Dungeness Crab – A Fishing Tale

I love a good crab cake and fresh seafood, so when I saw a chance to stay at an RV park that organized crabbing trips, I signed up! Netarts Bay in Oregon is known for Dungeness Crab, as well as Red Rock Crab and many varieties of clams.

Big Spruce RV Park is a no frills kind of campground but it has something that others don’t offer: a perfect location right across the road from Netarts Bay and crabbing equipment for rent, including boats. Zach, the friendly and energetic manager gave us a quick lesson on crabbing: each person was allowed to catch 12 Dungeness Crabs, male only, and throw back the small ones and the females. He showed us how to identify they type of crab and if they were male or female. He deposited us and the boat at the dock and wished us luck.

I have to say that I was excited but also a bit intimidated. The last time I “drove” a boat was when I was about 12 years old and it was a row boat. I took a seat in the stern and got a grip on the throttle. David was in charge of dropping and retrieving the traps, while I tried to finesse the boat’s aim and speed. It took some adjusting…. I tried to be easy on the throttle as I didn’t want to throw David into the bay or overshoot the traps. With boats, if you’re going forward, you have to turn the handle in the opposite direction of where you’re aiming (so, if you plan on going right, you have to turn the handle to the left); however, if you put the boat in reverse, the opposite is true: turn the throttle to the left in order to go left. AND, the trickier part was when idling-the strong currents kept turning the boat and without the power of the engine, there was no control over the direction. After a some failed attempts (and perhaps several choice words-you know the saying “curses like a sailor”?), I figured out that I had to go forward and aim the beam (the “fattest” edge of the boat) toward the trap, cut the throttle when I was next to the trap, and quickly switch to reverse to fight the current and keep the boat somewhat still until David got the trap out of the water. Phew.

Three hours later, our buckets were full, and we pulled in at the dock, ready to get back on terra firma. Back at the camp, the fun part began: cooking the crabs! Zach expertly demonstrated how to clean a crab and we were surprised to learn about “crab butter,” a savory broth forming inside the shell which can be used for cooking. David and I took over and shelled the rest of the catch.

Using the crab butter, coconut milk, and vegetable broth, I prepared a most delicious Thai crab soup, while David fried up some crab cakes-YUM!

The second day, David was up early in the morning and ready to go clamming. I didn’t join him as I was still recovering from the prior day’s boating adventure. A few hours later, David returned with a bucket of Pacific Littlenecks, Butters, Steamers, and Gapers. As always, Zach taught us how to best wash and take apart the clams (then wash them again-they collect a lot of sand and grit). The nicer and tender medallions can be saved to consume steamed, while the rest of the edible parts can be a bit more rubbery and are better if battered and fried.

We finished our day with a walk along the bay and through the neighborhood, tired but proud of our catch and excited about our new experiences.

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