George kept several crab traps that we would fill with the leftover salmon heads. A few days later once you’ve had enough smoked salmon salad spaghetti we’d pull the crab pots and eat several hundred dollars worth of Dungeness crab each.
The first trip we went on I was so excited to pull the crab pots. George pulled the boat up to the floating foam buoy and I snatched the line up into the boat.
“Now be sure to clear the line from your feet. That’s a good way to drown in a hurry.”
I gave it a moment’s thought and then began pulling on the line.
When you’re a kid and you first compete in the mile run during physical education there’s always the moment where the gun fires and you take off running as fast as you can. You’re winning for a moment, and then that moment passes almost as steadily and inevitably as it came because you’re running out of breath and you haven’t made it a tenth of the way through the race.
That’s what my first time pulling crab pots was like. “Hey, George. How deep are these pots?”
“Oh, I don’t know. They’re pretty far down aren’t they?”
This was a dreadful moment. I couldn’t rest really because the pots gradually felt heavier and heavier. I also couldn’t drop it because that would only put me that much further behind and increase the workload. The line felt like it would never end, and I began to wonder if more salmon wouldn’t be the worst thing. By the time the first pot came up to the boat my shoulder and arms were burning like nothing I’d felt before, and once someone else secured the crab trap next to the boat I plopped down and rested. Then a horrible stench hit my nose.
The mud that gets cached onto the crab traps might be one of the worst smells I can remember. After a few days of sitting on the bottom of the bay, the wire traps start to sink into the mud that’s nothing but dead and decaying organic matter.
This is what the crabs eat. This is in turn what you’re about to eat.
If I didn’t already know how sweet and delectable the crab meat actually is then this might have been the end of my relationship with any crustacean cuisine. I pulled three more pots after that one, and the rain was starting to get to me. I was ready to go back to camp.
We came back and cleaned the crabs which were somewhat cathartic. You wrap your hands around their legs and claws spreading them away from their bodies and then shove a rod up their nose up into the shell. The shells pop clean off when you pull back on the legs and snap what’s left of them in half, and there you have two sets of crab legs ready to boil.
Dad put on a pot of boiling water on the small diesel stove and as the crab legs sank into the pot the heat from the boiling water caused the claws to move back in forth in a pinching motion. I’m not sure how we could’ve gotten seafood any fresher than that.
The payoff was certainly there. We all ate so much crab we had to get creative with it so it didn’t go to waste. Boiled crab legs lead to crab cakes and then maybe even pan-fried crab meat in spaghetti? I can’t really remember all of the ways we prepared it.
George joked, “Y’all eat any more of this crab and you boys will be running sideways.”
On our return trip to Alaska Dale came with us and we let him do all of the crab pot pulling he wanted. Now that’s the best way to catch, clean, and eat Dungeness crab. I began to realize something George had understood with every group that came out there; let someone else do it.