Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hood Canal "Deadliest Catch"

"Deadliest Catch" might be the best show on television. Those guys are amazing. So, last May when I was invited to go shrimping on Hood Canal, it conjured up all sorts of thoughts-- mostly that it would be as close as I'll ever get to being like those crabbers in Alaska (which isn't very close . . . . I know).

Hood Canal and the rest of Puget Sound were created about 13,000 years ago, during the Late Pleistocene by a great ice sheet. The Marmes Man was probably walking around the ice sheet about that time. (Watch for a future post on the Marmes Man and Dry Falls).

Hood Canal was named by the Captain George Vancouver in 1792, when he was making a detailed survey of the Coast of British Columbia. His ships were named the Discovery and Chatham. The United States Board on Geographic Names decided on "Hood Canal" as the official name in 1932.

We were going to catch the "spotted" or "spot" shrimp or, officially, pandalus platyceros. The spotted shrimp (or prawn) is found from Alaska to Southern California, as well as in the Sea of Japan and Korea Straight. Spot shrimp are the largest species of shrimp in Puget Sound and can reach more than nine inches in length, excluding the antennae. They are reddish-brown and deep-pink in color and are recognized by the white spots on their body. They are most commonly found 300 feet deep and below on sandy and rocky floors.

Interestingly, spot prawns are "protandric hermaphroditic" meaning that each individual initially matures as a male and then passes through a transition stage to become a female. Spot prawns usually live for about 4 years, starting their lives as males and maturing at one year of age. They function as mature males for 2 years and then transform into females in their final year of life. Females might mate only once.

The season is only open a couple of days each year. Due to extremely high catch rates in 2010, the Hood Canal quota was attained in four days, so no additional days of fishing were allowed in 2010. There are a lot of technical and scientific papers about spot shrimp on the internet, particularly because they are harvested commercially, too. There are also some websites for sport shrimpers, which I suppose is what we were called that afternoon. Still, we had to have a shellfish license from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and our limit was 80 shrimp per person.

The shrimp pots had a yellow buoy marked with a name and contact information and 250-350 feet of rope. Inside the pot is a mesh bait container. The bait can be made of different things, as shrimp are omnivores and will feed on most fishy things-- fish guts and meat sprayed with fish oil for additional scent, scented pellets, or the favored canned cat food.

For many years the cat food “Puss’n Boots” was a popular and effective choice because it was soaked in fish oil. "If it isn't 'Puss n'Boots' cat food you're not fishing. I usually use cat food, with addition ingredients with fish scraps as hanging bait. You need the odor to draw the shrimp in and the hanging bait to keep them in."-- James Schufreider.

The company has gone out of business. It was made by Coast Fishing Co. of South California, which was bought out by Quaker Oats and later sold to Del Monte. It was later discontinued due to lack of sales. I don't know what "Puss'n Boots" smelled like, as we always fed our dog "Friskies."

We put the shrimp pots over the side of the boat and let them soak-- just like they do in "Deadliest Catch." They were down about 300 feet. Gloves are good for hauling the pots, but we had a winch aboard.

That was it-- shrimping on Hood Canal in the spirit of all the great fishermen.
(Captain Phil Harris 1956-2010)


  1. I've seen many struggles with the bait recipe. Congrats. Nicely cleaned shrimp you have there. The vein must be removed (not everyone does that). I put em in a skillet with white wine (no water), celery salt and minced garlic (salt to taste), and cook em quick. So much better than boiling in-shell with too much salt and that awful vein. Better than lobster! I've also got Giovanni's (of North Shore Oahu) scampi recipe figured out but that's a secret.

  2. And butter in that skillet. Maybe 2 tablespoons. Don't forget the butter.

  3. Royce, What a cute little dog! Is that actually THE Jerry that ate Friskies?