just asked me this evening if I wanted to go pheasant hunting. Is that a dumb question or what? Season opens in a couple weeks. And that’s the way things are in the Seattle area.

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