Crabbing is one of the most unique and delicious experiences on the Oregon coast! We didn’t realize until we moved to Portland how popular it was here. During our road trip down the entire 363 miles of Oregon Coast, we got our first taste of it, figuratively and literally!
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Last Updated: January 20, 2023
Our Experience at Kelly’s Brighton Marina
Kelly’s Brighton Marina: 29200 US-101, Rockaway Beach, OR 97136, map
We stopped by Kelly’s Brighton Marina in Nehalem Bay but ended up getting stormy weather. Esther thought she was getting blown away. Even with that, Kelly showed us the basics of crabbing and we threw a couple of pots off the dock. His enthusiasm was definitely contagious. We didn’t have much luck with the turbulent weather, but still got a chance to taste some crab… and we were hooked!
A couple of weeks ago, we had a couple of friends in town who asked us where to get the best seafood, and we immediately thought of Kelly’s. They were flying out later the next day, but we decided to wake at the crack of dawn and drive out to Nehalem Bay. It was an unplanned part of their Portland trip, but they said it ended up being the highlight.
The bay looked like a totally different place. The water was calm and the skies were blue. It was still really early in the season, but we didn’t let that stop us. We got out on the water and after lots of laughs, some pinches, and pulling up pots, we got a keeper!
After heading back to the dock, we picked out a few other crabs to buy, ordered some fresh oysters, and they prepped all the food for us. I can’t even begin to describe how delicious the food is, but I’ll try my best.
First off, Esther is not a fan of seafood and never likes opening up her own crab, but when the crabs hit the table, she attacks them like it’s her favorite food.
Secondly, we’re so conditioned to drench our crab in butter. That’s because most places don’t serve very good crab. The way they prep the crabs at Kelly’s requires nothing else. The meat is so juicy and delicious!
Besides crabbing, this is a great spot for fishing, camping, or just enjoying the bay. Even if you’re not into catching your own crab or fish, you can treat yourself to the freshest seafood in Oregon. They have an amazing selection and cook it just the way you like it.
When to Go Crabbing in Oregon
Crabbing is legal and open in bays, beaches, tide pools, piers, and jetties year-round on the Oregon coast. With that being said, September through November is usually the best time to crab. You’ll also have come luck late summer and early winter. If you go anytime of year, it’s hard to find crabs large enough to keep.
In regards to time of day, the best times will be during slack water, or at the peak high or low tide. Dungeness crabs move between Oregon’s bays and the ocean so the tide really affects their movement. Crabs like calmer water since they have less of a current to fight during those high or low tides so it’s easier for them to forage.
During the summer months, you may find soft shell / underdeveloped crabs, and releasing them is highly recommended. Soft shell crabs only have 10-12% quality meat versus hard shell will have closer to 20%.
Here’s some inside info:
- You can also crab recreationally in the ocean off Oregon, but it requires larger boats and more experience. Crabbing in the ocean is CLOSED for Dungeness crab from October 16 to November 30.
- Quality crabs come during the fall. They are filled out and have more quality meat.
- Commercial crabbing starts in December. Even though it’s offshore, they pick up so many crabs that the number of legal-sized crabs everywhere decreases significantly.
- If there has been a lot of rain, it will affect the salinity in common crabbing areas. Crabs love salty water, so if there is a lot of fresh water, they stay closer to the ocean.
Where to Go Crabbing in Oregon
If you go at the right time of year, it doesn’t really matter where you crab. If you’re coming from Portland, we highly recommend Kelly’s, but below is a list of all the areas from North to South Coast with the type of crabs you’ll catch. We bolded some of the best spots.
- Columbia River: Dungeness
- Necanicum: Dungeness
- Nehalem Bay: Dungeness
- Tillamook: Dungeness, Red Rock
- Netarts Bay: Dungeness, Red Rock
- Nestucca Bay: Dungeness
- Siletz Bay: Dungeness
- Yaquina Bay: Dungeness, Red Rock
- Alsea Bay: Dungeness
- Siuslaw River: Dungeness
- Umpqua River: Dungeness
- Coos Bay: Dungeness, Red Rock
- Coquille River: Dungeness
- Port Orford: Dungeness
- Gold Beach (Rogue River): Dungeness
- Brookings (Chetco River): Dungeness
Rules and Regulations
Oregon requires a shellfish license that is different from an angling (fishing) license. This license is needed if you want to harvest crabs, clams, or other shellfish. Most fishing and crabbing businesses will also sell licenses. Once you have the license, it’s good for one year.
As for limits, most of the time you’re looking for Dungeness crab. It’s the largest and tastiest! The daily limit is 12 males that are at least 5 ¾” inches across the crab’s back. Measure in front of the spines (the two spikes on the side of the crab). The second most popular on the coast are red rock crabs, which you can catch 24 of in any size each day.
How to Go Crabbing in Oregon
Crabbing is pretty straightforward. I can’t speak for all the crabbing spots, but Kelly’s Brighton Marina does a great job of walking you through all the steps. They teach you about all of the gear you’ll be using and give you tips on how to make the most of your time on the water.
Step 1: Bait Your Gear
People use all kinds of bait: turkey, chicken, mink, fish carcass, shad, clams, and more. At Kelly’s they already bait the gear with fish carcass for you.
Local Tip: Seals, sea lions, and other fish may try to steal attractive bait. A bait bag is a good way to avoid the problem. You can also use bait they don’t normally eat, like turkey, or avoid areas where they are prevalent.
Step 2: Drop Your Rings
Start setting your rings where you hope to find crab. Space them out so that you aren’t competing against your own pots. Allow approximately 15 minutes before pulling them up, and if you can really get into a groove, you should be able to continuously check them.
Local Tip: Don’t just see what you’re catching. Pay attention to other crabbers. If you see there is action in one spot, move one of your rings over there.
Step 3: Retrieve Your Rings
Once they’ve been in the water long enough, it’s time to pull them up. We had one person driving the boat while the others were ready to grab the buoys as we slowly passed them. Once you have the buoy, get rid of the slack and try to position the boat just to the side of the rings. When you start pulling it up, pull quickly so crabs can’t escape as it’s rising (use those legs of yours!).
Local Tip: Once you get proficient at it, you should be able to start moving the boat towards the next ring before you finish the current one.
Step 4: Sort the Crab
Once the rings are back at the boat, quickly sort through the crabs. You’re only allowed to keep males, so that’s the first filter. If it is male, you then have to measure the crab to ensure that it is at least 5 ¾” inches across the back (NOT including the spines).
Local Tip: This is the fun part and at first, you’ll want to touch every crab. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it and can eyeball each ring by shaking it around. Pull out the ones you think are big enough and check it they are male. Leave the others in the ring and drop it back in the water so you can move on. The crabs will scatter when the ring hits the floor so you don’t have to worry about them eating all your bait.
Pro Tip: Beware of the small crabs. They have less area for their pinchers to reach over. One of us got pinched. I’ll let you guess who.
Step 5: Store Your Keepers
Store your spoils in a cooler with ice or ice packs. You can also keep them in a cooler or bucket with water (you’ll have to change the water regularly to keep the water cool and oxygenated).
Local Tip: If you’re crabbing at Kelly’s, do yourself a huge favor and let them cook up some of your crabs. They do such an amazing job showing you how to efficiently take apart a crab to eat and they are soooo delicious!
- Make sure you have your shellfish license, crab measuring implement, pots or rings, cooler, bait holders and bait supply.
- Check all line on crab pots or rings for kinks or knots to ensure they are durable and will allow gear to crab correctly.
- Make sure all your buoys are well marked so you can distinguish them from others.
- Check with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the most current shellfish regulations and harvest notices before you head out!
Pro Tips for Your Visit + What to Pack
- Bring some gloves to avoid rope burn – we usually keep these in our car.
- Bring a sweater or layers. The weather on the coast and Portland can be very different. If you forget, they also sell some hoodies at Kelly’s.
- Sun Protection! Bring sunglasses, a sunhat, and sunscreen. Still water can reflect up to 10% of the UV rays.
- Bring some clothes you don’t mind getting wet. Jacob wore waterproof pants and a rain jacket. You can also bring an extra change of clothes for your ride back home.
- Wear close-toed shoes (not flip flops like me) unless you’re cool with crabs pinching your toes.
Best Places to Stay
Have you ever gone crabbing? Would you add this to your Portland trip itinerary?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.