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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

January 1, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box offers lowdown on crabbing that ended Saturday, and a peak into 2012

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Tony Floor, longtime salmon angler and director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association offers his monthly fishing report.

Here is Floor’s Tackle Box:

I can’t believe it, let alone spell or pronounce it. Adios to 2011, the past, and hello to 2012, the future.

I’ll remember 2011 as a good year, at least for two more weeks. King salmon trips to Sitka, Tahsis, the lower Columbia River, Willapa Bay followed by coho fishing in north Puget Sound and Grays Harbor. Yeah, it was all good. Then, in mid-November, Dungeness crabbing opened here in south Puget Sound and I confess to “junkie status,” chasing crab big enough to ride a Harley. Big fun and yum, yum.

Although I’ve crabbed Puget Sound and particularly Hood Canal since I was a boy, I cannot recall the incredible quality of this year’s Dungeness crab fishery. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound crab biologist Rich Childers tells me this year was the best in 50 years, for abundance and unusually large crab. Crab scientists, like Rich, continue to learn more, every year about Dungeness crab, in terms of their life cycle activities, migration and population.

So do I.

Crabbing in Washington, particularly in all inside marine waters, has become one of the most important and popular sport fisheries in the state. After all, a quarter million people were issued crab catch record cards in 2011 and caught around 1.2 million crab. Perspectively, the ocean commercial crab fishery takes nearly 10 million crab during their annual nine month season (December to Sept. 15).

It takes about five years, for a male Dungeness crab to reach the legal minimum size limit of 6 ¼ inches in Puget Sound, says Rich, and crabbers are allowed 5 per day, when the season is open in July through Labor Day weekend, on Thursdays through Mondays.

The summer season is followed by a fall/winter season, usually open seven days a week in October, or in the case of south Puget Sound, where I do most of my crabbing, mid-November. Some areas, such as Hood Canal and central Puget Sound did not have a fall season since their summer fishery was gang busters. All crabbing in Puget Sound for the year is over on December 31st, regardless of area.

Something is happening with our Puget Sound and Hood Canal crab populations that is very positive (excluding normal survival rates in the San Juan Islands). It started about four to five years ago with the larval abundance of crab, drifting in tidal current patterns in the Sound during their first four months of life.

Once settling onto the floor of the Sound, Rich believes crab move very little throughout the remainder of their 10-11 year life cycle, as long as the habitat is friendly. Crab tagging research suggests this movement is in the neighborhood of 10 miles or less during a decade of life. In fact, crab tagging data further suggests that 95% of crab captured, tagged and released, then, recaptured, are found within a mile of the original capture sight, even after a couple of years. Just like stay-cation but not different.

Dungeness crab are opportunistic scavengers, preferring geoduck or clam siphons, when given the opportunity. And, when very young, cannibalism is very common. Please don’t reincarnate me into a small crab or a herring in my next life, where everything in the sea wants to eat you.

The size of the crab I have encountered here in south Puget Sound has also been phenomenal, along with abundance. When a male Dungeness crab molts, as a legal sized 6 ¼ inch crab, it quickly grows into a new shell, normally in the 8-inch range.

The formula works like this: small crab, for example, 3-inches in size, will grow into a 3 ½-inch shell; larger crab, such as the 6-inch plus example, molt into a much bigger house, even upwards of 9-inch plus. I have witnessed respectable numbers of these big, heavyweight Dungeness, measuring over 9-inches in my crab pots this past summer and fall.

Consuming the legs of these jumbos is like eating a chicken drumstick! I further believe being referred to as drumstick is a much higher position in life versus dipstick.

There are other theories, contributing to ongoing incredible Puget Sound crab and shrimp survival rates. Many of the salmon species, for example, or bottomfish, who have relied on the consumption of the planktonic stage of crab and shrimp, during that short period of their life cycle are not as abundant today compared to decades ago.

Therefore, more crab and shrimp, in their larval stages, are enjoying increased survival rates. The theory has some level of merit. Theory or not, I’ve been crabbing my brains out and having a blast!

January, for this cat, is a time when I enjoy hanging out at the big Seattle Boat Show (January 27-February 5), inhaling the fresh smell of fiberglass and shiny aluminum, monitoring new equipment and technology in the boating world. Year after year, January also provides me the gateway to the year, to begin my planning process of when and where I’m going to do my salmon fishing, and who I’m going to haul with me.

These are good times, in terms of fishing and shellfishing options in the outdoor world. Survival rates for a high amount of fish and shellfish species is up, creating a lot of options for this writer to get outside. Thank you Mother Nature and your disciple La Nina for providing these positive fish survival rates.

Last year is in the history books. Today is tomorrow and the vision is thumbs up. Looking ahead, I’ll be sharing a lot of fishing options with you in the months ahead. As the old cliché offers, year after year… so many fish… so little time. See you at the boat show and on the water.

Click on Tony Floor’s Tackle Box to subscribe.

(Photo taken by Mark Yuasa)

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