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Dungeness Crabbing on Free Public Docks

By Kathleen O'Malley @frugalportland
Dungeness Crabbing on Free Public Docks

Photo by Julie Gentry, Creative Commons

King crab from Alaska gets a lot of supermarket shelf space, but remember we have some pretty plentiful pots of crustacean gold right here in the waters of Oregon. Not only is Dungeness crabbing from public docks super easy – it’s also free. No boat required.

Spring for a one-day shellfish license ($9 for adults and free for anyone under age 12), and then drop a pot from dozens of places within three hours of Portland. You can go crabbing year-round, with no fees from public docks and minimal fees from private ones. The very best months for bay crabbing are late September through November, after the summer molting and before the commercial crabbing season opens in December. However, any month can turn up a catch, and it’s always a fun time with friends or family.

Day Trip Crabbing

Crabbing from public docks and piers generally means you’re tossing pots into the tranquil waters of Oregon’s numerous estuaries and bays. The most popular ones include Garibaldi (Tillamook Bay) and Newport (Yaquina Bay) and Waldport (Alsea Bay), all within 1.5 to 2.5 hours of Portland.

Dungeness Crabbing on Free Public Docks

Garibaldi Marina, Photo by Karyn Christner

Tillamook Bay is an easy 1.5-hour drive from the city and is the largest bay on the Oregon coast, fed by five rivers. The public crabbing dock is in Garibaldi, where you can also pick up bait and rent crab pots or rings at Garibaldi Marina. Crab ring rentals are only $6. If you plan to go crabbing more than once or twice a year, it’s a good idea to purchase your own pots, which are inexpensive and available at reduced prices online. Once you get the hang of it, you can always try your hand at boat crabbing as well. Rent a boat at the marina ($80 for three hours) and head to Crab Harbor, across the main channel from the Painted Rocks.

Yaquina Bay in Newport, about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Portland, is a great spot for beginners. Plenty of spots on both side of the bay are teaming with Dungies, although most of the crab is in the lower bay. The city and South Beach sides of the bay have oodles of crabbing supplies, making it simple to just show and drop a pot. Newport Marina Store & Charters offers bait, crab pots and boat rentals. The best places for free dock crabbing in Newport are the public fishing pier in South Beach, and the Abbey Street and Bay Street piers on the Newport Bay front. Discover Newport has lots of tips and tricks specific to the Yaquina Bay.

Dungeness Crabbing on Free Public Docks
Alsea Bay at Waldport is a safe little cubbyhole located between Newport and Florence, about 2.5 hours from Portland. It’s known for unusually good Dungeness crabbing from late summer through autumn. Public docks are easy to find, and supplies are available at Dock of the Bay Marina at the Port of Alsea. A big plus is that these folks will also clean and cook your crab catch of the day.

Things to Know

The daily limit in Oregon is 12 male crabs with a minimum of 5-3/4 inches across the crab’s back; measure immediately in front of the spines. In addition to Dungie crabs, you may also end up with some red rock crabs in your pots. These are smaller, and the limit for these is 24 per day of any size.

The best time of day to crab is during “slack water,” which is the time around high or low tide. Though inexperienced crabbers are tempted to use “quick bate” such as fish heads or carcasses, this is a big mistake because that attracts seals and sea lions. Use raw chicken or turkey instead.

Some great resources for where and when to crab are available from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which also gives the full lowdown on shellfish regulations.

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