Crabbing the Oregon coast is as addicting a sport as fishing. Once you feel the rush of your first seafood catch, you're hooked (no pun intended!). It takes some knowledge, determination, patience and a fair bit of luck. But all that adds to the excitement of the payoff.
In Search of the Elusive Dungeness
At a year-and-a half old, Dungeness reach the age of maturity and tend to measure about 4-inches in size. At 3 or 4, the males will reach the minimum sport size. Some males will actually live for 10 years and measure up to 10 inches in size. Mating season is between April and September and the female will carry her eggs from October to December. The eggs will hatch somewhere between January and March.
Catching Oregon Coast Dungeness crab is a year-round sport in the estuaries, coastal rivers and tidal bays. In the ocean, the season is closed from August 15th through November 30th.
Best Times For Crabbing
The Dungeness crabbing season begins in December. 80% of the harvest takes places during that time and the cost of crab will be the lowest. Generally, you're going to find your best time to fish for these cagey crustaceans is December through July.
The best weather to go in is mild to sunny weather. Sustained rains bring fresh water. They are salt-water creatures and heavy rains force them out to sea because of the sudden lack of salt water. Another thing to look for is incoming tides.
What You Need To Know To Be Legal
Now, to stay on the right side of the law, you need to get yourself an Oregon Shellfish License. The licenses are not that expensive. The catch limit is 12 males per day.
Legally, you can only keep the males. The females must be let go. You can determine a male from a female by checking their underside. Males have thin tail-like piece while the females have a round, wide piece. Specifically, the abdominal flap on a female is 1½ times as long as it is wide and she has a much broader base than a male crab. The male has an abdominal flap generally twice as long as it is wide. It's pretty easy to tell them apart once you see them both. The measurement will also determine a keeper. As long as the mature, male measures 5 ¾" across the back of the shell, consider him dinner!
To Bait And Catch A Crab!
Now, the adventure begins! As far as equipment goes, make sure you have some good, heavy gloves for handling the critters, a measuring gauge (such as pictured below), and bait. They are usually caught by using rings or pots. The pots will weigh between 60 and 125 lbs. with a diameter of 36" to 48". All of the equipment can be rented or purchased from a local area bait shop or any other store that handle crabbing supplies.
When crabbing from the docks, you can have up to three of these devices per person. The pots are a popular choice because they allow the critters to get in but not get out.
Place your bait of raw chicken, fish (American Shad, mackerel, herring, and Salmon carcass seems to work very well), turkey, or mink in the traps by using a bait pin, twine, wire, or other means. This ensures that it will stay put.
You may also consider baiting your traps with a perforated can of tuna fish, sardines, . Most things with a high oil content work well. The smell is what draws the crab into the pot. I recommend you place your bait in a bait holder. Any seals in the area will gladly accept your offer of a free meal if you don't.
The trap will have an adequate length of rope and a float or marker buoy attached to it. Lower the baited rings or pots into the water until they hit bottom, wait about 15 minutes or so, pull them up and see what you have.
If you come up empty-handed, move them to a different spot and try again. The ideal spots are ones with very little current. You can leave the pots in the water for a bit longer than the rings. The local bait shops in town will be able to hook you up with the crabbing equipment and supplies that you will need.
Cooking Your Crab
Once caught, they need to be cooked as soon as possible, preferably within the hour. Do not freeze your catches. Once you taste a juicy, Dungeness, you'll think you've died and went to heaven! Let me show you how to cook, clean and crack your catch.
Have you been crabbing at the Oregon coast? Was it from a dock or out at sea? Were your kids involved? Did something amusing or frightening happen? Share your stories and memories with us!
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