By Tess van Straaten
Carrying a large metal crab trap, a plastic bucket and old barbeque tongs, I make my way down the steep hill that leads to the Sooke Rotary Pier and boardwalk. Avid crabbers, my two boys are already running ahead of me with their small, fold-up traps and a bucket of bait.
We’ve been told this is one of the best spots on Southern Vancouver Island to go crabbing so we’re hopeful our potential haul will be worth the drive from downtown Victoria. I can already taste the delicious Dungeness crab — boiled to perfection with a pinch of sugar and dipped in melted butter. Yum!
It’s Sunday afternoon and the pier is packed with families and fishermen. We set up on the lower dock and I bait the traps. After trying fish heads, pellets and cat food, we’ve found the best bait is raw chicken backs. Understandably, the kids don’t want to have any part of this aspect of crabbing so I put on plastic gloves and stuff the bait boxes with the chicken.
My youngest son, Tate, is nine-years-old and he’s been crabbing since he was a preschooler. With no fishing experience myself, I hadn’t planned to get the kids hooked on crabbing. But a serendipitous deal on two large crab traps at a garage sale ended up leading to hours of fun — and some spectacular crab feasts.
Our first foray into crabbing was at the Sidney Pier on a blustery winter day. We tossed the traps off the side and watched them crash into the water below. The kids wanted to pull them up almost immediately. But we had to be patient, and were soon rewarded with Dungeness and Red Rock crab of varying sizes.
The kids quickly learned females have what looks like a beehive on their belly while the marking on the underside of the males resembles a lighthouse. It’s an important distinction because it’s illegal to keep female crabs. Undersized crabs also have to be tossed back (the minimum size for Dungeness is 165 mm across the widest part of the shell and at least 115 mm for Red Rock).
But our favourite — and most lucrative — crabbing spot ended up being Salt Spring Island. That’s where we first discovered the small fold-up “snap traps” that are much easier for the kids to use and don’t have to be left in the water for very long. I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face as he pulled up a trap filled with huge, male crabs.
Back in Sooke, all the big crabs we’re catching are female and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll have anything to take home. But just when I start to think we should pack it up, I hear Tate shrieking. The large trap’s full of crabs — including two very big males. I grab the barbeque tongs (those pinchers can be scary!) and move our big boys to the bucket. It turns out we’ll have crab for dinner after all.