Crab season is in full swing, with SF’s favorite Dungeness popping up on menus everywhere. I found out recently that instead of buying it at restaurants, you can actually go one step further and fish for them yourself—and you don’t need a license!
But I’ll back up a bit. These past few weeks, I’ve been trying to stay as busy as possible. My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so this time of year, I start to miss all my friends who go home for the holidays. Additionally, I just got out of a one-year relationship, which has left me feeling an extra dose of lonely and needing to find ways to occupy my mind and feel whole again.
My wonderful friend Keri has been a champion of keeping me busy, this time by inviting me to try crabbing, which I’d never done before. It turns out that if you can get all the gear, you can try your hand at it at the Pacifica Pier, less than 30 minutes outside of the city (to fish in SF, you need a license).
I of course knew zero things about crabbing, instead lending my skills to snack-getting (Doritos Locos tacos from the famous Pacifica Taco Bell, and peppermint pretzels) and playlist curation (early 00’s bangers). After a trip to the bait store and chatting up the fishermen on the pier, some who had been there since 3am, we set up our traps and lawn chairs and waited to catch some Dungeness crab.
It turns out, you can’t just set up a trap and leave it. Apparently you’re supposed to check them every 15-20 minutes, so we ended up just giving the crabs a free meal of chicken and sardines while failing to catch them…oops. We DID however, see a shark (!) and a seal, and had some great conversation, sooo I deem the day a success.
Crab season goes from November until June, so there is plenty of time to get your gear and give it a go. If you do go, here are my tips:
If you get your traps online, round is best; crabs can escape from the square ones.
The best bait to use are sardines and squid, but they can be expensive due to their inelastic demand. Pro tip: Buy it from the Chinese seafood stores and keep frozen until ready to use.
If you can, using a fishing rod and snare is the best way to go. You can buy snares from the fishermen on the pier who sell them as a side business. The teflon ones are best and don’t break.
You can only keep the crabs if they are 5 3/4 inches in diameter and not pregnant; the orange egg sacs are well-defined, and fishermen are committed to throwing them back in the water to maintain the crab population.
If you do catch any crabs, you need to keep them alive until you cook them, or else the guts release chemicals that poison the meat after they die. Get an aerator and an ice chest of seawater to keep them alive until you’re ready to cook them.
Bring snacks and music and have fun! Everyone is super nice on the pier and willing to give tips.