SNOHOMISH — It’s a far cry from the bayous of Louisiana, but the crawfish look right at home in the metal trap as Ithamar Glumac hoists them out of the water.
“They’re bottom feeders, so they’re perfectly happy to hang out in this trap for as long as I’ll leave them there,” Glumac said. “Food floats right on by and predators can’t get them, so it’s probably like a nice vacation home for them more than anything.”
A huge plastic bucket, full of crawfish loosed from similar traps just minutes before, awaits on Glumac’s boat. He unlatches the wire cage and shakes the most recent handful of tiny lobsters out into the tub with their brethren. Then it’s on to the next stop, another one of the hundreds of traps up the Snohomish River pinpointed by Glumac’s GPS-powered fish finder.
The untrained eye would have quite a time finding the buoys that mark Glumac’s traps, hidden as they are according to a proprietary method he’s figured out over the last seven years he’s run Washington Crawfish Company. He’s not just shielding them from the prying eyes of would-be shellfish thieves, of which he’s encountered a few — dogs have been known to tear off with the buoys, and beavers sometimes chew through the lines tethering traps to shore.
But with the aid of the GPS and a sharp eye, Glumac expertly pilots his boat over to just the right spot on the riprap riverbank and uses a long crook to snag the line between trap and buoy. And the process repeats again, turning up a few crustaceans — about a pound in each trap, or 12 or so crawfish — at each stop.
Glumac, a welding engineer by day, spends most of his mornings just like this during Washington’s crawfish season, the end of May to the end of October. He first started Washington Crawfish Company in the hopes of monetizing a lifelong hobby, and now he’s Snohomish County’s premier purveyor of the aquatic crustaceans known with varying degrees of affection as crawfish, crawdads, sea cockroaches, or just plain “bugs.” In a region of the country much better known for its salmon fishing than its crawfish boils, Glumac is bringing a Gulf-style delicacy to homesick Cajuns and Northwest novices alike.
The dull reddish-brown crawfish snagged by Glumac’s traps are actually a distinct variety from the red crawfish beloved by Louisianans. Known as signal crayfish, they taste similar but require a little more delicate handling than their hardy red counterparts, as Glumac learned quickly upon moving to Washington from the Gulf Coast of Texas.
“Down there, you see people hauling out 50 pounds of crawfish with no trouble and shoving them all into a plastic tub with a lid, basically, and they’re fine because they don’t need as much oxygen as signals do,” Glumac said. “Here, they’re a little more nitpicky about their living conditions — they need to be kept in fresh water, recirculated regularly, with plenty of oxygen available.”
That wasn’t the only surprise Glumac met with when he first started trying to adapt a tradition he’d grown up with in the South to his new Northwest home. He’d been a passionate hobby fisherman all his life, taking advantage of the abundance of sea life in the warm coastal waters.
“In the Gulf area you can catch something good without hardly trying,” Glumac said. “You can hang out a twig with some old styrofoam on it and catch something if you wanted.”
But Washington’s waters proved a little more challenging. Glumac quickly found Northwest fishing required a lot more gear than it did back home, all of which brought operating costs much higher than he could justify for a casual hobby. So he started looking for ways to turn a profit — or at least maybe break even — on his weekend pastime.
Enter the humble crawfish, which Glumac soon found he could get a commercial license to catch with little hassle compared to other species. It was the perfect side-business venture on paper: The traps he uses, many of which he designed or modified himself, are inexpensive and far more time-efficient than hook-and-line fishing, and with his commercial permit he could sink up to 400 of them in the river between Everett and Duvall. The biggest time commitment would be regularly checking the traps and re-baiting them, and Glumac anticipated it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to handle on top of his day job in Redmond.
Glumac officially started Washington Crawfish Company in 2015. He tried at first to find local crawfishing sweet spots through leads in Facebook groups and old-timer hearsay, but didn’t have much luck at first. Between that and an incident in which his trusty fishing boat sunk and washed out to sea — only to be recovered in Port Gardner by Navy personnel and returned to Glumac a few days later — he admits he was planning on calling it quits on his crustacean dream.
“I’ve had boats sink, I’ve jumped over logs hidden in the river at 30 miles an hour, I’ve had to rescue stranded guys in my Jet Ski a couple times,” Glumac laughs. “The Discovery Channel show practically writes itself. We could call it ’Deadliest Catch: Snohomish County.’”
He took a couple of years off from seriously pursuing the crawfish business, but was lured back in as requests started to pour in from folks seeking large quantities of the bugs for traditional Gulf-style crawfish boils. These boils are a “go big or go home” kind of affair, with three or four pounds of fish per person being the standard, plus tender halved new potatoes, onions, whole heads of garlic and pounds’ worth of Louisiana-style seasoning all combining to make an irresistibly aromatic broth. A classic crawfish boil recipe, vetted by Glumac himself, is up on his website, washingtoncrawfish.com, to guide those new to the process.
You’ll need at least 40 or 50 pounds of crawfish for a sizable summer gathering — an amount that would take an eternity to catch with the five traps allotted by a recreational license. It’s illegal to transport crawfish over state lines, so Washingtonians craving a taste of Louisiana were more or less left in the lurch.
It was Glumac’s time to shine.
These days, as a one-man operation, Glumac can’t haul the little creatures up fast enough to meet demand from his devoted fanbase. Until recently, he operated on a preorder basis: Place a request for your desired quantity of crawfish through the company website, and Glumac catches them as needed. Any leftovers go up for grabs at market price, currently $9.50 per pound.
But as word spread, demand spiked dramatically. And not just from Southern transplants, but from Southeast Asian, Chinese and Eastern European diaspora communities who just couldn’t get enough of Glumac’s fresh, local catch.
(Crustacean not-so-fun fact: When native crawfish species in Eastern Europe began disappearing due to a disease known as crawfish plague, the North American signal crayfish was brought in to save the day. It’s now one of the most widespread invasive species in Europe, and European crawfish are nearly extinct.)
“I never anticipated that anyone but folks from the South even really knew what a crawfish was good for up here,” Glumac said. “But it’s such a staple in some of these cultural traditions, and they’re some of my best customers. I could sell 1,000 pounds a week during the season if I had the time and energy.”
But it does take quite a lot of effort to keep the little suckers coming to his customers through the season. Like their bigger lobster brothers, crawfish are kept alive until you throw them into the stockpot that will serve as their watery grave. You don’t want to encounter any inedible, dead floaters when you go to toss your catch into the boil, so Glumac’s worked out a system of live wells that recirculate fresh water through a tank to keep the bugs happy and wriggling, if a little dazed, from the river to his Sultan home.
There, the shellfish will hang out in a massive tank in Glumac’s front yard for at least three days. As bottom feeders, they need to purge whatever detritus remains in their systems for a while to ensure the best, freshest taste. Customers can come pick up their portion of the catch self-serve style and haul them home to eat that night. If you require delivery for an order over 50 pounds, Glumac will transport the critters directly from the water in a live well in the back of his pickup. It’ll be like they never left the river at all.
After several seasons of juggling two full-time jobs, Glumac is now restructuring his order process for the 2024 season. He admits he’s pretty worn out, but the crawfish have an uncanny way of practically selling themselves. Even as he navigates the river in search of hidden traps, a fisherman embroiled in a search for salmon yells out to Glumac and asks if he has any crawfish to spare.
Glumac points to the company logo and website emblazoned on his boat’s outboard motor, offers a thumbs-up to the other fisherman, and he sighs.
“See what I mean?” he said. “Crawfish in Washington, of all places. I couldn’t have planned this if I tried.”
Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; email@example.com; Twitter: @RHaunID.