Tis the season for a good reason to head outdoors and try your hands at a sport with a delicious pay-off. Join me and a hearty family team that loves this time of year to go fishing for Dungeness crab near Astoria.
First light finds flat water on a late fall morning near Astoria. I’ve joined the Monroe clan! A family team who love these rare weather breaks and find easy travel across the Columbia River estuary near Clatsop Beach.
We’ve arrived at last hours of the incoming tide and drop crab traps in 25 feet of water. Fishing guide Bill Monroe Jr relies on a mix of shad, chicken salmon carcasses for bait to draw them in.
We timed our trip to fish our traps during the last hour of the incoming tide and then through the high slack tide period, (that’s often the best crabbing time.)
Bill said it’s the safest time to crab in the estuary.
“There is no reason to be out here on the ebb tide – that’s the out-going tide and things can go from bad to worse in a heartbeat. It can be the most dangerous part of the tide cycle and this river can change so fast. You just don’t take chances out here.”
Photos from Grant's Getaways: Crabbing in Astoria
Bill noted that each trap should “soak” for 15-20 minutes – that allows enough time for the crabs to locate the bait and enter the pot.
Each crabber is allowed a dozen male crabs apiece and in Oregon, they must be five and three-quarters (5¾) inches across the back. You can easily see the difference on the underside of the crab. The wide abdominal shell marks the female – the thinner marks the male. All females and the small crabs go back.
Females are protected to preserve the breeding population of crabs. A crab gauge or other measuring device is essential gear since some crabs miss the mark by only a fraction of an inch.
Each Oregon crabber 12 years and older must carry an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Shellfish License. Each crabber can use up to three crab traps.
Billy Monroe and his younger brother, Greyson, lent me a hand. As I pulled in the first of the five traps.
“Oh, man look at that,” I screamed. “It’s a mother load and I think they’re all legal.”
Bill showed his sons how to safely hold a crab, so they don’t get pinched by the claws:
“Watch me boys – see how I place my thumb on the underside and my other four fingers across the back. You can hold it safely and not get pinched. This is a dandy crab. That’s great!”
Bill’s guest was a local fisherman and executive chef at the Ft George Brewery, Jeff Graham. He loves the Astoria area for the bounty of fresh seafood.
“I tell ya, it’s pretty amazing and kind of neat to pull a crab or a salmon out of the water and eat it a few hours later.”
Bill said that he wants his kids to experience all there is across the Oregon outdoors, so he takes them along whenever he can.
“There’s an element of the outdoors here in Oregon that’s really special! So, if I can teach them something new out here, that’s a good thing.”
All too soon, it was time to head in – but what a catch. In less than an hour, we were fortunate to retain 22 legal Dungeness crabs; plenty to go around our small but hearty crew. A great activity for building memories in the Oregon outdoors.
If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.
In addition, be sure to check out “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” you will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. scores of colorful photos by “grant’s getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field. You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."