Not long ago, my wife and I moved to Camano Island, a tranquil, semi-rural community with lots of retirees. People here love four things: God, country, family and crabbing – but if they could only pick one, for sure it would have to be crabbing. People here are seriously into this activity. Just how serious? As you arrive on Camano Island, you’re greeted by a giant metal crab sculpture. The local newspaper is called The Crab Cracker. And if you confide in someone, “I’ve got crabs”, they won’t recoil in disgust. They’ll reply with, “Fantastic! Mind giving me some?”
Having lived here for two years, I’d never bothered to find out what all the fuss was about. But after relentless pressure from neighbors whose constant nagging included questioning my patriotism, in the end I caved. Last week I finally went crabbing.
Most “crabbers” own their own crab boat and equipment. To get started you need the following essentials:
- A motorboat – or if you’re cheap, then a rowboat
- At least one, and ideally two or three crab pots
- A buoy marker and approximately 100 feet of rope for each crab pot
- Bait – typically chicken or turkey legs, or if you’re in a pinch, Lifesavers candies – the crabs grab onto the little hole in the middle and get stuck. Let me know how that works, dude. (This last bait option should only be used if you’re a complete idiot.)
- A case of beer, to dull your senses and help you forget about what in the hell possessed you to take a rowboat instead of a motorboat with 25 mph headwinds out there
- A sharp knife to kill your small crustacean victims in cold blood – or to take your own life if you have rowed out too far and you suddenly realize you’ll never make it back to shore before nightfall
We had none of the above items, so my wife and I rented everything. I foolishly opted for the rowboat as it was half the cost of a motorboat. My crew consisted of my wife and her elderly parents. I bravely rowed two extremely uncooperative oars into the breezy, cold ocean waters ahead of us. After twenty minutes of laborious rowing into strong headwinds, my three crew mates congratulated me that we were already more than thirty feet from shore. As my arms began to cramp up, my wife graciously declined my chivalrous offer to let her enjoy the fun of rowing this “armored tank” of a boat for a while.
When we finally got out far enough to place the pots, I took great care to make sure that as I dropped the rope roughly 100 feet deep I did not let my leg get tangled into the rapidly descending line. I just wish I could say the same about my wife’s leg. Fortunately, I was able to catch her just in time before she was dragged overboard.
We were so excited when it came time to retrieve our pots, which were connected to red and white buoys – not unlike the other 75 identical red and white buoys floating in the same area. It was an arduous test of my nautical skills to row up close enough to any one of these 75 red and white buoys, in the hopes that they were ours. After rowing up to no more than 27 wrong buoys, I finally pulled up OUR two crab pots.
I’m pleased to report we captured 25 crustaceans. However, to my dismay, not a single crab obeyed my forceful command to exit the six-inch hatch and hop into the awaiting bucket. No, I was going to have to extract these hostile adversaries by hand.
In case you’ve never examined a Dungeness Crab up close, it has two large sharp front claws, which can do serious damage if you grab the crab from the front. I quickly determined – after only two very painful encounters of the clawing kind – that if I was going to emerge from this adventure still possessing the ability to type, I’d have to grab them from behind – or let my wife do it.
When we finally got back to shore – several hours before dawn – there was just one more task we needed to do: Kill our catch. That required slicing each crab down the middle of its back, then tearing off all ten claws and extracting its slimy intestines and internal organs. If this disgusting dismembering process sounds like fun, please stop reading. Seek professional counseling immediately. There is something seriously wrong with you. I asked my very liberated, self-confident, independent wife if she’d like to gut some of these writhing critters with me, but she quickly declined, arguing that this was a man’s job (right up there with getting rid of spiders, apparently).
That was my maiden voyage into the world of crabbing that everyone else on this island seems to embrace fanatically every summer during the two-month crabbing season. Thinking back on my experience, I took away several valuable lessons. I learned that in the future I will never:
- go crabbing in an unwieldy wooden, 600-pound rowboat
- try to pull crabs out of a crab pot with my bare hands
- use a generic buoy that looks exactly like every other buoy
- listen to my wife when she suggests we go crabbing
I think the most important lesson I learned from this adventure is that the next time I contemplate a crabbing expedition, I will select as my vessel the S.S. Shopping Cart. And I will bravely and sure-handedly navigate her through the choppiest of aisles until I reach the shores of the seafood counter of my local grocery store. Ahoy Matey!
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2019
As you may have learned through your long friendship with my brother, our last name is Fisher. I have lived for the last 44 years in a New Jersey community developed around a 99-acre recreational lake that is stocked each year with fish from the state fish hatchery. For the last 23 of those years, I have lived in a lakefront house, making it possible to fish directly from my yard and dock. This being the case, you may be surprised to learn that I do not fish and have never even considered it. I am a disgrace to my surname; by all rights, being writers, my brother and I should have taken the name of our great-grandmother Susannah Scrivener, but Susannah is an odd name for a couple of guys. We do enjoy EATING fish, and our favorite restaurant is Ted’s Fish Fry in Latham, New York. Now that’s the way to catch fish!
Tim, you have awakened the memory of a truly emotional day – from the anticipation of doing something “out-of-my-comfort-zone”, learning a little about crabbing, laughing out loud, apprehension while fighting gale force winds in a very overloaded little dinghy of a sea faring vessel, holding my breath when another big wave hit us. When we decided to return to shore after serving up the frozen turkey legs (duly noted “not for human consumption”) to our prey and watching our very strong daughter at the helm, rowing like a true sailor, my husband and I welcomed the feel of land under our feet once again. You and Michele returned to the open sea to retrieve the crab pots while Ron and I enjoyed the luxury of the restaurant fare. After several hours we returned to the crabbing shed to see you grimacing while slicing open the bellies of the live crabs. You could have been a surgeon Tim. I will cherish these memories forever, especially the feasts of fresh crabs we enjoyed
Tim – You left out a very important detail: how many of the critters in your pots did you have to liberate because they were females?