Crabbing on the Oregon Coast

Insert Catchy Crab Post here…

Three hours before high tide. We’ve checked the boat. It still starts. That’s key. We load it up with rings, pots and boxes. We’re going crabbing. On the Oregon Coast. Yes – you heard me. OREGON. Oregon Girl and crew are back around the world for a month visiting family and friends. In Oregon. It’s a little surreal. In the best way. Don’t worry Denmark, we’ll be back. But for now, we’re soaking up, tasting, seeing, hugging all those things and people that we missed. It’s good.

Have you been crabbing? I have done this in Oregon as long as I can remember living here. Maine may have lobstahs, but here on the Pacific Northwest Coast, we hunt Dungeness Crab. Growing up in Eugene – a university town that sits mid-state off Interstate 5 in western Oregon – we frequent the central Oregon coast between the little towns of Florence and Newport. And we’re more than lucky that my mom loves sharing her coast house. We spend most of our time in charming and quirky, but oh so cozy Yachats. (Don’t call it Yeah-chats. It’s YAH-hots. It’s a Native American thing. Siletz tribe to be exact. It translates loosely to “dark water at the foot of the mountain.” Speaking my language.)

When in Yachats, we love taking my Dad’s boat out for crabbing. My mom drives it now. But today, she is happy to relinquish the wheel and help with crabbing technique. We drive the eight miles north up Highway 101 to Waldport where the Alsea River runs to the sea. This is our crabbing place. Yours too? Many others favor the beautiful bay here and it can be quite busy on weekends and holidays when crab is in season.

Today, we are lucky. Independence Day festivities are complete and most holiday celebrants have packed up. The bulk of them returning east over the winding forested roads of the coast range back to homes up and down the Willamette Valley. (Pronounced Will-AM-ette. Another indigenous namesake. We have a lot up here.) This year, the 5th of July falls on a weekday and we only have to share the bay with five to six other boats.

Crabbing in Oregon is state regulated to keep populations stable and sustainable. Not an Oregon resident? You can still crab here. No problem. We’ll let you. We like you. Just buy a three day visitor’s license for each crabber over 14 years of age. Bonus for you – it’s a shellfish license – so you’re good to go to collect all manner of mollusks including but not limited to; butter clams, razor clams, cockles, gaper, littleneck and softshell clams. Purple varnish clams, mussels and giant geoducks (pronounced gooey duck – I have no idea why. But it is. Just trust me.) If you can catch ’em – you can also take squid, octopus, sand crabs and kelp worm. But eeuw. Who would do that? Seriously. Kelp worm? I don’t even want to process how that would taste.

Where to get this amazing access to all things shellfishy? At any Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office of course. But probably easier and more accessible, licenses are easy to pick up at most hardware or sporting goods stores up and down the coast. In Waldport, we get all our essentials at Dock of the Bay Marina right at the Alsea Port. Friendly, helpful, knowledgable staff can get you legal and set up with rings, bait, snacks and tips. You can throw your traps in right off the nearby dock – but keep kids safe and remember life jackets are essential for kids under 12. Even older, if yours aren’t good swimmers. The water is chilly and does have some current.

Crabbing on the Central Oregon Coast | Waldport, OR USA | Oregon Girl Around the World
Dock of the Bay Marina – Alsea Bay Port, Waldport Oregon

It’s a little windy today. But the sun is shining and the sky is an unfiltered bluebird blue. Breathe it in. I love that salty, kelpy, sea smell. We launch successfully after a little uncertainty as to who would cast the lines off and jump in last second. My 15 year old executed perfectly and we’re off without drama. As we cruise away from the dock, up the river to the bay, we set up bait boxes filling with a mixture of chicken pieces and frozen mink. Yes. Mink. It reeks more and more with each successful pull and dunk in the salty water, but it does seem to attract the crustacean scavengers and we are told the seals don’t like it.

Crabbing on the Central Oregon Coast | Waldport, OR USA | Oregon Girl Around the World
Harbor Seal, Alsea Bay, Oregon

Harbor seals and sea lions are prevalent here and we spy a huge grouping sunning and splashing on the sand bar before we head underneath the Alsea Bay Bridge. To keep the curious and potentially pesky seals from absconding with our bait, we strap down the bait boxes to the centers of each ring and pot. Many times the seals are able to MacGyver those things open and even steal the whole box straight off. The large brown mischievous eyes not quite as charming when this happens, as they watch us as keenly as we watch them before they turn and slip back below the surface. Our dog is supremely interested in them.

All traps loaded, baited and hopefully seal-proofed, we pick a corridor that runs along the beach towards the mouth of the river and start dropping pots in a line. The depth finder on board helps keep us off the sand bar and determines where and when we plunk in those readied pots. We aim for about 15′-20′ of water with the length of our lines and where we think we’ll find the most critters. Crabbing is best in the two hours before slack tide, after high tide is at it’s peak. The water stops moving and the crab can look for food without being pushed around by the tide.

Once all the pots have been deposited, we circle back to the start of the line and start pulling. This is the fun part. Today we forgot the crab trap hook we normally use to snag the lines and have to rely on well-executed boat manuevering with an old-fashioned reach and grab technique. Roll up your sleeves, it’s gonna get a little wet. The water is cool, not frigid – but no one is eager to take a swim.

The specific pulling technique depends on what style of trap you have, but unless you are using boxes where the crab walks in to get the bait and can’t get back out – you are going to have to pull quickly. Some speed is required to keep the collapsible sides from falling down and releasing potential keepers. It is THE WORST when you get the ring to the top and watch big guys swim out over the side.

In Oregon, you are not allowed to keep any females. Throw them back. They got a job to do. Procreate my crustacean sister. Keep the population up. Once you know the difference – it is easy to spot the boys from the girls. Pull the pot. Bring it on board. Careful! Don’t tip or toss any overboard in the process. Time to check for keepers. Female? Back in the drink. Too small? Back in for you too. How do you know? Take a measurer before you go. Attempt to keep any under age specimens, get caught by authorities and be prepared to pay a hefty fine. Not worth it. Compared to the size limits in our neighboring states California and Washington, Oregon can legally take the smallest. But don’t take the babies – give ’em a little “grow-big-good-juju” and send them on their way. Gently. Please.

We have a good start today with two keepers in our first pull. Within two hours, when the tide reaches slack – we garner 18 keepers. There are even several huge ones – legal in California! It was a good day. No family records, but way better than being skunked. We’ve had plenty of those days too. And even though it is more fun to catch crabs (Dungeness crabs people – don’t be gross), any time spent out on the water with family is good for the soul. With three generations out here doing something together, it is prime family bonding.

Seagulls screetch overhead as we empty the remains of the bait boxes and toss it overboard. An easy dinner for them. Coming up, easy dinner for us. Back at home, we clean the boat and set the water on to boil. We only add salt to the water, preferring to let the crab’s natural flavor shine. It’s going to be hot in my big silver pot. When ready, we plunge in the crab one by one. Bring the water back to a boil and cook for 15 minutes.

The beautiful purple shells now a brilliant reddish orange, the cooked crustaceans are set on ice to cool before cleaning. With a banner haul like we had today, it takes us two rounds to cook all 18 crab. Maybe we need a bigger pot! Once cool, it is quite easy to clean a crab. I use the male segment on the belly of the crab like a can tab and pluck off the entire back in one piece. Rinsing under water, remove all the inedible bits under the shell until you get to the white meat in the body cavity. With the legs still attached, you can find the center line and gently break it in half to serve. We like ours with melted butter, a little lemon (only me), fresh green salad, good crusty bread and fresh steamed Oregon artichokes. A cold Willamette Valley, Pinot Gris or golden craft wheat beer and you have a simple, casual, delicious, Oregon summer meal.

Have bowls ready for shells and artichoke leaves. And keep plenty of napkins nearby. Crab dinner is slow and determined and social. It takes time to eat. Especially when you procure more than your crowd can consume. Now it’s time for picking, chatting and sipping. Crab meat keeps for days and can be used in a million different ways. Classic in our house are toasted open-faced crab sandwiches, crab quesadillas or crab omelettes. Yes please. How do you enjoy your crab?

Crab techniques, baits, boxes and recipes are all highly personal and oft contested. Have a different way? Please share in the comments below. Cheers from Oregon this time!

Read here for limits, regulations and license information in the State of Oregon. Happy crabbing! Erin

Crabbing on the Central Oregon Coast | Waldport, OR USA | Oregon Girl Around the World

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40 thoughts on “Crabbing on the Oregon Coast

  1. We have gone crabbing but not on this scale. Wow, what an amazing experience to be able to do… and to enjoy afterwards. Interesting that you have to throw the females back but that makes total sense! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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  5. Brilliant post Erin. I could almost taste the salt air and the sweet taste of crab meat in my mouth. This is the stuff of memories. Promise you’ll take me crabbing at “dark water at the foot of the mountain” one day? I’ll bring the Pinot Grigio!

  6. Wow! American crabbing is on a larger scale than the UK version, we stand on the harbour edge with bacon tied to a piece of string to catch crabs that are way too small to eat. We loved Oregon when we visited and the crabbing looks fantastic. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – that is similar to how the Scandi’s do it – more for sport than for dinner! If you ever get back – there are many places where you can crab from shore as well, or rent boats – cheers! Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I know – it’s kind of gross – I will admit, but at least all of the animal is being utilized. Ugh. It’s not my favorite, but it does seem to keep the seals at bay more than other bait. Crabbing for our family never gets old and engages family from top to bottom. Cheers and thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles – Erin

  7. I’ve been crabbing in North East England but only off a jetty and not on this scale…no permits, no checking what sex and actually almost no catch, and definitely no eating! (The few we caught we threw back in). You write about this beautifully, it’s clear it means a great deal to you. What a lovely way to reconnect with family, and oh, the meal at the end sounds perfect! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – that is a popular way to crab in Scandinavia as well – more for sport than for food! Thank you kindly on the compliment – it is indeed one of my favorite things when we visit the Oregon Coast and all the more delicious when procured yourself! Cheers, Erin

  8. Love this! I’m also from the PNW and reading this post brings back memories of going clamming when I was a girl! The crab looks delicious and I must admit I’m a little bit jealous! Warm with butter or cold with nothing, I’ll take crab any way I can! Definitely putting this on my list of things to try!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes! I have Seattle friends who are used to crabbing north of the city – up near Camano – their techniques are slightly different, but same delicious results! Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving! Erin

  9. aandj8804

    How fun! I’ll have to pass the info about the 3 day crabbing license to my hubby. He’d love to try crabbing! (And then cooking said crabs.) #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      If you don’t have a boat – many places will rent you a little outboard or direct you to the best places to toss your pots in from shore. I grew up doing that too! Cheers and thanks for reading – Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – it is one of our favorite family traditions, so glad we got to do it when we were back with family this summer! Cheers and thanks for joining #FarawayFiles, Erin

  10. I’ve gone crabbing once in the UAE but we do it very differently there. We had sticks and will catch the crabs with the pointy end of it and you do it only in the evenings. It was quite scary really because you never know, crabs might pinch your feet.

    I tried to pronounce all the names of the places you’ve mentioned. :p

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      That sounds like a very exciting way to catch crabs – threat of danger at your toes! Haha! I love that you were pronouncing the names – it is one of the things that usually marks people not from there immediately… that you don’t know how to say the place names. But I guess that is the same most places you travel isn’t it? Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  11. Kat

    Crab is my favourite seafood, so it’s interesting to read about crabbing activities especially in the US 🙂 I never knew that we can’t keep the female crabs – that’s great – yep, protect our marine sea life! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Exactly – keep it sustainable and we all can enjoy! Cheers and thanks for joining #FarawayFiles – we’re happy to have you part of the community! Erin

  12. jphowze

    This looks like such a fun and lovely activity. I was also struck by the mink factoid. Funny! I’d love to do this with our teens. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      It is one of those times where everyone HAS to put down the phone – you don’t want it to get wet and the constant action keeps distractable teens and tweens interested! Cheers and thanks for joining #FarawayFiles this week – we’re happy to have you on board – Erin

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thank you! It was! Craving it! Cheers from Copenhagen now and thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles – Erin

  13. tracycollins2016

    Never done anything like this!! It sounds like a lot of fun and although I don’t like crab my husband and daughter would love it!! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! My littles don’t really like it either, but they do have fun in the action out on the boat! Cheers and thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles, Erin

  14. I don’t eating the crab but the idea of going crawling sounds so fun to me. I’m a Washington girl so I love being on the water. Oddly enough, I think my favorite part about this post was hearing all the oddly pronounced names. We have those too in Washington. Ever heard of Sequim (pronounced Squim)? And I used to try to catch geoducks whenever we went to the coast. Never caught one but it was sure fun trying! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oh yes – I know Sequim well – my best friend’s grandmother had a farm there that we would visit while in school in Seattle! Another easy one to suss out non-locals is how you pronounce Puyallup!!! Haha! Cheers and thanks for connecting! Erin

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