Salmon & Crab: Offshore Double by Scott Haugen
One of the best kept secrets in the recreational crabbing world is the rich, offshore water harboring crabs.
The sandy environment located just off the main beach and beyond the breakers creates an ideal crab habitat and receives little pressure from sportsmen. When seasons and weather conditions allow access to these sites, crabbing action can be top-notch.
Contrary to what many believe, heading as far as possible offshore is not necessarily the best crabbing option, so before going out to salmon fish, drop the crab pots. Sticking close to shore, in 20 to 75 feet of water where sand accumulates and crabs thrive, will yield high success. Often times you need only travel a couple hundred yards over the bar or outside the mouth of a bay to access prime crabbing grounds.
When heading out ocean fishing for salmon or bottom fish, drop some crab pots on the way out. If offshore crabbing is new to you, you’ll be amazed at how good it can be, and how large the crabs run.
To save time and prevent drifting while setting pots, bait them prior to leaving the dock. Secure baits in each pot, coil the rope and buoys atop the pots, then, once you reach the crabbing zone, quickly drop the pots. Pots are usually dropped in a straight line parallel to shore which will allow currents to carry scent from your bait, along the sandy habitat crabs thrive in. Secure the bait from the top of the pot, so if sand does drift into the trap, it won’t cover the bait.
By staying close to shore, typically within 500 yards, rocky outcroppings and deep seas can be avoided. Rock structures claim numerous pots as they get permanently lodged between them. In addition, strong currents and deep runs can be avoided by working closer to shore. Pots tossed too far out are susceptible to being carried away by harsh currents and even large, seagoing vessels. When crabbing offshore, avoid dropping your pots in shipping lanes.
Hitting sandy and/or muddy bottoms will produce the highest crab catch. If you don't have hi-tech' sonar to read such features, purchasing a navigational marine map is the way to go. These maps, created by NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Association), can usually be found at marine shops and government offices, and they show good detail the substrates present along the coastline.
Though seasonal openings and closures dictate when crabbing beyond bays can be practiced, if you're prepared, the success can be astounding. Not only will these waters yield more crabs than in bays, but on average, larger ones.
Buoy lines stretching 100 feet in length are ideal for offshore crab pots, though if working close to shore, 75 feet of rope will suffice. It's better to have too much rope than not enough, keeping the buoys on the surface. Adding up to five pounds of extra weight in your pot is also a good idea. The added weight will keep the pots on the bottom, guarding against longshore currents that may otherwise carry them away. Be sure to check these pots at least once a day, twice being preferred, as you don't want them becoming sanded-in.
If you don’t have a boat that’s sea-worthy, there are guides up and down the Pacific Coast who offer combination fishing and crabbing trips. For these adventures, it’s a good idea to get as many friends together as possible and fill the boat, for there’s potential to come away with not only limits of salmon, but loads of crabs.
Early fall is one of the best times to head offshore in search of fish and crabs. If spending a day on the ocean, be prepared to devote some time cooking and cleaning crabs, because offshore catch rates can be high.
During one offshore crabbing run out of Winchester Bay, Oregon, two buddies and I dropped our pots in the morning, hammered six salmon and pulled three limits of crabs on the way back to port. While launching out of Pacific City with my buddy, Capt’ Bill Hook and his son, we drew blanks on salmon, but caught a few bottom fish and our limits of extra-large crabs.
If heading offshore, be certain your boat is properly equipped and those operating skills and boat knowledge, honed. Be aware that ocean conditions can quickly change, and that circumstances in any given body of water may vary from day to day. Respect the ocean, pay close attention to every detail and get those pots ready for some of the best crabbing you’ll ever experience.
- written by Scott Haugen