Outdoors commentary: Crabbing and clamming at the coast

Outdoors commentary: Crabbing and clamming at the coast

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I tend to be of the mountain and desert persuasion, but believe strongly in fun and food, wherever they are found. And nowhere do fun and food combine so beautifully as on the Oregon coast.

So, my invitation to a few of my Virginia Tech fraternity brothers to join me on the coast was understandable. Somehow, the few became several…became a bunch…became many.

I rented three houses in Seal Rock for 30 people and began to plan for their activities: fishing, crabbing and clamming, as well as for their meals, which are closely related. Coastal meals involve an element of guesswork: how much will they catch or dig, and how much will you need to buy?

Under normal conditions I anticipate catching less and buying more. But sometimes the stars align.

My son brought his big boat over and with it we were able to put crab pots in the ocean overnight. The next day we pulled 84 legal males from four pots and had to return 10 because we only had seven licensed people on board. The joy of having so many crabs is tempered somewhat by the need to cook and pick them all, but that’s when having 30 willing pickers comes in handy. Several of them were in it for revenge; they were still bleeding from their Dungeness crab get-acquainted cruise.

It's remarkable how much crab 30 hungry people can eat, but they can’t eat 84 large crabs, so a bunch of it was frozen in milk in anticipation of crab cakes in the next couple of weeks.

The following day part of the crew went bottom fishing and came back with 29 rockfish of different varieties, many of which were wonderful baked, especially when sprinkled with crab meat. Several packages of fish were left, vacuum sealed and frozen in anticipation of cooking…with crab.

The next day we were scheduled to go clamming and everyone was excited to go—except for the people who didn’t want to get dirty or didn’t want to get up early—the weenies. As it turned out, a little peer pressure goes a long way and by daylight almost the entire group was digging for gapers.

Based on my previous experience in this spot, I anticipated harvesting 60 or so gapers, a few butter clams and some cockles, more than enough for a large pot of chowder and lots of fritters. Once again my anticipation proved faulty, because the gapers were few and the cockles were numerous. Cockles are found near the surface and are easy to collect so once my friends began to target the cockles, their harvest increased rapidly. By the time I realized and called a halt to digging we had over 400 clams. Well below our legal limit but far more than we could eat in one, or even two sittings.

Once again, a circle of willing participants undertook the meat removal process, and once again, blood was involved, this time self-inflicted. There seemed to be some correlation between beer imbibing and bloodletting. I don’t know why.

The chowder was exceptional, especially with crab sprinkled on it. Now we have several large packages of clams frozen in water, sitting next to the frozen crab. And frozen fish.

Unfortunately, our scheduled tuna fishing trip was cancelled because the tuna were still too far out but we made up for our loss by purchasing a bushel of oysters.

Only the skilled shuckers took part removing the oysters so thankfully, blood loss was kept to a minimum. Even more thankfully, we ate all the oysters. Because oysters don’t go well with crab, and there’s definitely no more room in the freezer.

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