Crabbing with CoHo Charters in Ilwaco, Washington

by Nancy Zaffaro

Take a charter boat crabbing trip with CoHo Charters in Ilwaco, Washington on Long Beach Peninsula and you’ll enjoy Dungeness crab just two hours after it’s been pulled from the sea—with plenty more to take home. Whether you’re an expert fisherman or a complete novice, you’ll have a great time out on the water, see some incredible scenery, learn a lot, and again, have a cooler full of crab to take home.


Crabbing at the Port of Ilwaco

We arrive at CoHo Charters and Motel at the Port of Ilwaco at 7:00 a.m. The Port of Ilwaco is both a commercial and recreational port, with 800 slips.

The moon is higher than the sun. It’s not rainy or misty, but it’s foggy. The day before had been sunny and warm, and as a Northwesterner, I’m pretty sure this is a fog that will burn off before mid-morning.


CoHo Charters is a trusted name in charter fishing on Long Beach. Butch Smith is the third generation owner of the business his grandfather started in 1956. His son, AJ, is the fourth generation member, and if four-year-old grandson Peyton enters the business, he’ll be fifth generation to take the helm. They’ve been featured in six fishing television shows.


Butch, our Captain for the morning tour, greets us. We’ll be taking the CoHo King today, one of three boats in the fleet. We fill out the state paperwork for a day crabbing license and pay the $12.00 fee, don life vests, and are welcomed aboard. We’ve brought coffee and donuts to sustain us, and put these in the heated cabin. (There’s a restroom aboard as well.)

Butch and long-term employee Justin have made things easy for us. They put out the crab pots the previous afternoon. The catch limit is twelve crabs per person and you can help with the catch as little or as much you like.

Captain Butch Smith and CoHo Charters

crabbingIt’s clear Butch cares about the industry and the sea. He’s a well-spoken representative of the industry. He chairs the Salmon Advisory Subpanel of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The group represents issues in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California, and comprised tribal representatives, a gillnetter, charter boat operators, trollers, sport fishers, a processor; and a conservation representative.

Setting Out

We leave the Port, taking in the scenery as we bounce on the waves at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. North Jetty is an impressive man-made structure that protects ships as they pass the infamous, often turbulent Columbia River Bar. We pass the Coast Guard Station and their Motor Life Boat School, and round the bend of Cape Disappointment State Park. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse comes into view. I’ve hiked much of this park, and enjoy seeing it from the water.


Bringing in the Crab Pots


We approach the first of the crab pots. Captain Butch brings the boat in, and Justin uses a long pole with hook to lift the crab pot out of the water.

He brings the line over a pulley at the side of the boat. He pulls the rope in, and the crab pot up and over the boat railing.



Justin hauls in the catch for sorting

Butch makes sure we understand which crab can be kept and which must got back into the water. All females must be returned to the water. Males must meet size restrictions. He measures each with a crab gauge, and those that are too small are also returned to the water.


Only males of a certain size can be kept. This female crab (l) will return to sea, but the male (r) is a keeper

crabbingWe keep track of the number of crab we keep, so that we keep our catch within limits.

The fog diminishes, the clouds clear, and the sky turns blue. The wind blows but it’s a great day to be on the water.

Then it’s on to the next pot, where we repeat the process. We take turns pulling in the lines (no easy task with the pull of the water beneath) and carefully sort the crabs (learning not to get caught by a crab’s pincers!) Again, the keepers go into a water-filled holding tank and the others go back to the water.

Returning to Shore

Our limit caught and in the hold, crab traps stacked high in the stern, we head back to the Port of Ilwaco. Seagulls dive and sail up and down and all around us, attracted both by the smell of fresh crab and the leftover bait from the crab pots, which Justin throws out to them.


We round Cape Disappointment, passing the Lighthouse again. The blue sky makes everything look different. Sunshine, overcast, or stormy skies, there’s nothing like the lighting of the Pacific Northwest.

Back at the Port, Butch docks the CoHo King in slips in front of CoHo Charters. We get busy on the next step; cooking our crab. If desired, CoHo Charters will help you cook your crab. This is handy if you’re going to be traveling a while once you return home, or in my case, still have another day to enjoy in Long Beach.


Cooking the Crab

Butch and Justin fill two huge stock pots with water and set them to boil on propane heaters. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, Butch throws in a handful of salt per crab, and helps us cook the crab in batches. The crab cooks for 20 minutes before they’re removed from the pot and hosed down to stop the cooking. We set them out on the driveway to continue fully cool off. The next batch goes in the pot.

crabbing   crabbing

We can’t resist enjoying some of the crab right away. With a quick lesson in cleaning crab, we’re soon relishing in the carnage of cracking shell, legs, and joints, and popping delicious morsels of the fresh-from-the-sea Dungeness crab into our mouths. We place the crab into coolers we’ve brought from home or heavy-duty plastic bags Justin supplies.


Cleaning crab

Explore the Port of Ilwaco

Don’t be too quick to leave the Port of Ilwaco. Just steps away, walk the waterfront Promenade. Stop by Salt Hotel & Pub for lunch and Ole Bob’s for more seafood to take home. Explore Time Enough Books, a wonderful independent bookstore, and one of the art galleries. Seasonally, there’s a Farmer’s Market.

Crabbing, Sturgeon, and Salmon Fishing Trips

crabbingRecreational crabbing charters usually start in September and run through mid-November. After then, commercial crabbing season usually begins in December, in time for the holidays. (In 2018, commercial crabbing didn’t begin until January 15. Seasons vary, so check their website and give them a call for the latest information.)

If you’re reading this outside of the recreational crabbing season, either plan your trip now for the next season, or consider taking one of CoHo Charters trips for sturgeon or salmon fishing. (If you’re unfamiliar, sturgeons can grow to 12 feet and weigh up to 500 pounds, and the fish is very tasty, so if you’re really looking for an adventure, book a trip during this season.) CoHo Charters’ trips are suitable for both experienced fishermen and novices.

Both recreational and commercial fishing dates are regulated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW.) CoHo Charters and other charter and commercial fishing companies must follow these rules. Again, understand that dates fluctuate seasonally. Of course, weather conditions will also affect whether a scheduled trip can run. That said, sturgeon fishing usually runs from June, and salmon from June to mid-September. (Catch and release sturgeon and crab trips usually begin in May.) Again, call for details.


The Port of Ilwaco has 800 slips and moorage for boats up to 75 feet.

Long Beach Peninsula

Long Beach Peninsula is a fabulous vacation destination. You’ll enjoy the natural beauty of its beaches and parks, unique personalities of each of its villages and numerous festivals, fabulous restaurants, shops and more.

It’s a place where lasting memories are made. And your fishing trip with CoHo Charters is you’ll share over and over again with friends and family—especially if you invite them to sit around the table to crack crab!

Our merry band of writers, photographers and videographers.

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Photos by Nancy Zaffaro.

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Mary Charlebois April 1, 2018 - 5:00 pm

What fun. Great article, wish I had been along for the ride. –MaryGo

Nancy Zaffaro April 2, 2018 - 8:40 am

Thanks, Mary. It was great fun. This really is a great family trip to make as well! And…well, there’s crab!

Barb April 2, 2018 - 4:27 pm

Crab…yes please! I would love to visit.

Nancy Zaffaro April 2, 2018 - 4:56 pm

I hope you do, Barb. Long Beach Peninsula is truly a special place!

Jonathan Lessuck April 2, 2018 - 5:03 pm

That looks like a lot of fun. I hope you made it to Cape Disappointment State Park on your visit.

Nancy Zaffaro April 2, 2018 - 5:17 pm

You’re right; I”m glad you like it too! Not on this last trip, but agree it’s a great park.! I did make it up to Leadbetter Point State Park on this trip though; another “jewel.”


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