Many people consider Netarts Bay and its little community a hidden gem on the northern Oregon Coast, off the heavily beaten path of Highway 101 but just 15 minutes from Tillamook.
Netarts Bay is not the salmon-fishing mecca that Tillamook Bay is, which accounts for some of the reduced traffic.
In fact, current regulations make it illegal to fish for salmon, steelhead and trout in the bay, which has only small creeks feeding into it. (These tributaries also are closed to fishing.)
But if you’re interested in clamming and crabbing, you would do well to get to know Netarts, where the lack of much incoming fresh water provides the ideal conditions for shellfish.
The part of the bay most popularly used for recreation is safe for smaller boats using the nice public launch and boat basin.
The caveat here is that there are no protective jetties and the bay mouth can get dicey during the outgoing tide, so steer clear of that area. Most people should simply not consider crossing the bar.
Also be keenly aware of sandbars that can linger just under the water’s surface, depending on the tide.
Learn more about shellfishing opportunities (and a little bit of fishing) in the article below, but first note that Netarts also has a robust (and perhaps tempting) oyster-farming industry.
However, you should know that those oysters are completely off-limits to recreational harvest, so don’t go picking them up even if they look like they don’t belong to someone. You can buy Netarts oysters if you look for them.
Also note that Oregon’s licensing requirements for clamming and crabbing are different than for fishing, so take care of that ahead of time and consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for limits and other regulations.
Time your trip to a good low tide, gather up a few tools and Netarts Bay is a clammers paradise less than two hours from most of the Portland area.
The bay has several very accessible clamming areas that can be reached on foot, so you don’t need to haul a boat down or rent one to find success, although a boat would give you access to more areas and make for a nice two-fer trip with crabbing on the following incoming tide.
Before discussing specific clamming areas you should know, note that a large part of the southern bay is a shellfish preserve that’s off-limits to all harvest. It’s well marked, so pay attention and simply steer clear. There is plenty of open ground.
On the north end of Netarts, just where the bay makes a turn toward the ocean near the end of Crab Avenue, there are excellent beds for digging gaper clams, with butter clams also available.
This is a rocky area where a heavy-tined garden fork (maybe along with a shovel) will work best.
A fairly small area with good bank access is located about a third of a mile south of the boat basin, right off of Netarts Bay Drive around the mouth of Rice Creek. You’ll find a fairly even mix of butter and gaper clams here.
If you keep heading south on Netarts Bay Drive, you come to a large expanse of sand and mud flats on either side of the Whiskey Creek Road intersection.
There are a number of species of clam types in the Whiskey Creek area, with gaper and butter clams the most prevalent. You can walk into the east side from the road or boat in from the channel from bay side.
There’s another clamming area farther south along Netarts Bay Drive, north of what has been the Whiskey Creek Cafe, easily reached by walking in from pullouts along the road.
In this area, a bit farther up into the bay, you’ll find good numbers of littleneck clams here. Use a shovel or rake.
On the west side of the main channel are several good clam beds that require boat access.
If you come out of the boat basin and point due west, there is good clamming tucked into a cove on the other side of the channel. This is a sandy area with lots of butter clams. Use a shovel or clam gun.
If you instead leave the boat basin and cross the channel in a southward direction, you’ll quickly come to a couple of large sand bars separated by a small channel.
You’ll find gaper clams throughout this area, as well as cockles mostly in the northern section closer to the boat basin. Use a shovel or clam gun to dig gapers and a rake or your bare hands to collect cockles.
If it’s softshell clams you’re after, continue south to another large sandbar to the west of the Whiskey Creek area but near the center of the bay.
While softshells dominate in this area, cockle and littleneck clams also are available. A shovel or clam gun will do the job in this area.
To reiterate, be aware of the shellfish preserve and watch for signs for off-limit areas and don’t harvest oysters.
Clam aficionados might also note that the ocean side of the long Netarts Spit, accessed from Cape Lookout State Park on the south end, can at times produce some pretty decent razor clam catches. For more on that type of clamming, see Best Razor Clamming Beaches in Oregon.
If you crab on Oregon’s north coast, Netarts Bay should be on your list.
Netarts simply is one of the most reliable crabbing spots in Oregon, primarily because there are no large rivers entering the bay to flush it full of fresh water, which crabs avoid by returning to the ocean.
Therefore, Netarts can provide excellent crabbing when bays such as nearby Tillamook Bay aren’t as productive.
There is plenty of space for crabbing here, especially since the bay doesn’t have quite the boat traffic of some bays and you’re not competing for space with salmon anglers.
Major crabbing area for boaters stretches in both directions from the boat basin in the community of Netarts, with good crabbing just outside of the main shipping channel.
From the launch, crabbing can be good about a third to half mile toward the ocean.
In the other direction, drop crab pots and rings along the sides of the deeper water for about a mile up into the bay, again steering clear of the main channel to allow other boats to get through.
Another excellent spot for boat or bank crabbing is closer to shore, in the area between the south side of the boat basin (Boiler Hole) and about Rice Creek, an area of perhaps a third of a mile.
Bank crabbers will sometimes use rod and reel crab-catching tackle in this area as well as from the jetty rocks around the boat basin.
Crabbing here is open year-round and is popular during the mild Oregon summers, but if you really want to hit the peak season come here from September into the fall. The crabs will be big and hard-shelled and loaded with succulent meat.
Crabbing is usually best on slack tides and usually decent on the incoming tides. If you really want to hit it right, schedule your trip for the last hours of a morning incoming tide (less windy) and crab through the high slack.
Outgoing tides can be tough, both in terms of catching fewer crabs and potentially losing gear.
Without a fishery for salmon, not many anglers focus on Netarts Bay.
However, at times anglers enjoy a pretty decent fishery here, most often for several species of saltwater perch, a fun and tasty quarry if you can find a school of them.
This perch fishery has potential much of the year but can be especially good around mid-spring when surfperch enter the bay in numbers.
From the bank, try the Boiler Hole and other access areas around the boat basin or to the north closer to the bay mouth.
Boaters can also pick up perch in the channels between sand bars.
Live sand shrimp, clam necks and other natural baits, pieces of raw shrimp from the grocery store, and artificial surf-fishing soft baits often used for surf fishing also will catch perch here.
Also note for anglers in this area: If you want to try catching perch in the surf, the beaches of Netarts Spit mentioned in the clamming section above would be a decent bet.
Other species of fish that might be caught in Netarts Bay include greenling and perhaps the occasional flounder and rockfish.
We’d note that fishing for rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and similar structure-oriented fish is generally better in Tillamook Bay (near the jetties and rocks) and other shoreline places with more rocky habitats, including jetties.
To find other angling, crabbing and clamming opportunities nearby, go to Best Fishing in Tillamook County.