Garibaldi Marina reported a cool find in the Tillamook Bay this past Friday. They said this lovely specimen, identified as a Kelp Crab, is found in rocky areas and around pilings. They're known for their large claws, long spidery legs, and shield shaped shell.

Kelp crab are in the Majidae or “Spider crab” family. Several species in this diverse family are excellent climbers, many are found in the complex habitats of the Oregon’s rocky reefs.

Crabbing is a year-round activity in Oregon that can almost always yield a successful trip. Crabbing trips require minimal gear, often available for rent in coastal towns, and while boat crabbing increases your likelihood for success, dockside crabbing is easy and very accessible.

Smaller estuaries and those with fresher water influence may be good during the late summer through the early winter. Fall is typically the best time to crab. Beginning in September, crabs will tend to be more “filled out," meaning there is a higher percentage of quality meat.

Experts advise using caution when boating or crabbing as swift currents during tidal exchanges could occur and could result in loss of gear or cause boat to be pulled out to sea if mechanical problems arise. Before crabbing, be aware of crab regulations. Knowledge of where, when and how to crab will increase your chances for success. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers the following guide on how to crab.

When to go

You can find some crab in every Oregon estuary, but Coos, Yaquina and Tillamook normally provide the best year-round opportunities.

Smaller estuaries and those with fresher water influence may be good during the late summer through the early winter. Fall is typically the best time to crab. Beginning in September, crabs will tend to be more “filled out," meaning there is a higher percentage of quality meat.

You can tell meat quality by the condition of the shell. Hard-shelled crabs will contain 20-30 percent meat by weight, compared to soft-shelled crabs which can be as low as 12 percent meat. After heavy rainfall and resulting freshets, crab tend to be less abundant in the bays.

“Slack water” (the times of peak high or low tide) are the best times to crab. During swift tidal exchanges crab often bury themselves, but at slack water more crab are walking around foraging, since they are being less affected by tidal currents.

Crabbing is open in estuaries (i.e. bays), beaches, tide pools, piers and jetties year-round. Crabbing in the ocean is closed for Dungeness crab from Oct. 16 to Nov. 30.

Make sure you have your shellfish license, crab measuring device, pots or rings, cooler, bait holders and bait. Check all the lines on your crab pots or rings for kinks or knots to ensure they are durable and will allow gear to work correctly. Make sure all your buoys are well marked so you can tell which pots are yours.

Baiting your gear

Many different types of meat are used for crab baits: turkey, chicken, mink, fish carcass, shad, herring, clams, etc. But whatever you use, fresh bait is best.

There are many ways to secure your crab bait. As long as the bait stays in the gear when crabbing, and the crabs can get to it, most methods will work. Keep in mind that seals and sea lions will eat any attractive bait that they can get -- including bait laying out on a crab ring. You can avoid this problem by using a bait bag, using bait that they don’t eat (e.g. turkey legs) and avoiding areas where they are prevalent.

Setting your gear and soak time

From a boat: Remember to set your crab gear outside of navigational channels. Set pots far enough apart so that you aren’t competing with your own gear. Try to allow 30-45 minutes before retrieving your gear if you are crabbing with pots and 10-20 minutes if you are crabbing with rings.

From a dock: Tie the end of your crab line to the dock or pier from where you are crabbing. Throw your crab pot or ring in the water to start crabbing. Try to allow 30-45 minutes before retrieving your gear if you are crabbing with crab pots and 10-20 minutes if you are crabbing with rings.

Retrieving your gear

From a boat: Locate your buoy and approach slowly along the side of the boat. Grab the crab line just below the buoy with your hand or a gaff. A "crab davit" makes retrieval much easier on your back. When using crab rings, be sure to pull quickly at first to get the ring into a basket shape so you don't lose the crab.

From a dock: Grab your crab line below where you have attached it to the dock or pier and pull your crab ring or pot to the surface. If you're using crab rings, remember to retrieve at a consistent speed in order to keep the sides of the ring over the crabs to avoid losing any.

Sorting crab

Quickly sort through crab, being careful to not break crab legs or get your fingers pinched. An experienced crab handler will sort crabs by keeping them at ease. They want to get out, but they don’t want to be forcefully grabbed. A quick shake of the pot is often more effective then reaching directly for them. Keep only male crab.

Measuring crab

Measure all male crab with a crab gauge. Legal Dungeness crab must be male and at least 5 ¾-inches across the back (not including the spines) or wider. When measuring make sure you measure in a straight line across the back immediately in front of, but not including the last points.

Keeping crab quality

Store legal-size “keeper” crabs in a cooler with ice or ice packs, or in a bucket or cooler with water. If you keep your crabs in bucket or cooler with water, make sure to change the water frequently to keep the water cool and oxygenated. Releasing “soft shell” crab is strongly recommended.

Soft-shelled crab are newly molted and are essentially a small crab in a big crab's body. Meat pick out can be very low (as little as half that of a crab in good condition) and the quality of the meat is usually stringy and not as delicious.

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