: Jennifer Burns Bright

Crabbing for Beginners on the Oregon Coast

Catching delicious Dungeness crabs is easy and fun for everyone.
August 25, 2022

It gets you outside, into the refreshing air and natural beauty of the Oregon Coast. It’s an enjoyable way to pass the time with family and friends. And if you’re lucky, it can put fresh, delectable seafood on your dinner plate.

We’re talking, of course, about crabbing on the Oregon Coast.

Easy, fun and rewarding, crabbing is a great adventure for anyone. It’s affordable, accessible and, best of all, it’s simple, even for beginners.  

Here’s everything a prospective crabber needs to know about catching your next meal on the Oregon Coast.

Crabbing off the dock in Winchester Bay (Photo by Erik Urdahl)

Catch Dungeness Using Pots or Rings

The most popular way to crab on the Oregon Coast is with a crab ring or pot from a dock  or pier. Crab rings are collapsible baskets attached to a long line; crab pots are more like cages with entrances that let crabs in but don’t let them exit. Both are baited — chicken, turkey, mink or fish work well — tied off to the dock, tossed into the water and allowed to soak for 15 to 30 minutes.

When the time’s up, crabbers pull the ring or pot up and see what’s inside. When using a ring, it’s important to pull up quickly so that it becomes more like a basket and crabs can’t escape.

Rings and pots can be purchased at tackle shops or sporting-goods stores. Another convenient option is to rent from marinas up and down the Coast. Many offer packages that include everything you need, including baited rings, buckets, gloves and a measuring gauge. 

Looking for a little more adventure from your crabbing? Consider renting a boat from a marina and heading out into the bay. The equipment and technique are essentially the same, though whoever’s at the helm needs to be careful not to get the boat tangled up in any lines. You’ll also need surface buoys on your lines, marked clearly with information identifying the owner of the pot. 

Keep Only Large Male Dungeness

On the Oregon Coast, the Dungeness crab is king. Plentiful and tasty — the meat is mild and slightly sweet — Dungeness crabs are mainly what crabbers seek. But not every Dungeness is a keeper.

Only male crabs can be kept. You can tell the difference by flipping the crab over and looking at its abdomen: Males have a narrow, triangular abdomen flap while females have a wide, rounded one. Be careful to only pick up crabs from the back of their shell so you avoid getting pinched. 

Male Dungeness crabs must also measure at least 5 ¾ inches across the back. Any smaller and they’ll need to be tossed back. You can buy an inexpensive plastic crab gauge designed to easily measure them at any tackle shop. Just remember to measure directly in front of the spines on either side of their back shell. Crabbers can keep up to 12 Dungeness per day.

Another prime target for crabbers is the red rock crab. They look similar to Dungeness, but they have a dark red shell and the tips of their claws are black. A native species, red rock crabs aren’t as common as Dungeness, but there aren’t as many requirements for keeping them. Crabbers can keep up to 24 red rocks per day, no matter the sex or size.

Jetty Fishery on Nehalem Bay (Photo by Justin Bailie)

Crab in Late Summer Through Early Winter at Slack Tide

Recreational crabbing is open year-round on the Oregon Coast, but some months are more fruitful than others. The best time of year is September through December.

Crabbing is also at its best during slack water, when the tide is at peak high or low.  It’s then that crabs are not being pushed around by the tides and are crawling around in search of food. Check a local tide table to find out when peak high and low tides will be.

Coastal Bays Are Prime Crabbing Territory

Options abound for crabbing on the Oregon Coast. A few popular spots are::

  • Nehalem Bay — Located on the North Coast, Nehalem Bay is a popular crabbing spot with several marinas offering rentals and docks.
  • Coos Bay — This Southern Oregon Coast bay is ripe with crabs and crabbing spots, including commercial docks, jetties and boats.
  • Tillamook Bay — Boats provide the best access to crabbing here, but there are also several choice spots for tossing in a ring.
  • Yaquina Bay – A public pier on the south side of the bay is a popular spot for crabbing in summer and fall.  
A crab being hosed off on a table
Cleaning a crab at Kelly's Brighton Marina (Photo by Alex Jordan)

Clean and Cook Your Catch

So you’ve caught yourself some keepers. What’s next? 

Store your catch in a cooler or bucket filled with water or ice. Some marinas will offer to cook and clean your crab for you, and some, like Kelly’s Brighton Marina in Rockaway Beach, even have seating areas and a store selling snacks and beverages should you choose to dine at the water’s edge.

If you’re taking your crabs home, boil them in a large pot of salted water for 18 to 20 minutes. When they’re done, they need to be cleaned of the gills and viscera before enjoying. Dungeness crabs are so delicious, they need little more than some melted butter, but they’re also good in crab cakes, pasta dishes, chowders or any number of creative recipes. 

If You Go 

A few final details for first-time crabbers:

About The

Jon Bell
Jon Bell is an Oregon writer and author of the book, On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak. He writes about the outdoors, travel, business, the environment and many other areas from his home in Lake Oswego, where he lives with his wife, two children and black Lab.

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