Head South for Some of the Best Crabbing and Clamming on the Oregon Coast

January 18, 2022

Imagine the largest bay in Oregon, an S-shaped inlet of the Pacific Ocean that shapes life in both the estuaries and towns. In the salty lower areas, crabs scuttle around happily, and around its edges lie acres of tidal mudflats where lively clams flourish, some species rarely seen in such numbers on other stretches of the Coast. Home to stunning coastal vistas and charming bayside communities that enhance any foraging adventure, crabbing and clamming are nearly always abundant.

That body of water? Coos Bay on Oregon’s Adventure Coast, located less than four hours south of Portland. A historic area of the Southern Oregon Coast that includes the cities of Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston, Oregon’s Adventure Coast is renowned for crabbing and clamming. 

To reach the bay, you’ll wind through forested hills past marinas lined with boats unloading fresh fish. Watch as an American eagle flies overhead and hear the rhythmic sound of waves lapping against pilings. 

No gear? No problem. Local shops rent or sell crab pots, clam guns, and all the tools you’ll need. Although harvest is open most of the year, clamming is easiest at low tide, and crabs come and go depending on tides and the time of year, so ask locals for advice about the specific area you are planning to visit.

A crabber shows off the catch of the day.

Crab Fest

What makes Oregon’s Adventure Coast such a super spot for crabbing? For starters, Dungeness crabs thrive in the waters of Coos Bay, particularly the section known as Lower Coos Bay. Reddish brown in color, prized for its sweet and plentiful meat, and at least half a foot wide for keepers, Dungeness crab is one of the most popular delicacies along the Oregon Coast. 

Dungeness aren’t the only crabs you’ll find here. The red rock crab is a native crab that’s smaller than the Dungeness but just as sweet and flavorful. In recent years, another smaller species, the invasive European green crab, has also been making its way up and down the Oregon Coast. Catching them helps control their invasive tactics, which include displacing juvenile Dungeness crabs, destroying eelgrass meadows and preying on other shellfish. And they’re tasty. The South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve has even published a green crab culinary guide. 

Oregon’s Adventure Coast is also good for crabbing because of its variety of fruitful spots that serve beginners to experienced crabbers. Looking to drop in a ring from the shore or dock? Try Lower Coos Bay or Charleston’s commercial docks, lined with fishing boats, near the Charleston Visitor Information Center. From the docks, it’s easy to lower your crab pot into the water, kick back and take in the surrounding harbor scenery. Another option is to book a spot on a charter boat, some of which head out into the open ocean close to the shoreline in search of clawed creatures. 

If you’ve never been crabbing before, have no fear: It’s easy. Area bait-and-tackle shops rent collapsible rings or crab pots, as well as bait, buckets, gloves and measuring tools. When crabbing from a dock, toss your ring gently into the water after first securing it to the dock with strong rope, let it sit for at least 15 minutes, then haul with all your might and see what you’ve caught. 

Check these links from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for more information on the license you’ll need to buy, what crabs you can keep, where to crab in the Coos Bay area and more.  

A girl holds freshly harvested bay clams.

Dig This

If you think crabbing on Oregon’s Adventure Coast is fun, easy and rewarding, wait til you try clamming. Unlike other parts of the Coast that might be known for just a clam species or two, the Coos Bay area is home to a longer list of bivalves. Collectively known as bay clams, the species here include gaper clams, butter clams, cockles and native littlenecks.

The tidal mudflats along Lower Coos Bay are teeming with clams, especially gapers and butter clams. Gapers are among the largest clams on the Coast and are minced for chowder or pounded and fried as clam steaks. Butters, generally 3-4 inches wide, are steamed or grilled in the shell. Both clams can be found by spotting holes in the surface of the sand and then digging a foot or more with either a shovel or a specially designed clam gun. Smaller cockles, on the other hand, are closer to the surface at places like Point Adams and Charleston Flat, and can be gently harvested with a rake and tossed with garlicky pasta.

Clammers dig deep using clam guns for some of the bigger species.

If You Go:

  • Before you head out on your adventure, you’ll need to buy a license for each person who digs.
  • Be sure to check with ODFW for current regulations, daily catch limits and other important information.
  • Find more trip-planning resources and inspiration about visiting Oregon’s Adventure Coast, and book your next fabulous getaway to Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston.

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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