In case you haven’t noticed, we happen to be right smack in the middle of one of the best Winter Steelhead seasons this region has seen in recent years. Not only in sheer number of chrome rockets coming to boat and bank, but size as well. I’ve been seeing some real pigs showing up on social media and from friends thus far and given that larger fish traditionally don’t show until February or March, It seems we could be in for a bumper crop of trophy Steelies in the weeks to come. With all that in mind it’s pretty hard to imagine taking a weekend off from chasing chrome but sometimes nothing beats a trip to the coast for primetime Crabbing and Rockfishing.
We’ve all heard the old adage that crabbing is best in months that end in ‘er’, and while that may be true to an extent, I’m here to tell you that crabbing is still very much at peak season. That combined with the fact that Lingcod and other Rockfish species are making their way close to shore to spawn, one can put together a pretty epic combo trip.
With domoic acid levels on the drop, recreational crabbing is open coastwide both inside the bays and in the ocean. I’m a big proponent of getting outside anytime conditions allow but even when things are too rough to cross the bar you can still do just fine inside. Try to avoid strong outgoing tides or periods of high water in the tributaries when planning your trip. Any incoming or high slack tide will help the crab bite.
When it comes to bait, there seems to be one clear cut winner, and then a whole bunch of other various piscatorial carcasses that work fine but don’t really compare to Albacore Tuna. I experienced this first hand at Tillamook Bay last weekend when fishing traps baited with Shad (my previous favorite) a short distance from those with Tuna carks. The difference was shocking, not only in the vast number of Dungies in the Tuna baited cages, but in average size. Often the Tuna-filled cages were stuffed with keepers and near keepers while the Shad stuffed traps were lucky to scrape up an occasional keeper. It’s clear now why I have heard tails of guys dumpster-diving for Albie carks at Tuna ports.
What to do once all those traps are deployed and soaking? Go fishing of course! Tillamook, Depoe, Yaquina, and other ports have good bottom fishing available just a mile or two off the beaches. Search for NOAA charts for the area to plan to fish and take note of rock piles, reefs, or any sudden change in depth. If the bar is too sporty for you, just stay inside the tips and work the south jetty with jigs or stacked bait rigs. Even Lingcod show up inside the jetties in winter so be ready for anything!
Darts, Diamond Jigs, and Shrimp flies are just few of the more popular lures for these species. Depth, wind and current speed are the main factors that dictate the size of the offering. I usually start at around 2 ounces and go up as needed to maintain a vertical presentation. Lowering the rig to the bottom, reel up 1-2 cranks then begin briskly raising and dropping (on about a 36” swing) the rod tip to create a ‘fluttering’ action on the drop. Be careful not to get line wrapped on the rod tip as you drop it. Using heavier monofilament as your mainline will aid this but I like to run braid since it has no stretch and minimizes the effect of current. Once you begin jigging, keep an eye on the depth finder in case you move over a drop off. The best strategy is always to stay as close to the bottom as possible without hanging up.
As Spring approaches, crab will begin to move offshore as they prepare to spawn so now is the time to load up the family and head to the coast for a multi-species adventure. Good luck out there!