I am not a morning person. I struggle with getting out of bed. I can recall a story from the past (okay, it was just last spring) where I may or may not have elected to stay in bed during the turkey hunt, and everyone returned about an hour later with toms slung over their shoulders. I did get to sleep in though. Totally worth it, right?
Okay, okay, not worth it. I am working on the getting up early thing, because we all know that animals tend to be more active in the early morning and late afternoon to evening. I know that when I pull myself out of my warm sleeping cocoon, rub the sleep angrily out of my eyes, pour a cup of warm, steamy coffee and complain to everyone around that getting up early is the worst idea ever, I ALWAYS have a much more productive day. I may not end the day with filling my tag, but I always have more bites on my fishing line, see more game, and have a plethora of stories to share upon my return to camp.
That being said, I still hate getting up early. And if you are like me and hate getting up early, then you will adore crabbing. Crabbing does not require getting up early! There is no advantage to throwing your covers off at the first peek of morning sunlight and racing off to pull your crab pot. It is an activity designed for ANY time of the day. I love it!
Throughout the world, there are over 850 different species of crabs. Crabs can be found in saltwater, freshwater, and on land. There are many different species that are edible, and this website is a great resource for discovering crabs that you maybe haven’t tried out yet: abcsofanimalworld.blogspot.com. I am a huge fan of crab! I think it is delicious, and have tried Alaskan King Crab, both red and blue, Alaskan Snow Crab, Blue Crab, Red Rock Crab, and Dungeness Crab. However, I have only fished for Dungeness and Red Rock Crab.
Like any recreational fishing, there are regulations for specifics states and even areas within the states. Be sure to check out the regulations before heading out. In the San Juan Islands, which are located in Washington State, you are required to purchase a shellfishing license. I purchased a three day shellfish/seaweed and fishing license combination, since I was also going to be salmon fishing during the trip. There are several licensing options and they can be found at: fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov.
With your license, you will also receive a reporting card. Each time you catch and keep a crab, you are required to immediately document the catch on your reporting card. The reporting card must be turned in, either via mail or internet, to the Division of Wildlife and failure to do so will result in a $10 penalty added to your next license purchase in Washington. It’s not hard, but it is good to take note so you don’t lose out on ten bucks. Plus, the information you provide on the reporting card is used for assisting in maintaining sustainable crab harvest numbers.
The San Juan Islands are located in Marine Area 7, which also includes the waters near Bellingham, Washington. Each coastal area in Washington has a designated Marine Area, and the fishing and shellfishing regulations are unique to each area. For example, the shellfishing season in Marine Area 7 is open during different dates than Marine Area 13, the South Puget Sound area. There are also different regulations on the size and types of crabs you can keep, so it is important to know which area you are going to be shellfishing in, and the boundaries and regulations for that area.
In Marine Area 7, you can fish for both Dungeness and Red Rock Crabs with the method of your choice. I used a crab pot. The crab pot, which is a wire pot coated in black vinyl, has a bait bag attached to the center of the pot and then one-way entrances for the crabs. Other needed items include rope, which is to be constructed of 100% cotton or other natural material, a crab measuring ruler, and a red and white buoy marker with your name and address visibly labeled on the buoy. You also want to bring something to store your crabs in during transportation. Holding a crab while you are boating back to camp or your hotel might not be the easiest task. Crab pot regulations for Washington State can be found here: wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/harvest.html.
Okay, so all the nitty-gritty details are out the way. The license has been purchased for the correct marine area, and you have a crab pot full of all the necessary goodies for catching crabs! Now what? Bait! For bait, I used chicken legs. I also let it sit in the sun for a day so it would be nice and juicy and stinky and rotten. Yum. Crabs are omnivores, feasting on both plants and animals, but they tend to prefer animals, so basically any type of meat could be used. I have seen people use hot dogs, but I don’t particularly like hot dogs because the crabs can easily rip up and destroy the hot dogs. Chicken works a little better because it is harder for the crabs to remove the meat from the bones. Another bait option is fish. I have tried using the heads and bodies of fish on two different occasions, and for me personally, it didn’t go well. The pot returned completely crabless both times. It might just be me, but that is the experience I have had. So, I stick to chicken.
Anyway, with the bait in tow, I headed out to drop my pot. There are areas in the San Juan Islands closed to shellfishing, so be sure to check a map for those regions, but otherwise look for an area that is protected from the currents, so your pot doesn’t just end up being drug around for a couple of hours, and is not out where it will be run over by speeding boats. You also need to take into consideration the length of your rope. The pot should sit on the bottom of the ocean and there should be slack in the rope, which means to remember there is tide change! If you have 50 feet of rope and drop the pot at 48 feet during low tide, your pot will end up floating in a couple of hours as the tide rises, which means no crabs. And it is a sad feeling when you pull up an empty pot.
Since I don’t live in the area, I dropped my pot in an area where a couple other people were also crabbing. I also was on my boat, which meant I could leave my pot in the middle of a small, protected bay. If you don’t have a boat, people also fish off docks and other rocky areas.
Since I was also salmon fishing, I would check my pot in the morning after fishing, and then again before sunset. With the Red Rocks crabs, you can keep either males or females and the crab must be larger than five inches, which you check this with your lovely crab measuring stick. For Dungeness, the crabs must be male and larger than 6.25″. Distinguishing if the crab is male or female is simple. You grab the crab out of the pot (move quick, they pinch!), and flip it over. On the crab’s underside is an abdominal flap. It is a well-defined flap running from the rear end of the crab towards the head. The female crabs have a wider and more rounded flap than the males. The males are long and narrower.
Before you place the crab in your cooler for dinner tonight, there is one other test you need to perform. The crab needs to be checked for softness. Crabs are from the arthropod family, which to make a long story short means they shed their exoskeleton at least yearly, sometimes more often depending on their age. This process is known as molting, and during molting the crab’s shell becomes very soft and pliable in preparation for shedding and replacement by the new shell. All crabs that are molting must be released, and this is determined through a softness check. You will notice that once you flip the crab over to check its sex, they tend to fold their legs in and the claws rest against their shell next to their eyes. To check for softness, gently push the folded claw towards the crab’s eye area. The exposed shell area is where you apply slight pressure to check for softness. If the area bends or flexes, the crab is molting and should be returned.
I usually checked my pots right before I was returning to land, so I could immediately cook, clean, and store the crab. I didn’t want to drive around in the boat all day with a cooler full of crabs, but there are a few tips for transporting the crab so they stay alive, especially if you are in a situation where you can’t deal with them for a few hours. I filled an ice chest with ice, placed the crabs in the ice and laid a towel soaked in salt water over them, and then placed more ice over the towel. This keeps the crab cool and alive.
Well, after all this talk about crabs, I am craving some crab legs. Maybe a little surf and turf!
Happy Hunting! (And Crabbing!)
High Mountain Lake Fishing
Soon after I embraced the sport of angling I became convinced that I should never be able to enjoy it if I had to rely on the cooperation of the fish.” ~ Sparse Grey Hackle
I remember a lot about fishing with my dad when I was little. I remember watching his big, calloused hands tie delicate knots to small copper colored hooks. I would try and sit patiently while he threaded an uncooperative worm onto the hook and then clasped a small red and white bobber to the line. He would swing the long line behind his back and then swiftly cast the entire awkward collection out onto the water. It would plop as everything hit the water. I remember his dirty and worn tackle box, stuffed with lures, hooks, line, and powerbait.
As a kid, I think powerbait almost defines fishing. Its smell is unique and easily discerned, and stays on your hands and everything you touch long after you have attempted to wash it away multiple times. The small yellow jars with the screw top lids contain brilliant colors of pink, orange, green, and sometimes blends of two colors sprinkled with glitter. And it lasts forever! I sometimes think that the jars in my dad’s tackle box now are the same ones from those trips so many years ago.
So, when I started fishing more seriously as an adult, I always shied away from using powerbait. Powerbait said “kid fishing” all over it. I tended to think of powerbait as my dad’s way of buying time to fish for himself when my sister and I were along for the trip. I don’t recall having many bites with powerbait, and if I did manage to pull a fish in it always seemed small. I quickly decided that if my dad was ready to help me catch a fish he added a worm to the end of my pole. If he needed me to be patient while he fished for a while he added powerbait. Powerbait had a bad rap with me, but that has since changed.
This past Fourth of July weekend, my family ventured to the high country for lake fishing. I haven’t been very successful the last few fishing trips I have been on. The days have been slow and the fish few and far between. A couple of weekends ago, I even went to a lake known for its abundance of stockers and threw in a worm. I actually went home not only empty handed but completely biteless. It was a long day. I didn’t have much expectation for this trip either.
Upon our arrival to the lake, I heard many stories from other campers that the fishing was hot. The weather, however, was not as positive as the fishing appeared to be. The mornings opened with strong, blue, cloudless skies, but the afternoons quickly developed into dark storms filled with heavy rains and lightning. The afternoon fishing for the first day was quiet and slow. After spending a few hours trolling just off the shores of the lake, we docked the boat as large clouds rolled over the mountain tops and settled above our camp. The storm lasted a few hours and was intense.
My sister insisted we head out immediately following the storm’s departure. It was cold and still quite gloomy, but she kept talking about the great fishing she knew that was waiting in the calm after the storm. We had our doubts, but followed her to the boat.
My dad, having missed the afternoon fishing session, opened his tackle box and prepared his line. He pulled out that familiar yellow jar, two hooks, and a small weight.
“Dad, serious fishing here!” I said, pointing to the powerbait with disapproval.
He had spoken to some of the other camps and they said powerbait was the secret to the lake. They instructed him to set-up two hooks below his weight: one with a worm, and the other with a ball of powerbait. Hesitation definitely set in for me. It was, after all, powerbait.
Despite my inner critic to the situation, I followed suit and set my pole up the same way. I assumed the powerbait from his tackle box was the same jar from my childhood. However, within the hour, I had two beautiful rainbow trout and a cut-bow on the stringer. The rest of the stringer was filled with equally large, beautiful fish from the rest of the boat. Some bites were on the worm and some were on the powerbait. I don’t know if it was my sister’s insistence on the calm after the storm, the combination of the worm and powerbait on one line, or just a joke on me that powerbait is the ultimate trout lure, but that was some of the best trout fishing I have ever experienced.
And, after that weekend, I actually have to buy more powerbait to keep in my tackle box. You know, just in case I need it.
May the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it. ~Irish Blessing
Coming out of winter hibernation can be both overwhelming and difficult. The days have been short, it has been cold, and snow and ice have covered the ground. As spring comes, the days slowly, almost achingly, grow longer. The temperature will get a little warmer, only to be sent back into a surprise freeze warning moments later. The snow and ice comes and goes, and then comes and goes. I find myself very confused. At the first sign of warmer weather, I usually put away my winter snow shoes and pull out my summer sandals. I then find myself walking around town in a half inch of snow in those same summer sandals, people staring and wondering why I am putting my toes through torture. Like I said, spring is an overwhelming and difficult time of year. Besides wanting to change shoes to quickly, I also want to participate in summer activities too soon, like swimming and water skiing. I always test the water too soon.
One thing you can do in the early spring though is northern pike fish! Northern pike are a cold water fish, and as soon as the ice melts from the lake they are ready to feast. Having spent a long winter in the dark, ice covered lake, pike are ready to hunt down shallow water fish along the edges of the lake. May is the best time to test your luck pike fishing because they are quite hungry after they finish their spawning period.
Found predominately in the northern United States and southern Canada, there are pike found in a lake north of the southern Utah town of Blanding. We took our boat down the first week in May after the banks were free of ice and went out for a day of early spring fishing.
Since pike have large teeth for a fish, most websites will recommend using a heavyleader, as pike can bite through your typical monofilament line. For our set-up, we used nothing more than a repala lure and trolled. My particular repala was the scatter cranck.
Some other gear to remember that is thoroughly important with pike is a net for pulling them out of the water, a pair of pliers, and somewhere to keep them, whether it is a cooler or a stringer. As I said previously, pike have large teeth and can bit you pretty good. You don’t want to be sticking your fingers in their mouth…and, in general, keep them away from your face in case they get the urge to grab on to something, say your nose. Pike are also VERY slimy, so you will want a net to help get them out of the water.
Pike are an ambush predator. They hide in rocky caves or tall, camouflaging plant growth and then rush out and snag fish. Their bodies, a light olive green color with small black spots and white bellies, are made to hide in the many colors found under the lake’s surface. They are also a highly aggressive fish that can quickly change from sitting patiently waiting to tearing through the water for food. For these reasons, we decided to troll the edges of the lake, especially near the rocky dam. The fishing was great. The moss was not.
I don’t know if other pike fishing is like how it is for me, but I have to say they are the most disappointing fight out there. I would have thought with this prehistoric, angry-looking, dinosaur fish predator I would receive a battle similar to, I don’t know, a shark. Instead, pike rush over, grab on to your lure, and then…..they sit there. If you miss the hit, you may not even know you have a fish on the line, as I did several times. Once I pulled my line out because I thought we had run through a mossy area and there was a pike on the end. He didn’t make a single movement as I pulled him to the boat.
A lot of people catch and release when they are pike fishing. People find, because of the Y bones, that cleaning pike is more trouble than the reward of eating them. I have practiced cleaning pike a few times and actually find them easier to clean than other fish because you don’t have to remove the scales. I also really enjoy pike. It is a great fish that doesn’t taste, for the lack of a better word, “fishy” and it has a great texture for barbecuing.
You know something I really, really hate? Having to pee on a boat. As a girl, it is especially difficult. Especially in the spring when the water is around 50 degrees and there is no option of taking a quick dip. For this reason, I try to limit my beverage consumption while boating. I like to stick to water, but I still wanted an adventure pairing for this outing. Beer was out of the question, even though I know fishing and beer go together like peas and carrots. I decided to go with a bottle of coke and some Jack Daniel’s whiskey. It is important you make sure to grab a 20 oz bottle of coke and not a can. Why? Because then you can add your whiskey to your coke and slowly, VERY SLOWLY, turn your coke over once or twice for mixing. No need for a glass or a spoon! For a snack, I had to go with my all time favorite boating snack, summer sausage and cheddar cheese! I love that stuff! Happy Hunting!
Ice Fishing. The only thing I knew about it before I went was it was cold. Getting geared up was like all winter activities: a pain! It is so hard to move after you have all those layers on, but if you don’t take the time and do it properly you will regret every second of it. I put on thermals, both top and bottom, a jogging suit and a down coat. Snow boots are highly recommended, but it is even better if you have Bogs! I had received a pair for Christmas and they are the perfect ice fishing footwear. Bogs are like snow boots and rain boots combined. My feet stayed very warm and dry, but I also had really good traction on the ice and snow. You also cannot, I repeat cannot, go ice fishing without gloves! I learned this from experience. Everyone in my group had on gloves, I did not! My hands were aching by the end of the day, and changing out the worm was painful! Why did I not wear gloves? Well, for the first part of the day I just had my hands in my pockets. I didn’t even think about gloves until after catching my first fish.
We headed out to a pond at the base of the La Sal Mountains. The area is a Walk-In Access property, so we had stop and call in first. Ice fishing is not an “early bird catches the worm” activity. It is best to wait for the sun to come out and do some work first. We did not head out until around noon, and it actually wasn’t too bad. The area we went is away from any towns or highways. It was very quiet except for the occasionally chatter of passing geese or ducks and the drumming sound the ice makes when it shifts or settles.
I, like most I imagine, was a bit apprehensive about stepping out on the ice. I have seen the horror movies where the person unexpectedly falls through a hole and plunges into the black water. Everyone is clearing the snow from above and following the lost person as they travel below. Those movies scare me! I read up on ice fishing safety before we went out. When ice fishing, you should drill a small hole close to shore and check the thickness. Ice that is 4 inches thick is safe for traveling on. You need 9 inches plus if you are going to take a vehicle out on the ice (that did not apply in our case, since the pond was very small). You also should keep your holes relatively small, watch your step, and never ice fish alone. Finally, be prepared for an emergency to happen. Have rope, flotation devices, and first-aid kits available just incase.
After we got out on the ice and started drilling our holes, I felt comfortable. The ice was very thick, well over a foot, and it was frozen solid to the pond’s edge. To drill a hole in the ice, you can use either an ice auger or a chain saw. Ice fishing is not real popular in the desert, where we live, so we have not invested in an auger. We used a chain saw, and it worked great! It took about ten minutes to get our hole cut in the ice; however, we ran into a much bigger problem once the hole was cut. How do you get the ice block out from the hole? A smart person would have brought a crow bar or break bar to remove their ice block. We brought neither.
Lucky for us, we were the only group out on the pond that day. We had to improvise to remove our ice block. Using a fallen branch we found, which was about the size of a small tree, we pushed our ice block down and under the ice. While this worked just fine, I would definitely recommend bringing the proper equipment so you don’t spend ten minutes scratching your head and wondering what to do.
Once the hole is drilled and the chairs set up, fishing is ready to begin! I love fishing because it is one of the few times I feel totally and completely relaxed and comfortable with just sitting. At home, if I am sitting I feel like I should be working or exercising or doing something else “productive.” I feel nervous with the idea of just sitting, even though sometimes I just would like to sit guilt-free. Fishing allows this guilt-free sitting. Fishing requires me to be patient and focus on the moment at hand. I like fishing because I can sit and think, or I can sit and just listen. Either way, I am relaxed and enjoying myself. It is even better if I am catching something, which was the case today!
One experience unique to ice fishing is the actual ice itself. While sitting quietly in my chair, I kept hearing all these surreal sounds. Some were cracks, others were almost like a drum beating. I heard whistles and groans. Sometimes it sounded like a techno club was partying below my feet. As the temperatures change through out the day the ice on the lake expands and shrinks. These changes can cause the ice to shift or even release air from cracks. The sounds are crazy!
I always like to do a little investigating about what bait is working before heading out. We asked around town to see if anyone had been catching anything out at this particular pond. One person said they heard someone was catching rainbow trout and were using silver spoons. We also decided to grab worms, as they are the go-to bait. Our group had three people fishing, and we split up between three different set-ups: worm, silver spoon, and power bait.
Your gear for ice fishing is similar to any other type of fishing. In magazines, ice fisherman always have short poles. We only had our regular length poles and they worked just fine. For fishing line, we did not have anything special. We just used a five pound test that had been on our poles from summer fishing at Lake Powell. I think it did not matter much for us because the area we fished in was not extremely cold and the fish were not huge. I would invest in better fishing line if you are going on a larger lake. They make special line for colder temperatures just for ice fishing. We used eagle claw worm hooks for catching our fish. They were light weight and small enough for the fish to grab on to. You also don’t want to forget your needle nose pliers for getting out hooks and a stringer for keeping your catch on. Also, a chair is VERY important for ice fishing. You won’t find a nice rock to sit on out in the middle of the lake and standing all day is not much fun either. Some people also bring equipment for starting a fire. We didn’t do that today, as it wasn’t that cold out, but I can see where a fire would come in very handy!
I went with the worm and a small weight. Looking back, I think the weight was probably a bit of a mistake. I still caught plenty of fish, but there were many times I could feel a fish messing with my hook but not quite latching on. I think the weight was causing some hesitation with the fish. Other people in my group did not use a weight and seemed to have a bit of an easier time snagging and landing their fish. Maybe it was the weight for me, or maybe I should work on my hooking skills.
The day started out rather slow. During the first hour, one fish was caught: a bluegill. The bluegill we caught were not terrible large, most ranged around six or seven inches, but they were very fun to catch. The bluegill tended to start out with a “taste test” on the bait. I would watch my line bob around for a bit, and then a bigger tug would finally hit. Timing the setting of your hook with the actual hit made by the bluegill was a bit challenging, but it made for a great afternoon of fishing!
After the first hour, we had all switched to the worm. Nothing seemed to be hitting the power bait or any type of lure. Everything seemed hungry for the worm! Between the everyone in the group, we pulled out over a dozen bluegill, four smaller rainbow trout, and three large mouth bass. I was quite surprised see the bass. The bass were definitely the most fun to catch. They hit the hardest and put up a great fight. It is funny with ice fishing, everyone is standing around that tiny hole in the ice just waiting to see what will come out next. You never really know what you are going to pull up, whether on a boat or land, but for some reason with ice fishing the anticipation is a little greater.
Ice fishing was so much more fun than I thought it was going to be. The landscape is truly beautiful covered in a blanket of snow. The air is quiet. The ice is an experience in and of itself. And the fishing was excellent.
No adventure is complete without a proper snack and beverage pairing! For ice fishing, I paired pork rinds, the hot and spicy kind! They were perfect for ice fishing. They were easy to bring, inexpensive, very shareable, and the spicy hot was great when feeling cold. For the beverage, I went with Pabst! I consider myself a brewery kind of girl. I like to try different beers out and am always reaching for the lager or pilsner I haven’t heard of. But when it came to ice fishing, I felt an American grocery store staple was just the ticket. For the kiddos, I would bring hot chocolate!