Columbia River Crabbing – How To Catch Crab on the Columbia

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As fall happens upon the fishermen of October and our salmon fishing is winding down … the lower Columbia River’s crabbing action is in full swing!

Guest Article by Captain Mike Barksdale

In this article I will give up some helpful tips that will definitely increase your Dungeness Crab catch rate!

How to catch crab isn’t a big secret, but the ability to catch limits of crab day in and day out and have your traps absolutely stuffed full of prime keeper sized crab takes a few tricks of the trade. My experience owning a charter boat and working as a commercial crabber gives me some special insight and a definite edge over the competition.

The lower Columbia River is a fantastic location to harvest great numbers of delicious Dungeness Crab! We are now in the early stages of fall, and mid-October is a great month to start baiting up the crab traps and heading out to load up on good amounts of these tasty shellfish.

Recently, I was at the mooring basin in Hammond Oregon, and was impressed by the amount of people that filled the parking lot heading out to take advantage of a sunny day with great tides to capture their limits of crab!

As owner and operator of “Fish On Extreme” charter service, I also like to take full advantage of the great crabbing that happens during this time of year to provide my clients with full limits of the flavorful treats.

How does this work?

I feel that lower Columbia River crabbing is the best on the Oregon coast. I can go out on the river each trip and feel confident that my clients will have a great time, enjoy high catch rates and not be disappointed.

It seems that every fall there is a huge migration occurring that brings thousands of Dungeness crab from the ocean into the lower Columbia River. This huge influx of crab in the fall and early winter months is the main reason for the high success rate and why many people come down here in search of these crawling critters.

The tides are a large piece of the puzzle that some people may not pay too much attention to. As a rule of thumb, the incoming part of the tide is going to be the best time to drop your crab gear to the sandy bottom.

Due to the vast volume of water exiting the mouth of the Columbia River on an outgoing or ebb tide, the crab tend to hunker down into the sand. The crab are aware enough not to expose themselves to the powerful outgoing current.

On the incoming part of the tide the flood, there is less flow so the crab can move around and search out prey to feed on. If you time the tides right, the crab will be seeking out your bait filled trap to feast upon!

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What do crabs like to eat? Or the better question is, what shall we use for crab bait?

Most people will use some sort of fish carcass, raw chicken, or raw turkey legs. Some commercial crabbers will use sardines, squid, and Mink (from local Mink fur farms). All of these will work well, but I have come across a deadly combination that can turn a crab trap that produces 8 to 12 legal sized male crab into a trap that will have upwards of 25 to 30 legal crab in it!

I prefer to work smart, not hard and this is how I go about doing it. My crab catching cocktail is a tuna carcass in a chewy bag and 1 razor clam in a bait can. However, if I run out of tuna, shad also works very well. This tuna/clam combo produces the best for me.

Again, most of the other baits work well, I just prefer to use the best bait for whatever type of fishing I might be providing for my paying clients.

Location… Location… Location…

There are some really good areas to crab in the lower Columbia River and there are some really bad ones, here are a few of the good spots you might drop your gear.

Down river from the Hammond Mooring basin, between buoy 22 and buoy 20 inside (south) of the red buoy line in 20? to 35? of water is a popular area to place a string of pots to nab those buggers.

Further west and north will find you on the Washington side of the river below Cape Disappointment along North Jetty or near the A Jetty and this area is also a great spot to capture good limits of crab.

Make sure you check the tides before your drop your gear. Load your pots with good bait. Place your crab catchers where the crab are living. Make sure you have only 12 male crab at a minimum width of 5 ¾ between the inside part of the tips of the crab before you head to the dock.

I hope some of the information will help you load your buckets with easy limits of huge crab. If you are looking for an easy day of crabbing, feel free to contact me to book a trip to catch loads of lower Columbia River Dungeness Crab!

Capt. Mike Barksdale
Fish On Extreme
Ph. 503-939-7816