Abalone. Along the Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte areas of the coast, one of life’s true pleasures is an abalone feast. Intenerate the meat (in other words pound the heck out of the tough mollusk till it is tender), coat it with some egg and bread crumbs (I think the Italian seasoned bread crumbs are the best), and then quickly fry it in some butter or butter-flavored shortening. A feast fit for a God—or even a simple “pier rat.” (Unfortunately a feast currently put on hold by the state.)
After cleaning the gnarly beasts, one is left with the delicious meat, a beautiful mother-of-pearl shell, and the guts, which are often used as bait. Since most of the local anglers go ab’ing themselves, or know friends who ab, they have a steady source of bait (except when the state shuts down parts of the coast to ab’ing).
The main goal of many North Coast anglers who use abalone as bait is cabezon, the so-called king of sculpin. However, even though many anglers (and writers) rave about abalone as cabezon bait, I haven’t shared in their success, I generally have had better luck using shrimp, squid or small crabs. Still, the bait is tough, it will stay on a hook even when the crabs are attacking in full force, and many fish will bite on a piece of abalone. I think the best way to use abalone as bait is to cut it like strip bait. Just cut a thin triangular shaped piece of bait two to four inches long, the size depending upon the size hook you are using and the type of fish you are trying to catch.
Since many anglers like to save and use the abalone guts, I thought I might also pass along the following. It was sent to me by John Lopez, one of the readers of the first edition of this book, and once the curator of fishes at the Chula Vista Nature Center. In Japan, studies were being done on abalone and in particular, abalone juice, which seemed to have an antiviral and antibacterial affect that might reduce paralysis and death from polio. At the same time, reports also indicated that abalone guts, mainly the liver, can be toxic to many animals; primarily small animals such as cats, but in a few cases humans. Toxicity is characterized by hypersensitivity to light and any area exposed to sunlight (ears, nose and limbs) can be affected. Although in most instances severe itching and scratching is the result, in a few instances death had occurred. So, be careful when you use these guts and don't feed them to Fido or Sylvester.
As for the abalone meat, I consider it one of my favorite foods. When I was a teacher up in Mendocino County, I had several students who loved to go ab’ing over at the coast (it’s why in Boontling the coast is called the “ab region.”) Surprisingly, given the effort expended to capture the mollusks, a few had no interest in actually eating the abalone. I let them know I would gladly take any abalone they didn’t want to eat. The result was a pretty steady supply of abalone and I became the abalone chef. I would cut them up, pound them out, and cook them up. Delicious!
Today, abalone has become an expensive gourmet treat for those unable or unwilling to go ab’ing themselves. Most of the commercial abalone is farmed, the process takes time, and by harvest time the small abalone are ready to be turned into a delicious but expensive dinner.
It wasn’t always so, at one time the mollusks were almost too abundant. It reminds me of the old “Abalone Song,” a song dating back to the turn of the last century and the campfire feasts held down at Point Lobos, just south of Carmel. Writers like Jack London, and poets like George Sterling, would try to outdo each other by adding new verses to this song—while pounding away at the tough little creatures. The last line certainly indicates that they had not read the information just given regarding pets.
The Abalone Song
Oh some folks boast of quail on toast
Because they think it's tony
But I'm content to owe my rent
And live on abalone.
He wanders free beside the sea
Where ere the coast is stony.
He flaps his wings and madly sings
The plaintive abalone.
By Carmel Bay the people say
We feed the Lazzaroni
On Boston beans and fresh sardines
And toothsome abalone.
Some live on hope
And some on dope
And some on alimony.
But my tom cat he lives on fat
And tender abalone.
Unfortunately, due to a drop in the number of abalone, there is currently a prohibition on their take by sportsman (and so-called poachers posing as sportsmen).
Ken so much nostalgia there .I we used take easy limits of abs at catalina and san clemente island pinks and greens i have many shells from those days . They closed the take here in so cal in the early eighties depleting numbers and rotting foot disease or something like that .I went skin diving last summer at catalina the abalone are back in force ,mostly greens ,we will never be able to take them again.I miss pounding them and cooking quick for a wonderful meal oh well times change.As for bait i have found abalone somewhat disappointing , shrimp and squid worked better a few cabezon is all i ever caught with abalone trimmings. thanks