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Crab a la Kayak



It was a perfect winter day in Trinidad -- blue skies, bright sun and ocean breezes. Just right for hauling crab pots around on a kayak.

Yes, a kayak.

While they may not be the most conventional crabbing vessels around, kayaks have a growing fan base, according to Greg Mounton, who helps coordinate the Lost Coast Kayak Anglers.

The social network of more than 150 people is picking up a few new members each week, he said, joining other participants who go online to find fishing partners, trade tips and condition updates, or just brag about their latest catch. Some prefer fishing poles, but crabbing contraptions aplenty were around earlier this month when 15 enthusiasts showed up for "Crabbing for a Cause," a kayak crabbing tournament in Trinidad Harbor to benefit North Coast Stand Down.

The basic idea combines elements of surfing, fishing and kayaking. Just strap some pots onto your sea kayak, squeeze into a dry suit and power through the surf until you find a good spot to drop your pots. Spend the next few hours paddling around the bay and surfing the break, then return to haul up your pots. A few hours later you can be enjoying fresh crab for dinner, the perfect end to a perfect winter day.

At the tournament, each kayak crabber had a different system, custom-fit for his style. One crabber used a dive kayak, a wooden Greenland paddle, and rings -- a lightweight alternative to traditional crab pots.  Another used a wide sit-on-top kayak and pots. Most wore drysuits, but some preferred wetsuits for their maneuverability.

Robert Bray of Eureka, who snagged an impressive 2½ pound crab during the tournament, said his favorite crabbing spots are pinnacles of rock, under which crabs like to hide. Once at one of those spots, Bray demonstrated the careful way he drops his rings or pots off the side of his kayak, and the even more careful way he pulls them up. "My sea kayak is pretty stable," he said, "so I just throw my legs over the side and pull up the pots between my legs."

(Bray is also an avid kayak fisher. "I've paddled out seven miles before to get fish," he said.)

The tournament was organized by Pacific Outfitters' staff members Mouton and Aaron Ostrom, with area businesses donating coffee, doughnuts, beer and gear, and prizes awarded for the heaviest crab and heaviest total haul. The winners took home new crab pots and crab rings, which are popular with kayak crabbers. The rings are made up of a set of concentric metal rings with a small metal cage in the middle for bait.  Tournament participants listed chicken, goose and duck meat as favorite bait options, but "oily" fish heads were popular, too. 

Entrants paid $25 for the privilege of "crabbing for a cause," and many donated some or all of their catch to the Vet Center, which held a crab feast fundraiser on Sunday night to raise more money for Stand Down. (In the competition, Andy Lauerman won for both heaviest crab at 3.01 pounds and heaviest limit at 25 pounds, 15 ounces.)

Some of the tournament participants were seasoned veterans of the sport, while others were just learning. Mouton said, "Some folks try to turn [kayak crabbing] into an elite sport. We don't do that. We welcome newbies."

Trinidad Harbor is a favorite crabbing spot for kayakers, but many have luck kayaking in Humboldt Bay, too. According to Mouton, "You can even catch crabs from the local docks on a good day."

Wherever you go, Ostrom said, the sport has a few basic requirements. "You need a drysuit or a wetsuit, a radio, and a partner. This is a buddy sport." He stressed, "Always check the forecast. Low or no wind is important, but conditions can change fast." One crabber recounted being rescued by the Coast Guard recently after finding himself in choppy surf and high wind, unable to get back to the beach. "They were great about it," he said. "They asked me if I was OK and if I caught anything." He laughed, "I try not to call the Coast Guard more than once a year." 

By the afternoon, the tournament participants were making their way back to the beach, having caught their limit. They pulled their crabs from buckets, pots and kayak hatches. As they waited for their haul to be weighed and ranked, they drank beer and coffee, squinting into the afternoon sun. Not a bad way to spend a perfect winter day.

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