Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tomales Bay Crab Fest

What a great trip to Tomales Bay!

Like "real" fishermen, SturgeUrge and I awoke well before dawn, made a thermos of French Roast, and set out in search of the Bounty of the Sea. Set out in this case means an hour and forty-five minutes on California freeways and highways with the F/V SturgeUgre in tow.

We arrived at the Miller Park Boat Ramp on Tomales Bay about 7:45AM, and were motoring onto Tomales Bay right at 8AM. The morning was glorious...sunny, with the barest hint of a breeze from the NNW, the hills have all turned green with newly sprouted grass from the Fall rains.

Hog Island from the North
We crossed the Bay just to the South of Hog Island, and set our first pot by 8:15AM. We set our second pot 10 minutes later and set about trying to catch some bait to hunt halibut with.

After a half an hour fighting huge patches of eel grass, and not getting so much as a nibble from the baitfish, we returned to the first pot  for a look-see...

SturgeUrge slid the boat along side the pot's buoy, and I grabbed the buoy line with the gaff. Handing off the gaff, I started pulling the line and directing Urge on where to steer... neutral or in gear...I've got the line in the pulley...the pot's right under us...I've got the pot's the pot bridal...Lots of crab!

The first pot had a dozen crab in it, after about a 45 minute soak. Six Dungeness Crabs and six Red Rock Crabs. Three of the dungees went back overboard to grow bigger, and the small reds went back too. Every crab Wednesday was a crabbers in California waters may retain crab of both sexes, but most sport crabbers release the females...they are the future of the resource after all!

We enjoyed a pretty relaxing morning. We drifted the edges of the eel grass patches between pulls, trying to jig up some live halibut bait, but the drift wasn't right.

We got into a routine of pulling and resetting every half an hour. When we pulled a pot of mostly reds, or not as full of crab as we'd like, we'd leapfrog our other pot and move closer to the ocean. Most of the day we were 3-4 miles from the Pacific Ocean proper. Tomales Bay empties into Outer Bodega Bay, and that opens to the Pacific.

Every time we pulled, we took a minute to estimate and record the time, wind speed and direction. I recorded the data so I could compare our observations to the two nearby PWS's I'd found online.

We gave up on the live bait quest, and drifted for halibut with frozen anchovies...without a bite. The wind began to freshen after 10AM, and really started to blow around noon.

We weren't the only folks out crabbing Wednesday. The Bay was covered with crab pot buoys. Four or five boats were pulling and setting in the same general area. Our pots continued to come up with keeper crabs every pull, but the first pulls of the day were the most bountiful.

Finally we moved both pots well towards Bodega Bay, and made lunch. The winds were now up to 10-15 MPH, making pulling the pots and tending the pot lines a little more interesting than we'd like. The F/V SturgeUrge has tall sides...a lot of windage, and it weather-vanes easily...we ended up pirouetting around the pot line once or twice. We moved the pots into the slight protection of some coves, and still boated crabs.

We decided to leapfrog all the way back South of Hog Island for the last set of the day. We were recording winds now 15-20MPH. I said: "Time to break out the "Victory At Sea" music".

We were glad we were doing our last sets...I had the "Popeye Arms" thing hands were starting to lock in the claw position...and a crab got a good pinch in on us both...we were getting tired and a little careless (when handling the crab anyway)

During the last set, we counted and culled the crabs in the livewell...they were quite frisky...a big Red Crab grabbed Urge's hand in that fleshy spot between his thumb and forfinger, and he almost tore the crab in half ripping it loose. (his crush wound wouldn't start bleeding for more than two minutes) Then a commercial size dungee grabbed my thumb, and I instantly winged him off. He had me at the base of the thumbnail, and I got a small cut on the thumbprint side. This morning, I can see a black blood blister under the nail.

I finished the count and cull. We retained 14 Dungees and six of the biggest Reds. We retrieved the boat without drama, made it ship-shape for towing, and were on the road by 2:45PM Even at the ramp, the wind was merciless...and we were tired of it pushing us around. It was great to get our boots off, our street shoes on, and into the Tow Rig's comfortable cocoon.

Back at the SturgeUrge Compound, SturgeUgre steamed the crabs, and I ran downtown for some fresh salad greens, a loaf of sourdough, and a nice chardonnay. A classic crab feed...there's nothing like it. Personally, I like Dungeness Crab more than Maine Lobster. When cooked the crab count went up by two Reds...we were more tired and beat up out on Tomales Bay than we realized.

While the crab were cooling in the kitchen sink full of ice water, I surfed the net and compared the PWS data to our observations. The Bodega Bay PWS was pretty representative of the conditions we observed five of so miles down the Bay. The Victory At Sea winds were 18MPH

The nearby Point Reyes PWS wasn't recording it's data Wednesday so we'll have to try again next time out.

On the drive home, we decided to forgo the halibut fishing when the days are this short. We'll ad two pots to the arsenal, so we can just set the string of pots, and motor back to the beginning of the string and start pulling and resetting. We'd do the same number of pulls, but we wouldn't be killing time so we' get in, get our crab, and get out earlier.

If the weather holds, we'll test the concept next Wednesday.


  1. I'm feelin' the love...

    And I can barely raise my arms...I'm feelin' that too.

    Old is the New Young...

  2. Re: "And I can barely raise my arms...I'm feelin' that too."

    Oh, does my heart pump cold concrete for people whose arms are sore from a giant crab haul.