Over the years I have pretty much tried every trick in the book to catch Dungeness crabs in Bandon, Oregon.
In those same years I have learned one FACT, and that’s the fact that crabbing is an art, not a science. So many factors play into catching crabs that you can never hope to hit the Holy Grail and perfect crabbing every time you go out. You can however increase your odds.
The following list of tips will help you overall in your effort to catch legal Dungeness crabs:
Bait is important
Things that are natural to crabs seem to do better. This includes using fish carcasses, squid, clams and the like. Using these natural baits also have a downside in that seals seem to love them as much as the crab do. In a battle of you vs. the seal vs. your bait, YOU LOSE. So the BEST tip on bait is protect it at all costs. Using a bait bag or bait box will often keep the seals at bay. It will also help to keep the crab on your bait longer.
If a crab pulls off a nice piece of your bait, more than likely it’ll crawl off and eat it. So something to stop them from tearing off chunks will improve your odds when using crab rings.
Location, location, location
Crabs tend to get pushed around with the tides and also tend to settle into channels formed by those tides and river flow. If you can find a place near channels, your odds go up. If you want to crab where it’s best for you, such as an enclosed boat basin, your odds go down.
If you are crabbing and are catching at least some crab, then at least you know they are there; if you are getting nothing, likely it’s time to move. I don’t know how many people I have seen crabbing in areas sheltered from the wind and far off the beaten path – and whining how the damn crabs are not to be found. Well, DUH!
Crab rings aren’t for wimps
A Dungeness crab may be a dumb little sea creature, but when the ground moves underneath them they have enough sense to think all hell is breaking loose and it’s time to get out of Dodge. So if you are using a crab ring and pulling real slow, your crab are basically yelling “Wooooos” to you and crawling off your crab ring.
Pull quickly! You will get all the rest you need AFTER you have your belly full of fresh Oregon Dungeness crab. But until then, crab like you mean it.
If you can’t do this, get a trap that will at least keep them in for the most part. Traps are heavier and harder to pull than rings, but your success is much less affected by pulling traps up slowly.
Crab when crabbing is good
For every day of the year someone will tell you something about how to know when crabbing is good or bad. From salinity in the water, to months of the year that end in “R,” to the day after a storm, full moon, sewage spill or whatever. But if you REALLY want to know how the crabbing is doing, ask around the stores on the docks; they usually know. They can not only tell you how the crab are running but if they are full and meaty or have just molted. The staff at Tony’s Crab Shack always know what is happening since they cook many of the crab caught in Bandon.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Most crabbers on the docks are totally full of crap and will tell you they caught 30 crab yesterday. That’s just fishing. But they will usually help you with honest questions, like what bait they are using, or how best to throw crab rings, how to measure crabs, and the like. But remember, if someone asks you these questions it’s a time-honored tradition to lie about your catch: You always caught 30 yesterday, but today is slow.
Tony Roszkowski owns Tony’s Crab Shack & Seafood Grill and Port O’ Call Tackle & Gifts in Bandon, where you can get the gear to catch your own dinner or order it off the menu. This article was adapted for this website with his permission.