Thursday, September 23, 2010


On a recent visit to Portland, I went out one morning to get some coffee. As I walked down Hawthorne, not far from my son Matthew's house on the city's southeast side, people I had never seen before smiled and stopped to invite me pet their dogs. It's probably just me and my East Coast upbringing, but sometimes his neighborhood seems just a tad too friendly, especially so early in the morning. When the perky young woman in the coffee shop told me to "have a nice life," I knew it was time to get out of Dodge.  

Fortunately, a trip was already planned to Netarts Bay on Oregon's magnificent Pacific Coast. The prey was Metacarcinus magister or Dungeness Crabs - big, sweet, succulent crustaceans that are found all along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California. The crab's common name comes from the town of Dungeness on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, where the first commercial fishery on the West Coast opened in 1848. The Washington town was given its name in 1792 by British explorer George Vancouver because it reminded him of a point on the English coast near the Strait of Dover. Dungeness is an Old Norse word meaning "headland."  

Friends Paul and Kris, accompanied by Kris' dog Leon, left Portland early to launch the boat and set the traps. Matthew, Erin, Stephanie and I followed at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the drive through the Coast Mountain Range, which is covered by temperate rain forests dripping moisture and moss. The coast itself is a sliver of rocky volcanic land between the mountains and the sea.

Netarts Bay is less well-known than nearby Nehalem or Tillamook bays, but archeological studies show that native people have been catching crabs in its water since the late-Holocene era. Like us, their base was the Netarts Sand Spit, which forms the bay and protects it from the Pacific Ocean. The Spit also provides a close-up view of the massive, basalt sea stacks known as the Three Arch Rocks. The Spit can be reached on foot via a four-mile path or, as we did, by a short boat ride across the bay.

The five collapsible baited crab rings marked by floats were all set out by the time we arrived. I was given the honor of pulling in the first catch. As the boat was maneuvered over the rings, I began pulling, gently at first to remove the slack in the rope and not scare away the crabs and then rapidly to get the crabs into the boat before they escaped. All male crabs bigger than 5 3/4 inches are keepers and can be dumped into the bucket. If a crab gets away, you have to grab him from behind so he can't bite. We learned firsthand, however, that some of the big ones can reach around and latch on to a finger pretty tenaciously. 

There were a couple of other crabbing boats, but our main competition came from harbor seals interested in the salmon carcasses we used for bait. They arrived in groups, circling the floats and then diving gracefully searching for dinner. 

After a day of pulling traps in the fresh ocean air, dinner sounded like a good idea. By late afternoon, we had 22 Dungeness crabs and two dozen butter clams that Paul dug up at low tide. Best of all, a rented house was waiting for us just up the road in Oceanside. Stephanie found it, as she likes to say, on the Worldwide Web. It had a view of the Pacific and was a great buy at just $120 a night.  

We set the pot to boil and as the sun set (just before the rains came), the champagne was opened and we began feasting on some of the best, sweetest crab meat I've ever tasted.

For a Northwest crab cake recipe, click here.
To see more photos, click here.


Photos (unless otherwise noted) by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. This was great, Geraldine! So fun to read! I’m forwarding it to one of my friends who’s in love with the Pacific Northwest.

  2. I loved it. Great pictures. I have never been there and have never eaten Dugeness crabs. Made my mouth water. The picture made them look really good. The coast is really beautiful isn't it?

  3. Oregon looks fantastic!

  4. Wow--that sounds like it was great fun, and what a treat at the end of the day! Fabulous!

  5. Long time no see, your neighbor from long long ago. Mike Brown. Found you doing a search for Matt.
    Feel free to e-mail me at


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