How to catch and cook Dungeness Crab in the San Francisco Bay Area
Dungeness crab season has historically started in mid-November and it is a local holiday tradition in the Bay Area. But the season has been delayed for at least the past five years – due to toxin alerts, fishermen’s strikes and protection of marine mammals. This year, we are waiting for the sea turtles to swim further to avoid becoming entangled in the gear. But while the commercial season won’t start until November 22 at the earliest, the recreational season got off to a quick start on November 6. In short: if you want some crab for Thanksgiving, now is the time to take matters into your own hands.
Eating readers tend to be more competitive at catching reservations than catching shellfish, so for anyone who could use an intro or refresher on the noble sport of crabbing, we brought in a pro. Former sushi chef and San Francisco native Taku Kondo worked at Roka Akor and Hinata, before focusing on fishing and foraging, and launching a popular YouTube channel called Outdoor Chef Life. Half a million subscribers now watch him paddle his kayak to catch local salmon, crab and uni, then fire up his stove to make nigiri and ramen. Kondo says everyone can enjoy the sport, even beginners. “It’s really fun,” Kondo says. “The crab is actually quite simple.” So, according to one chef, here is the start of crabbing in the Bay Area, the best gear in the best places – and an important reminder to never forget to pack beer.
When is recreational crabbing season in the Bay Area, exactly?
The recreational crab fishing season for the San Francisco Bay Area is open from November 6, 2021 to July 30, 2022, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Do you need a permit to go crabbing around San Francisco?
Anyone 16 years of age or older is required to have a California fishing license, available online for $ 54. The exception is that it is legal to fish without a license on a public jetty, including Pacifica Municipal Pier and Torpedo Wharf in SF, both of which are crab scenes. “But I recommend getting licensed, anyway,” Kondo says. This will give you the most flexibility to find the best spots, and “it supports fishing”.
What kind of equipment do you need to make crab?
Choose your own adventure from three options:
- A rod, reel and snare with six loops are Kondo’s equipment of choice. You can hunt from the shore and hang out on a beach.
- A hoop made of two or three rings, that’s what this writer grew up dropping off the edge of a dock with her old man. But you have to stop quickly or the crabs will rush.
- A crab trap looks like a box with circular openings. They are the safest and you can get out in the boat and drop them overnight. And each time they are allowed, you will need two buoys, and in addition to the fishing license, a special stamp for an additional $ 2.50.
In any case, you will also need:
- A gauge to measure your crabs.
- Bucket to bring the guards home.
Here’s where to get your gear:
- Gus’ delivery gear is an institution and a kind of experience that dates back over 60 years in the Outer Richmond. Kondo had his first gear there and remains a fan: “Stéphanie is super nice, very adorable, she will take care of you.” (Stephanie Scott is the longtime owner, who doesn’t fish.)
- Hi’s Tackle Box in southern San Francisco is another local favorite.
- Western Navy is a larger chain with locations in Sausalito, Alameda and San Carlos.
What do you use for crab bait?
It was a silly question because sure Kondo grabs his own bait. He uses mackerel, herring or other fatty fish. But Kondo and Gus also recommend the squid, which you can pick up from the hardware store and toss in the freezer until they’re ready to use.
What are the best places to catch crabs in the Bay Area?
Now that is the million dollar question. Finding a good place to make crab, “it comes with time, I guess,” Kondo muses. “You have to be lucky and keep trying.” He recommends testing a few spots and chatting with other anglers to see what they are shooting. Here are the crowd favorites with Kondo’s recs:
- Pacifica Municipal Pier is a popular place to catch unlicensed Dungeness, and it can be a scene, with camping chairs and asada carne on the grill. But Kondo cannot in good conscience recommend it. “This place is crowded. You have to fight people to fish. It’s shoulder to shoulder, ”he says. “The only time I made it there was when it was raining heavily, I was there on my own and got three big Dungees in a matter of hours.”
- Torpedo dock in the Presidio is a popular place to catch rock crab without a permit. But in the same way, it gets very crowded, and because it’s located right inside the Golden Gate Bridge, that means you are only allowed to catch rock crab.
- Kondo prefers Boulangers Beach just outside the bridge to get away from the crowd with his rod and reel, and likewise, Ocean beach will give you more space to space yourself out.
- Half moon bay is a popular hub for charter boat trips, if you want to pay for a guide (see more below).
Is dungeness tastier than rock crab?
It’s a matter of personal taste. Kondo likes both: he says rock crab has a firmer texture and thicker fiber, and produces less meat – you might have a big claw, but those legs are small. While Dungeness releases large chunks of milky, sweet meat. (In a blind taste test, the sushi chef could taste the difference every time.)
When are the best times to make crab?
Different fishermen will give you different advice, with some checking the tide tables for low and rising tides. But Kondo says he pays more attention to the weather and swells. “As long as you can throw the bait and let it sit,” he says. “If the swell is too big, your bait is going to be beaten.”
How long does it usually take to catch a crab?
Speaking of which, you need to develop a sense of timing. Using his rod and reel from the beach, Kondo casts and waits at least 10 minutes before checking his bait. Depending on how much the crabs are munching on, it will shorten up to 6 minutes or extend up to 20 minutes, refreshing the bait if necessary, or trying another spot. Now is the perfect time to eat a donut or have a beer. Then test the line to see if it feels heavy and wrap it as you see fit with constant tension.
How to measure and verify gender?
Oh my god you caught a crab! Now take out that gauge: Dungeness minimum size is 5 inches and Rock crab is 4 inches, so send the little guys back for next season. Surprisingly, in California, recreational crabbers are allowed to keep female Dungeness Crabs, but Kondo and other ethical fishermen always reject them to support the fishery. It’s really easy to spot the difference – flip a crab over and the female has a much wider triangle on her abdomen.
How many crabs are you allowed to keep?
Oh my god, you caught a lot of crabs! The daily Dungeness limit is 10 crabs, if you are lucky, and rock crab is 35 crabs, which would be a serious catch.
Sounds tricky – can I hire a guide?
It is so easy! It’s so much fun! But yeah sure you can hire a guy just like Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton like to. “If you’re willing to pay for a charter, there are plenty of local charters in the area that will get you there and you’ll most likely get crabs,” confirms Kondo. He recommends Gatherer Outfitters at Berkeley Marina or New Huck Finn Sportfishing in Emeryville, to name a few. Unfortunately, you can’t date Kondo, who doesn’t have a guide license. But hey, if you are inspired by his videos, you can still paddle with your own kayak.
What’s the best way to cook and eat crab?
Aside from simply boiling some crab and drowning it in melted butter, the sushi chef has a favorite black pepper crab recipe, which he will post to his YouTube channel soon. In a wok, he mixes an oyster sauce, butter, a lot of black pepper and a little water. Then he adds quarters or crab legs and simmer until the meat is firm and the sauce coats the crab, about 10 minutes. Then he pours fresh green onions and cilantro on top.
Most importantly, “Don’t be discouraged if you don’t catch them the first time. Bring friends, have beers, have a good time, ”Kondo says. “The crab is the bonus, if you get one.” And my old man would also tell you to always bring a raincoat.