Catch your own crab on the Oregon coast.
I LIKE TO TRY NEW activities as much as the next person, but I confess that I generally prefer activities of the uncomplicated variety when on vacation. If something requires a lot of concentration, time, or money, count me out. That's why crabbing is such a great leisure-time pursuit. It's so simple and relaxing, it's a stretch to call it a sport.
For would-be crabbers, there's no better place to learn than Oregon, where Dungeness and red rock crab can be found in nearly all the state's large saltwater bays. Crabbing is permitted year-round, no license is required, and bayside tackle shops supply the necessary equipment and bait.
What's more, even beginners can expect success. As Neil Richmond, crab fishery biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, explains, "This is one sport where you can routinely expect to get your limit |12 Dungeness and 24 red rock crab per day~ if the conditions and time of year are right. You can't say that about many types of fishing."
Now is the best time of year for crabbing in Oregon. In winter months, rain can reduce the salinity of the bays, forcing crab into the ocean; during the summer, crab are molting.
The best time of day to go crabbing is when the crab are able to move about freely, from an hour before slack tide to an hour after the tide changes. Tidal times change from day to day as well as from bay to bay, so check a tide table.
To start your crabbing adventure, head to a tackle shop and rent a couple of crab rings (three per person is the limit). These traps, which rent for just a few dollars per day, are simply two plastic-covered metal rings, the top one slightly larger than the bottom one, joined together by heavy fishing web. Colorful floats and a pull rope for retrieving the ring are attached. Be sure to pick up crab bait, usually a fish carcass, which most tackle shops sell for about $1.
Don't be afraid to ask the shop clerk for the best nearby crabbing spots; most locals want new crabbers to be successful. Shore crabbing from a sportfishing pier or public dock, rather than open-water crabbing from a boat, is best for the uninitiated.
Once you've found that ideal spot, fasten the bait to the bottoms of the crab rings and toss the rings into the water. Wait 15 minutes or so, then quickly pull the rings back up. The traps depend on the water's force to hold the catch in place, so pull vigorously on the ropes. With any luck, you'll find several tasty "sea spiders" scurrying inside the rings.
This is when things get thrilling, since you must now immobilize each crab and measure its back plate to determine if it's large enough to keep. (While there is no size restriction on red rock crab, Dungeness must be at least 5 3/4 inches wide.)
When measuring a crab, some people grasp its back two legs from behind; others press the crab gently against the ground. Whatever method you choose, be careful to stay away from the front two claws--they can draw blood. Most tackle shops sell plastic gauges that make measuring easier.
Put keepers into a picnic cooler or damp burlap sack to keep them cool and wet until it's time to cook them. Toss the smaller crab back into the water, and start the process again. Needless to say, you don't need to be a rocket scientist.
At the end of the day, take your catch to a local crab cooker--most marinas have two or three--where, for a few dollars a dozen, you can have your crab boiled. This way, when you get home or to your campsite or hotel, you can immediately enjoy the succulent sweetness of fresh crab meat.
Top spots for novice crabbers
1. Nehalem Bay. Crabbing is excellent in this scenic bay. Equipment can be rented at marinas in Wheeler and Brighton.
2. Tillamook Bay. This huge bay offers year-round crabbing, and equipment rentals at sport shops in Garibaldi and Netarts. Crabbers can throw rings into the bay from a new sportfishing pier in Garibaldi.
3. Yaquina Bay. Several fishing piers in and around Newport make it easy for beginners to get started.
4. Alsea Bay. This small but productive bay is known locally as a top-notch crab hole. The public fishing dock in Waldport offers easy access.
5. Umpqua Bay. A large Coast Guard pier and numerous docks provide excellent access. Equipment is available in Winchester Bay.
6. Coos Bay. A deep-water shipping channel allows crab to thrive here. Public piers and tackle shops can be found in Charleston and the Coos Bay area.