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Originally published December 11, 2013 at 7:39 PM | Page modified December 13, 2013 at 8:53 AM

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Crab wading in winter: ‘brrr’ with a ‘yum’ chaser

Join the locals at Dungeness Bay for a toe-chilling, traditional way of shellfishing.


Seattle Times staff reporter

If you go

Dungeness Bay

Cross the Hood Canal Bridge to the Olympic Peninsula and follow U.S. Highway 101 to Sequim. Exit at East Washington Street, to downtown Sequim. Turn right on Sequim Avenue, which will turn into Sequim-Dungeness Way. Go for about five miles then turn right to stay on Sequim-Dungeness Way to its end. Unless you’re with a local, the place can be difficult to find in the dark, so scout out the area during daylight.

This is considered the best public shoreline to try crab wading this time of year. Many shorelines are private property, and most public shorelines close at dusk.

Crab wading

Check tide charts and get a shellfish license, which can range from $11.35 to $54.25. Go soon: Winter-crabbing season in selected districts runs only through Dec. 31.

More information

See the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website: wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish

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What great fun! We used to crab that way on the coast, at very low tides, wading... MORE
Brrr! No wonder my parents never took us crabbing, except with pots and a boat. We... MORE
Gosh I get cold just looking at that photo. Nothing better than crab and booze on a... MORE

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DUNGENESS BAY, Clallam County — I’m knee-deep in the channel, my headlamp beaming.

It’s a moonless night, a cold night, the temperature hovering in the 20s. And my wader is leaking.

My soaked toes are crying “uncle.” But no, there will be no retreating to shore until I catch one legal-size Dungeness crab. Just one. Is that too much to ask?

I have my rake to catch them, and four layers of clothing on.

Maybe you’ll be lucky and get a mild winter day. Maybe Mr. Crab will throw a block party on your outing. Neither happened for me.

Winter crab wading can be a cruel, cruel sport, but with a tasty outcome.

There are easier ways to crab. A boat, and a crab pot to throw into the water, is one. But six miles north of Sequim, out on Dungeness Bay, I want to do it the way the locals do at low tide on winter nights: Scoop up plump Dungeness crabs lurking in the eelgrass or snatch them while they prey in open water.

Wading out to catch these tasty shellfish with a rake is almost a lost sport. We don’t have access to the beach at night the way our fathers did. Many shorelines are now private property, and most public shorelines close at dusk, said biologist Don Velasquez, one of the leading crab experts for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

But the reporter in me was intrigued to pick up a rake.

My beer buddy had more common sense. “Are you out of your freaking mind? You know how cold that water is in the dead of winter?”

Where the sport lives on

To go crab wading this time of year, fishermen will direct you to Dungeness Bay. This is where it remains alive, a night activity passed on through generations. Folks get off work, eat dinner and head for the bay in their pickups. They pull on their waders and rubber boots and go. With buckets and flashlights in hand.

My outing includes, among others, Velasquez and Sonny Rinehart, of nearby Diamond Point, who has led dozens of crab-wading adventures over the years. Crab wading? Go see Sonny. That’s what locals told me.

So I go to see Sonny.

On good nights, Rinehart tells me, he’ll wade for crabs before kickoff on “Monday Night Football” and be back home by second quarter with the legal limit (maximum five crabs, each at least 6.25 inches long).

Dinner will be ready by the fourth quarter.

Our outing is a tougher go. We walk through four sandbars, combing through eelgrass meadows.

Velasquez explains to me that Dungeness crab like to lurk on the edge of the eelgrass to hunt because they can move faster. They won’t get tangled up in the eelgrass.

They dive into the eelgrass if they want to hide or mate, he says.

For beginners, Rinehart suggests I look at the sandy pockets between the beds of eelgrass.

“It’s such a contrast in color between the sand and the eelgrass, so the crabs are easy to spot. It’s like they got a sign on their backs. ‘Come pick me.’ ”

B ut size matters

After an hour, we find two dozen crabs but only one big enough to keep. We’re cold. I lose a glove. My wader leaks.

Adrenaline keeps me going after I scoop a big one. Or so I think. Turns out the crab is a half-inch below the legal limit.

“Nah, that’s not big enough, man,” one of the guys in our group says.

A heater and hot cocoa sounds good about now. But I don’t want to get shut out. I soldier on.

I snatch another one, a bigger one. Clearly, this is it.

“Nah, that’s not big enough, man,” one of the guys in our group says.

Maybe I had tilted the rake at an angle that made the crab look smaller. Look again, I tell the guys. I hold it up higher. A measurement is in order to settle this.

It’s under six inches. I drop it back in the water.

Even with earmuffs and beanie on, my ears feel frozen.

Worse, the current blows the silt, clouding the water.

Great, I can’t see beneath the surface anymore.

Walk against the current, Rinehart shouts. That way, the current will blow the sediment behind me and not impede my vision.

Sage advice. I spot something brown-orange under a thicket of eelgrass. The crab gets feisty, tussling with my rake and stirring up the silt. But the crab is still in the same place when the sediment settles. I get the rake under his belly and scoop him up. His claw is three times bigger than my thumb.

Ah, there’s no need to measure this one, someone says.

“That’s at least a two-pounder, easily.”

That’s all I want to hear. Now someone, point me to the parking lot before I get frostbite.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com On Twitter @tanvinhseattle



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