Pacific Northwest locals are very nonchalant when discussing Dungeness crab. Dungies (as locals call them) are arguably the best crab on the planet. We crabbers are somewhat protective of our favorite spots and our most reliable bait.
Most of us have pulled fresh crab from the Puget Sound and Salish Sea. And with some experience tucked under our belt, we tend to think we know what we’re doing. But most of the time we just get lucky and land a few keepers. However, that’s not the case for Corey Joyce. Filling the pot is his daily hustle.
He’s salty, confident, and out-smarts the crab on the daily. He says his luck comes by hard work and experience, and that’s more than enough reason to say yes to a day of fishing with him.
When I was invited to catch crab with Corey at San Juan Adventures, I tried to act real casual. But I have to be honest, by the time the seaplane touched down in Roche Harbor, excitement was building in my gut. I invited my cousin Meghan to join us for the day. She’s a San Juan Island local, and the perfect person to share the experience with.
I played it cool when I met up with Meghan. She goes crabbing all the time. I didn’t want her to notice how stoked I was. We grabbed a doughnut at Lime Kiln Café and made our way to the dinghy dock to meet up with Captain Corey at the launch point for San Juan Adventures. Stepping aboard the clean 32-foot, fully customized Buffalo fishing rig and meeting the Captain, my facade melted. I couldn’t hide my anxious anticipation for one more second. We were going fishing!
The harbor glistened with morning sun and the salty air perked up my cheeks. Crab fishing with Corey is like the perfect combination of Deadliest Catch and your favorite ride at Disneyland.
He has all the professional gear. Heavy pots. A pot puller. A line coiler. A crab sorting table. And he’s at the helm, fully outfitted in his orange Grundéns. There are endless opportunities for photos as pots are baited and sent over the side. When the pots splash and the energy rush hits suddenly all that mattered was limiting. I couldn’t help but wonder if crabs were starting to wander into pots even as the boat put back in for a brief break.
The pots needed to take a proper soak, which gave us a bit of time to kill. So we headed over to Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. I could write poetry about what it’s like to pick out beautiful oysters, roast them on a grill with compound butter and pair them with San Juan Vineyards wine and San Juan Brewery beer. But I promise, it’s precisely as glorious as you would imagine.
While there, we met a fun group of friends on a weekender, taking in the afternoon and a group of locals doing the same. And suddenly it was one big oyster-shucking, wine-drinking party.
A couple of hours ticked by and it was time to pull the pots. When the boat arrived at the first pot, Corey gave Meghan the opportunity to throw the hook. She missed on the first try. So we circled back, laughing and teasing her in good-natured fun.
But on her second throw, she tossed the line and caught the block. We held our breath as Captain Corey coiled the line foot by foot, bringing the briny smell of the sea over the rail. The pot broke the surface, filled with big purple and grey beauties. Whoops and cheers broke the silence.
Pot after pot brought in just enough crab for us all to take turns, measuring and sorting until our limits were reached. The sun, the salt, and the boat filled with crab. I thought it couldn’t get much better. But it did.
Once back on the dock, Corey started the flame under his propane crab cooker. He cooked and cleaned all the crab, dumping it onto the deck. And suddenly, we found ourselves cracking crab with the bottom of cold beer bottles. (Megan used her teeth. The sign of a true local.)
We ate the sweet-salty goodness, still warm and fresh, until we couldn’t eat anymore. And somehow, the pile of uncracked crab seemed just as big as before we’d begun. Corey packed the remainder of our spoils on ice. I said my goodbyes to Meghan and meandered my way to the seaplane dock in time for the day’s final flight home to Kenmore just before sunset.
To say it was a day to be remembered, is putting it mildly. And with all that leftover crab (thanks Corey!), the delight of getting away continued. The following recipe is a contribution from the well-loved Carter family of Kenmore, Wash., and Pearl Island.
Spending summers in the islands has meant the pots were always soaking. This recipe for crab cakes is not only delicious and impressive, it’s the Carter family solution for what to do when you’re blessed with excessive bounty. These beauties can even be frozen and enjoyed as a sweet bite of summer island fun throughout the year.
Carter Family Crab Cakes
The amount of crab you’ll have is variable, so start by measuring your crab. Based on the amount of crab, you’ll want roughly half that ratio of chopped onions and cheese.
- Cooked, shelled crab meat
- Onion, chopped fine
- Pepper Jack Cheese, shredded
- Italian Breadcrumbs
- Butter, used for softening onion and frying crab cakes
Sauté onions in butter, add to a mixing bowl with crab meat and cheese. Add 1 beaten egg to the mixture. (If your mixture exceeds 4 cups in total, add two eggs.)
Gently mix onion, crab, and cheese together, being careful not to smash ingredients. Form mixture it into patties. (We like our crab cakes a bit bigger, so we typically use about a ½ cup of the mixture per crab cake, but you can adjust the size as you would like.)
Add breadcrumbs to a shallow dish and gently lay crab cakes on breadcrumbs, flipping to coat both sides.
In a medium fry pan, sauté 1-2 tablespoons butter on medium. Add crab cakes 2 at a time to the pan, allowing for generous spacing.
Cook until the exterior is crispy and golden and the egg has cooked to bind and hold the patty.
The Carter Family serves these delicious cakes with a sauce made of sour cream and salsa.
MORE FUN THINGS TO DO IN THE SAN JUANS
While dinner out and a dozen roses are nice, a quiet getaway is the ultimate in perfection. And, there’s no better place to cuddle up with your someone special than in the San Juans!
In a variety of delectable flavors and sizes, Brown Bear Baking on Orcas Island serves pastries worthy of praise.
Love solving puzzles and riddles? Test your wits at Elusion — Orcas Island’s escape room, where you’ll have to solve your way to freedom.
There’s more to Rosario Resort than its picturesque setting. Moran Mansion is home to both a 1913 Aeolian pipe organ and a 1900 Steinway grand piano, where free public concerts are regularly offered.