Sport Crab Season a Go for Saturday

Sport Crab Season a Go for Saturday
Ron Haynes, a deckhand for Brookings Fishing Charters, and a young customer, hold crab harvested in Brookings earlier this year. The sport crab season will open statewide in California this Saturday with restrictions.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Brookings Fishing Charters

by Kenny Priest

One of the most popular fisheries on the North Coast will commence Saturday, on time, albeit with a few temporary regulation changes. Due to presence of humpback and blue whales and the potential for entanglement from trap gear, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife restricted the recreational take of Dungeness crab using crab traps statewide. However, the recreational take of Dungeness crab by other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares, is not affected by the temporary trap restriction. I’d say we’re batting .500 as the season could have easily been delayed as is the case with the commercial fleet south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line. Their season was to begin on Nov. 15, but the high number of whales shut them down. So, hoop nets it is, and there are some changes to those regulations as well that anglers need to be aware of. They include:

  • Hoop nets are required to be regularly serviced every two hours;
  • Design modification specs to prevent the device from functioning as a crab trap that could incentivize longer soak periods;
  • Reduce the weight of the hoop net, thereby posing less harm to an entangled whale or sea turtle should that occur.
  • Expand current gear marking requirements for hoop nets used south of Point Arguello, Santa Barbara County, to apply statewide, which will aid in identifying this gear type for enforcing these requirements and identify hoop nets involved in entanglements.

For specific hoop net requirements, visit

The season’s first traps can legally be deployed at 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning. Anglers, weather permitting, will get their first peek into the health and weight of this season’s crop as the pre-season quality tests have not taken place or the results have yet to be made public. One thing we do know is the domoic acid levels won’t be an issue. Statewide testing is nearly complete with zero percent of the samples exceeding or even coming close to action levels.

The season runs from Saturday, Nov. 5 through July 30, 2023. The minimum size is 5 ¾ inches measured by the shortest distance through the body from edge of shell to edge of shell directly in front of and excluding the points (lateral spines). The limit is 10 and a valid California sport fishing license is required but an annual crab trap validation is not required when taking crabs with hoop nets or crab loop traps.

Top crabbing locations
With offshore conditions looking rough over the weekend, you can still find plenty of crab. One of the top spots to soak a few rings is Crab Park, located at the end of Cannibal Island Road in Loleta. There’s access to launch a kayak or canoe in the estuary of the Eel River. You can also launch your boat at Pedrazzini Park at the end of Cock Robin Island Road and make your way up the estuary towards the mouth of the Eel.

Humboldt Bay also has a few good locations to catch some crab. Out in front of the PG&E plant is a good spot as well as the flat off of the South Jetty parking lot. Another top location is either side of the channel leading into the South Bay. Up north, inside Trinidad Harbor is another popular spot among the locals. You can launch your small boat, kayak or canoe right off the beach and head out to Prisoner Rock, where the bottom is sandy and 40 to 50-ft deep. Launching here requires a relatively calm ocean, which doesn’t look to be the case for the weekend.

Weekend Marine Forecast
Ocean conditions don’t look good for Saturday’s crab opener. As of Tuesday, elevated seas are in the weekend forecast. Saturday’s forecast is calling for northwest winds 5 to 15 knots with northwest waves 9 feet at 12 seconds. Winds will pick up Sunday, coming out of the southwest 10 to 20 knots with northwest waves 17 feet at 14 seconds. These conditions can and will change by the weekend. For an up-to-date weather forecast, visit or You can also call the National Weather Service at (707) 443-7062 or the office on Woodley Island at (707) 443-6484.

Weekend Tides – Humboldt Bay
• Sat., Nov. 5: high: 10:35 a.m. and 11:02 p.m.; low: 4:01 a.m. and 4:54 p.m.

Standard time begins at 2:00 a.m. Sunday
• Sun., Nov. 6: high: 11:08 a.m. and 11:57 p.m.; low: 4:44 a.m. and 5:39 p.m.

North Coast all-depth recreational fishing began Nov. 1
The North Coast all-depth recreational fishery began Nov. 1. The all-depth fishery will take place only in November and December, and only north of Point Arena. The newly open areas will allow anglers to target groundfish species in the midwater column, such as widow and yellowtail rockfish, as well as species found on the bottom. There are no special gear requirements, though unless otherwise specified, regulations require anglers to use not more than two hooks and one line to target groundfish. All other season dates, bag limits, size limits and other special area closures still apply. For more information regarding groundfish regulations, management and fish identification tools, please visit

The Rivers:
Currently, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the main stem and South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, Smith and Van Duzen, are closed. Sections of rivers that are open include the main stem Smith River from its mouth to the mouth of Rowdy Creek. The Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream is closed until Jan. 1. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will make the information available to the public no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened at any time. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. For more information, visit

Main stem Eel
The main stem Eel near Scotia was running just above 200 cfs as of Wednesday. Flows are predicted to peak above the 350 cubic feet per second threshold Sunday morning. If the rains come as predicted, it could open to fishing Sunday morning. River forecast levels can be found here:

Smith River
The Smith remains closed due to low flows as of Wednesday and it doesn’t look like it will meet the 600 cfs threshold on the Jed Smith gauge prior to the weekend. Flows are predicted to peak at 865 cfs by early Sunday morning before it drops throughout the day Sunday. River forecast levels can be found here:

Chetco River
Heavy rain later this week is expected to push the Chetco into prime shape for fall salmon by next week reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Until then, anglers are limited to bobbers, which have been effective in tricking salmon holding in the tidewater holes,” said Martin. “Big numbers of salmon are spread from the U.S. Highway 101 bridge to Social Security Bar, with wild and hatchery adults and lots of jacks. Trolling has been slow in the estuary. The biggest rise in flows is expected to take place next Wednesday, although earlier forecasts of rain this week failed to materialize.”

Gear restrictions extended on Chetco, Winchuck rivers
Chetco and Winchuck angling gear restrictions are extended through 11:59 p.m., Nov. 15 due to low water levels. The gear restriction extension is also a conservative approach to help lower harvest levels of older aged chinook salmon.

Angling is restricted to fly fishing (must include a strike indicator) or bobber fishing in both rivers. The Chetco restriction applies from River Mile 2.2 to Nook Creek, and from the mouth to Wheeler Creek in the Winchuck River.

Based on historical flow regimes, gear restrictions are typically in place Sept. 1 – Nov. 3 each year to eliminate snagging. As in 2018, this year is an exception with abnormally low flows and no significant October rains. With rain forecasted beginning this week, the gear restriction will lift at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 16.

ODFW biologists expect good numbers of chinook to return to the Chetco and some are already holding in the lower river. Maintaining a fishing opportunity for Chetco bank anglers is important and this is also a good time of year to harvest returning hatchery fish. For more information, visit

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email

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