EDITOR’S COLUMN | Dungeness crab, real manhood here I come

I’ve done some pretty cool stuff in my life, things many people will probably never do. For example, I know what it feels like to be at sea on a sailboat and look in any direction and not see land. I’ve jumped out of an airplane 169 times and lived the life of a parachute packer. I’ve worked at national parks, been a captain on a shark-tour boat and walked the ancient streets of Istanbul. I even got married and became a father.

Despite all of that, it’s only this week that I will truly become a man and pass a Whidbey rite of passage. This week, I drop my first crab pot.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve hauled more than my fair share of cold and slimy pot line. I spent a few weeks nearly every summer as a kid on Useless Bay crabbing with my grandfather. And anyone who knew Norm Smith knows this counts for something, for this was a man who was serious about his Dungeness crab.

Over decades of experience, he’d learned the best places to drop his pots and they went down exactly where he wanted them to. This was all before GPS and waypoints of course, and accomplished with visual line-ups — the tried-and-true practice of using two fixed points on land, one behind another, to determine a position. Use two or three different line-ups and, well, X marks the spot. The only electronics he had aboard was an old flasher-type depth finder. Kinda like a radial telephone, a light would spin around a circular path and flash at the right depth.

As for bait, I don’t have enough space in this column to adequately cover the depth of the guy’s knowledge, but summed up his philosophy was to stay natural. Clam shells from the previous night’s dinner, salmon fish heads, sole bones, etc.; he swore this was the only way to go. His only break from this practice was canned cat food. I don’t remember the brand, but it seemed to work for rarely was the man skunked.

In later years, I did a bit of crabbing with my father as well. His methods leave a bit more to chance, perhaps, but he seems to get results all the same. His secret weapon, if you could call it a secret at all, is a turkey leg. Works every time.

So, while I’ve had a lots of experience hauling pots, changing bait and eating lots and lots, and lots and lots and lots of crab, it’s always been as a second, a deckhand, i.e. the guy not in charge. But tonight that will all change. I’ve got the pot, I’ve got the license (or will within a few hours) the leaky boat, a lifejacket, tons of cat food and even a helper of my own — my 14-year-old son, Kyle.

Manhood, here I come.