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  • Writer's pictureDante Zuniga-West

How to Crab in Coos Bay

If you’re like me and you live in the Pacific Northwest then you’re probably pretty bummed out that hunting season is over. Sure, you’ve got a new heap of great memories (and hopefully some meat), but the fun itself is over now. Unless you’re a winter steelheader with a good secret spot, all you can do is wait around for Spring bear season, trout fishing, and that turkey hunt you’re planning—right? Wrong, amigo. One word: crabs. I’m talking about big, fresh, Dungeness crab. They’re out there for the taking, and mighty tasty.

Crabbing on the coast is a pastime shared by many in the PNW. It is a year-round activity that pretty much always yields success, especially if you get off the docks and use a boat. Yeah, it can get cold during the winter months, but it’s pretty hard to care about that when you’re pulling up a pot of fresh Dungees and envisioning the buttery lemon-garlic sauce that will soon meet them on your dinner plate.

If you live close to the coast, lucky you, you can probably comfortably pull off a day trip. But for those who live a little inland, getting to the coast can be an event, and one that is best dragged out as long as possible. Camping is cool, but winter isn’t such a great time to be in a tent, no matter how much hot chocolate you bring along. So for us Oregonians and those who want to come visit, how do you pull off a killer overnight winter crabbing trip to Coos Bay on a shoestring budget and stay warm? The Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department has your back:

At spots like Sunset Bay Park, for $36 you can rent a yurt that’s just minutes from the beach, and be up and at ‘em ready to collect crustaceans at the crack of dawn. Hey, it’s not a luxury hotel room but it sure beats sleeping on the ground, and if you appreciate electric heating, you really can’t beat this deal. There are a few parks up and down the coast where you can rent yurts or small cabins, a quick internet search will reveal plenty of solid locations. I chose Sunset Bay because it was closest to the area I wanted to crab in. I was not disappointed.

Crabbing from a boat is non-stop action. On a day with calm weather you can pull this off in the bay on a 14-foot aluminum lake boat. A pair of crab rings, a healthy amount of rope, and some buoys can keep you busy for hours. Just pick a spot, drop your rings, and repeat. By the time you’ve dropped the second crab ring, it will be time to turn around and check on the first one. Make sure to drop your rings far enough apart so they aren’t competing with each other. In Coos Bay, motoring out past the jetty and dropping your rings in about 7O feet of water is a good place to start. You can work the bank across from the boat launch but there are more crabs out in the deeper water.

Chicken or fish are good choices for bait, but if you really want to lay out an underwater buffet, use both. And by all means, make sure to use something to lock up your bait box, or the seals with rob you blind—zipties work well for this, but you have to keep cutting and re-zipping them as the day goes on. Local bait shops around the marina sell little rigs that will keep the critters out, and they’re reusable.

Oh yeah, you’re going to want to bring along a crab gauge. With your shellfish license, you are permitted to take 12 male Dungeness crabs that measure 5 ¾” inches across the back (or, carapace). If you’re new to crabbing, holding those delicious Dungees still for a quick measurement can be a tricky sort of endeavor. Just remember that crabs like to be kept at ease, shaking them out of the pot works way better than trying to reach in and grab them. If you forget, you will be reminded—some of these crabs sport big claws.

Most importantly, make sure to bring along a cooler and plenty of ice. Once you have your haul of 12 big ol’ crabs you will need to chill them out for the drive home. I suggest bringing along friends, you’ll come away with more crab and have help eating them.

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