Crabbing is one of the simple joys of a day at the Oregon Coast. This article includes descriptions of a half dozen Oregon bays where a day at the coast might result in limits of these succulent shellfish.
Nearly all Pacific Northwest recreational crabbers are after Dungeness crab, a large and particularly tasty species. The daily limit is 12 male crabs that at least 5-3/4 inches across the crab's back, measuring just in front of the spines. (Crabbers also sometimes catch other crab species, especially the smaller and less prized red rock crabs. The limit for red rock crabs is 24 of any size.)
Oregon requires a shellfish license (separate from an angling license) to harvest crabs and other shellfish. Fishing businesses in major Oregon ports usually rent or sell crabbing bait and supplies, and many have rental boats as well, along with licenses. The basic equipment is also available online.
Dungeness crabs move between Oregon's bays and the ocean. The bays are open all year to recreational crabbing.
Justin Ainsworth, shellfish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said timing your crabbing trip in the fall is more important to success than figuring out which bay to try. Most bays will be primed with crabs in the latter part of the calendar year, with late September through November usually the very best, with pretty decent crabbing possible from late summer to early winter.
Crabs molt during the summer and take a few months to fill out with good-quality meat, so summertime crabs are lower quality. More quality crabs start to become available in August or September.
Starting in December, commercial crabbing season opens offshore and beings to reduce the number of legal-sized crabs everywhere until the next summer molt brings a new class of large crabs. Also, as winter rainfall increases, rivers pump more fresh water into bays, driving the saltwater-loving crabs from many bays into the ocean.
Several of Oregon's better crabbing bays have public docks that permit crabbing. However, catches from docks typically are lower than those from boats, which allow crabbers to spread their rings and traps in a wider area with less competition from others.
Recreational crabbing also is open in the ocean off Oregon, but unlike bays there is a seasonal ocean closure from Oct. 16 through Nov. 30. Ocean crabbing requires larger boats and higher skills, and better conditions, so bay crabbing is more popular with sport boaters. A number of major Oregon ports have charter boat operations that may include crabbing among their fishing trip options.
Check out the following six bays (listed north to south), which are among the most popular for sport crabbing in Oregon. After that find a list of lesser-known crabbing opportunities on the Oregon Coast.
Columbia River Estuary
The West's largest river meets the Pacific Ocean near Astoria. The area is popular among sport anglers chasing salmon and other game fish, but it's also one of the better crabbing spots in the state if you time your trip well.
The Columbia crabbing season can start in the late summer and early fall, a time when some salmon anglers set traps before heading off to troll. Often the crabbing improves in the mid-fall, and it often is very good until commercial crabbers start thinning the population, usually beginning in December. However, so much of the Columbia's vast drainage area is frozen during the winter that its water flows remain modest into January or even February, allowing decent prospects for mid-winter crabbing between storms.
However, once the giant hydroelectric dams upriver begin releasing water in late winter, the Columbia's high flows drive crabs out of the estuary for many months. Crabbing is typically poor here between the end of winter through mid-summer.
This is largely a boat fishery. There are good boat ramps and other services in Astoria, Hammond and Warrenton on the Oregon side of the river. Most Oregon boaters will set their traps west of Hammond, out toward Clatsop Spit. There are some crabs between Hammond and Warrenton as well.
Also, on the Columbia only, you can crab with the appropriate license from either Washington or Oregon. Follow the crabbing regulations from the state where you launch and land.
The northern Oregon coast's largest bay is a popular chinook salmon and sturgeon fishing destination that often has good crabbing.
There are boating facilities and supplies available in Garibaldi, with most of the crabbing spots west of the port near the jetties, on either side of the channel. There also is good crabbing in "Crab Harbor," tucked behind Kincehloe Point, across the main channel from the Painted Rocks. Both of those are accessible primarily by boat, but there is a public crabbing dock in Garibaldi.
Tillamook Bay is large but has five rivers pouring into it. Crabbing success can quickly fade when heavy rains pump up river levels during the fall and early winter.
This spot just southwest of Tillamook is not a popular fishing bay, since there are no major rivers feeding into it to draw in salmon and other large fish. While there are vast flats, some of which are great for clamming, the crabbing is largely confined to the area near the mouth of the bay on either side of the Netarts Boat Basin.
There are no jetties at Netarts Bay and lots of shallow spots, either of which can lead to treacherous conditions for the newcomer, so it's not always the best place for beginners to get into crabbing.
However, Netarts Bay easily has some of the best and most consistent crabbing on the Oregon coast for reasonably skilled boaters. The lack of major tributaries and a vigorous tidal exchange keeps the bay plenty salty, just to the crabs' liking. This is a go-to spot when other bays, like nearby Tillamook Bay just to the north, are poor for crabbing due to high river inflows. If you're going out later in the season, this might be a top choice.
There is a public ramp and some supplies available, with additional options in nearby Tillamook. There is no dock crabbing here.
One of Oregon's most popular all-around recreational bays can be quite good for Dungeness crabs and also is a good bet for beginners visiting Newport.
Yaquina is a safe bay for new boaters, with plenty of crabbing supplies and boats to rent on both the city and South Beach sides of the bay. There also are public docks where crabbing is permitted on either side, and charter boats sometimes include offshore crabbing with their angling trips.
Crabbing is popular on both sides of the bay, outside of the main channel, both below and above the port and ramp facilities. Crabbing is done here during the summer tourist season, but like most Oregon bays the success rates and quality of crabs will be substantially better between after Labor Day and up until about Thanksgiving.
This is a small bay at the coastal town of Waldport, located between Newport and Florence. Fall chinook salmon are king here, but also during late summer and throughout the fall, Dungeness crabbing is often excellent.
Since the bay is small and safe, crabbing here is relatively easy for beginners and experts alike. There are good public launch facilities for crabbers who already are well-equipped, or visitors can rent boats and get their crabbing supplies locally. There also are public docks where success rates can be fair to good.
Oregon's largest bay is also one of its very best crabbing destinations. Crabs here are numerous and available in a large area in the lower bay.
There are excellent launch facilities, with boat rentals and equipment widely available at several businesses in the bay communities, which include Charleston, Barview and North Bend. And while boating is the easiest path to crab limits, with good spots from Charleston to Empire, there also are popular crabbing docks.
Coos Bay is best in the fall before the rains become relentless, but with a strong influx of saltier ocean water here, this bay can continue to produce good results when smaller bays get flushed with fresh water.
Additional Crabbing Options in Oregon
- Seaside: The busy beach town is not a destination spot for crabbers, but visitors do pitch pots from bridges into the Necanicum River estuary.
- Wheeler: Nehalem Bay has a very good crab fishery. Launch in Wheeler, where there is a marina and supplies.
- Sand Lake: More popular with the dune buggy set, the shallow creek estuary here can produce some crabs near the ocean entrance.
- Pacific City: The Nestucca River forms a small bay here, with a very modest amount of crabbing done. There is far more crabbing offshore, often by a unique beach-launched dory fleet.
- Salmon River Bay: A nice fall chinook fishery just north of Lincoln City also has a very small sport crab fishery. There is a good boat launch in the Three Rocks area.
- Siletz Bay: On the southern edge of Lincoln City, crabbers pitch lines and traps into the mouth of the bay and from a small pier at Mo's. There are no jetties, so skip the boat crabbing near the rough entrance.
- Florence: The Siuslaw River's bay has good crabbing during the prime season and excellent public facilities. Combine a trip with the estuary's excellent fall chinook run in late summer and early fall.
- Winchester Bay: This bay has salmon and all sorts of sport fishing options, and it can be an excellent crabbing destination to boot, though not always as reliable as Coos Bay to the south for crabs. There are plenty of facilities for boaters and also dock crabbing.
- Bandon: This charming bayside town on the Coquille River estuary can be very good for crabbing some years, fair others. Boat and dock crabbers have good facilities.
- Gold Beach: The Rogue River is one of Oregon's best salmon and steelhead rivers, but it simply pumps too much fresh water into its estuary for great crabbing. You might catch some, but there are far more offshore.
- Brookings: The Chetco River is legendary for its super-sized fall chinook, but its undersized estuary gets too much fresh river water for crabs' liking. Like the Rogue, you might catch a few, but head offshore for serious crabbing.
For current regulations, consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's annual regulations booklet or website.