Salmon Fishing out of Westport

 

 

A Salmon can eat thousands of herring, but only one cut plug.

 

For the uninformed, tales of the Chehalis River bar at Grays Harbor near the town of Westport WA. can be intimidating, although sometimes rightfully so.   For a small boat, a 17’ or 18’ with a deep hull would probably be considered minimal even for an experienced skipper.   If you watch the weather, time and tides, understand good boating practices, there should be no real problems.  But if you happen to try to go out when there is a big run-off, or it is windy, this bar is not a Sunday afternoon cruise in lower Puget Sound.  Experience is invaluable in any situation, and many first-timers here may want to go with someone who knows the area, or at least follow them out and stay in radio contact.  

 

Fishing here you will need to observe WDFW marine area 2 rules, with the bay east of a north/south line thru buoy #13 (usually after September 1), using 2.2 rules.

 

The name of the town of Westport is actually the community at the stop light, while the town of Westhaven is at the boat basin area, but the whole area is generally just referred to as Westport. 

 

If on the water help may be needed, VHF channel 16 is the Coast Guard distress channel, with the more commonly used channel 68 being the fishing chatter channel, while the charters usually monitor channel 79.

 

Here is the welcome sign at the top of the Westport boat launch prep area
 

 


Getting There #1:      To get to the only launch in the area, as you come into town on Montesano Street, after you pass the airport on the right, there are a couple of small seasonal stores on the right, and next will be a Chevron service station at an intersection.  The name of this station is The Hungry Whale, at it, turn to the east (right) on Wilson Street and the launch is about 2 blocks straight ahead.  The trailer parking lot is on the right.  The Coast Guard station is between the launch, parking  and the water.  The launch is owned and maintained Port of Grays Harbor.  It is a good 3 lane concrete ramp, with loading docks, there however is no freshwater wash down available.  Launch fee is $5.00.   For a link to a map of the marina click HERE.   

 

Port of Grays Harbor Westport boat launch on a typical summer Sunday   Port of Grays Harbor Westport boat launch in the winter

 

 

The port office is at 327 Lamb Street, which is north down Nyhus Street past the fish processing plant, the shipyard and north into town about 2 long blocks. Their office is open 7 days a week, 8AM-5PM, (closed for lunch) phone 360-268-9665.  You can phone ahead and reserve dock space.  Moorage price (as of 2008) without electrical hook up for a 15' to 24’ boat is $10 a night.  If you book ahead for 7 days, you get the 7 days for the price of 6.  They do have a seasonal special of 3 months moorage plus a seasonal launch pass for $350.  If you come in from the water at the first basin entrance, a sign on the breakwater lists VHF channel 71 that you can contact the port office.

 

During the heat of the salmon season, the recommendation is to call and reserve dock moorage if you plan on being there for more than one night.  Or if for one night only, then the guest moorages are on float #6 or #21. Or in the first 3 or 4 berths on the ends of most of the other floats.  Pick a spot in the evening, go up to the marina office and if after hours, fill out the moorage ticket, put your money in the envelope and drop it in the box.  Then GO BACK and put the stub on your boat so the port employee knows you have paid, otherwise you will get a pink notice left on the boat.  

 

With the current regular salmon season closed Friday and Saturday, that means the only week-end day, Sunday, is a zoo at the launch.  Even though the launch is a 3 lane unit, put in can be a long wait unless you are there early, as many just simply are not prepared or do not understand how to get things organized. The preparation line is to the right side of the road bordering the parking area.  The pay station in in this same area.  The preferred procedure is to stop here, pay by putting the envelope in the box, remove your tie downs and get the boat ready to launch.  Then follow the boat ahead of you, making the LH turn at top of the launch, which puts you in line to back down the ramp and launch.  DO NOT hedge in from the north side of the launch even if you intend to use the north ramp as it interrupts the traffic flow.

 

The launching line sometimes extends back Wilson Street past the Hungry Whale, down Montesano Street and can take 45min to an hour if you get there at 6AM.   So, when approaching the Hungry Whale, there may be a boat or two stopped there getting bait or gas, but look down Wilson Street’s left side to see if a line of boats and trailers is there, if so, that is the put in or launch line.

 

Take out can be worse, because of all the boats going home Sunday afternoon.  The take out line can be backed up to the Hungry Whale at noon, and by 5PM can extend south to past the airport.


You can launch your boat Saturday evening and tie up to your berth (which needs to be paid for) and then have no hassle at the launch on Sunday morning.  However sometimes this late Saturday evening launching can also be congested, but not as bad as Sunday morning zoo if the fishing is hot.

Many dedicated fishermen will plan on fishing Sunday and Monday.  The Monday morning launching and afternoon take out is no problem at all, as there is little competition then as compared to the Sunday zoo.  Mid July 2011 on a Thursday, there were less than 10 pickups and trailers in the parking lot.

 

Aerial view of the boat basin at low tide, probably in the winter with most of the boats out for the season. 
 The boat launch is just beyond the last dock at the upper left corner of the photo.


Trailer and parking space can also be a major problem in situations like this, if there is good weather and the fish are in.  So you may plan on getting there EARLY, (5:30 AM ish) do your fishing then out of the water
EARLY (before 3PM) on Sunday afternoon.

Bait, both fresh and frozen can be had at the Hungry Whale.  Fresh bait has to be reserved at by about 3 PM the afternoon the day before you need it.  Their phone is 360-268-0136.  One recommendation is if you call the order in, is to have the person taking the order to read it back to you, specifically your name, the DATE WANTED and the quantity.  If they get the date wrong when you show up, you appear to be trying to hog in and the owner if he is there, doesn't understand the his crew was the one that screwed up.  (BEEN THERE DONE THAT).
 

Getting There #2 :  There is a launch at Ocean Shores.  This launch is a concrete ramp with high concrete sides.  You are backing down a chute.  Last information (2006) was that the end of the concrete there is a 8" to 12" drop off.  And at low tide (about 1.0+ ) you may even have a hard time staying in the narrow, shifting shallow channel out of the basin.  The bottom near some of some of the marker pilings has shifted to the north in places as the basin has a tidal flow that constantly shifts the bottom. it is rumored as of 2004, that this ramp is being rebuilt.

Fuel :  The Westport fuel dock is float about #1, just south of the long high piered fish buyers stations.  This fuel dock is closed on Sundays, so if you are moored in the basin and are planning on fishing on a Sunday, depending on your fuel capacity, you may have to come in early on Saturday afternoon to fuel up before 5:30PM.  The fuel dock does not open until 8:30AM on Monday.  If you trailer your boat, the Chevron station, the Hungry Whale, at the intersection of Montesano street and Wilson Street, where you turned to go to the launch, has fuel.  The only other one that I am aware of is the Mini-Mart on Highway 105 at the "Y" from Aberdeen that turns north on Montesano street then goes past the Ocosta school and then into town.

Tackle For those of you who forgot something, or lost gear, Englund Marine has one of their well stocked stores right across the street from the launch parking lot.   They are normally closed Saturdays and Sundays, except during the summer when they are open on Saturdays.   I have however seen them open on a Sunday if they are having a parking lot sale
.

Weather :  For further information on ocean conditions, how to understand the marine forecasts, and crossing the bars, see the other article published here on Ocean Fishing from a Small Boat.   Private-boaters can check out conditions on the Grays Harbor bar by calling 360-268-0622.

 

Rough Bar Closure Sign as you round the point, exiting harbor & entering the river.  As seen here, if the bar is closed, the amber lights will be  flashing alternately. Here is a newer sign currently at the top of the Westport boat basin launch ramp.
 

 

 

At the start  of the normal salmon seasons, (usually the last week of June or the first week of July) the weather may still be somewhat unpredictable. If they give us a early Chinook season like they did in 2002 and 2003, you can expect to stay on the beach a few days because of bad weather, and even up to the end of July.  As the season progresses, the weather tends to stabilize up to the end of September or so, but the ocean salmon seasons are usually ended by then.

 

It is advisable to listen to VHF Weather channel 4 for an updated marine weather report.  

 

The Coast Guard tower that flies the marine weather warning flags is out near Half-Moon bay, or west of town near the recreational park at the base of the South Jetty.  It is advisable to look at this tower to see if small-craft warnings are flying before launching if the weather is, or has been questionable.   Remember that the Coast Guard is there for your protection, they are not there to hassle you, they are really trying to save your life.  And many of us who are only on the water occasionally, while they are on it every day.  They may ruin your day of fishing by not allowing you out when you intended to go, but you will more than likely be alive to try it another day when the weather is better.

Many knowledgeable  boaters use this general rule, if looking at, or listening to a marine weather forecast, if the sum of the Wind Waves + the Height of the Swell exceed the Time, in seconds, STAY HOME.  This is sometimes called the weather being squared.  It will be rather lumpy.


Here it can be foggy all day offshore, but it will usually be clear during the regular salmon season on shore.  Later during the bay fishery, it can be foggy at least up to noon inshore.

 

The wind if there is any, will be coming from offshore and usually from the northwest or even the southwest.  If you are trolling, after the wind picks up in the afternoon, it can get hard to control the boat unless you put the wind on your stern.  Many days the wind will pick up, up to 15 MPH about 1 to 2PM, then later in the evening will usually slow down again.

The recommendation is that anyone using these waters, acquire a marine chart of the area, look at it enough before you head out so you have an idea of the water depths, and keep the chart, or photo copies of it on the boat.

If the ocean is rough enough for the Coast Guard to close the bar, you WILL NOT be able to fish for bottom fish or even drop off crab pots inside the south jetty.  They have the authority to close the bar in a rough condition from 1 mile on each side of the mouth to upriver to the mouth of Johns River and then across to Damron point at Ocean Shores. 

 

If they do close the bar, it is for your protection.  There will be flashing lights at the Coast Guard Station at the launch and at the water side of "The Point".   At the launch there is also a note to tune in AM 1610 radio (a low powered local broadcast) when the lights are flashing.   Most closures not associated to extended bad weather will be only for a period of time until the tide has changed and the bar has settled down, unless there is a storm.  These same closures WILL also NOT allow you to re-cross to come back in if the weather is bad.

 

 If it is later in the season (the end of July) a few salmon tend to "Dip In" the river mouth with the incoming tide & then be flushed back out with the outgoing tide. You can fish for salmon inside up to #13 while the ocean is open.  The season east of #13 does not open for salmon until September 1.


Beginning August 1 there is Grays Harbor Control Zone in place.  This being "An area at the entrance to Grays Harbor bounded by a line from the lighthouse 1 mile south of the south jetty to buoy #2 to buoy #3 to the tip of the north jetty to the tip of the exposed end of the south jetty." 

 

PFD's ;  It is recommended that while under way, especially while crossing ANY bar, that Personal Floatation Devices be worn by ALL on board ANY small craft.  The reason for this is, that if you get in trouble ON THE BAR, and something happens, it will happen so fast that you will not be able to get to, much less even put a life vest on.  The new inflatable suspender type PDF's are comfortable to wear and should accomplish the desired effect.

 

 

Heading Out : Leaving the boat basin from the launch, head straight out through the slot in the breakwater piling, then hang a left, head north for the end of the short rock breakwaters at the point.   DO NOT GO EAST OF GREEN PILING MARKER #7, as it designates the edge of Whitcomb Flats.  As you enter the main river off the point, there are a couple of rock breakwaters.  Just outside of these, there is a shallow bar of about 15-20’ depth, you may encounter a turbulence here for a couple of hundred yards depending on the tide.  Once you get beyond this little bar, the main river deepens and the water flattens out. There is a red river buoy #4 in the middle of the exit channel.  Head toward this #4 buoy, then turn to the west and head out the main river.  This river buoy is not to be confused with the ocean #4 buoy.


It is suggested that after you enter the main river and can see west with the south jetty on your left in the distance, head straight out the southern middle of the river to #11, the next one will then be #9.  This #9 buoy is beyond the end of the south jetty by about half a mile.  If you are going to encounter any roughness it will be about this #9 buoy to beyond #8, which is about 500 yards.  From #9 you want to head toward #8 but depending on the currents and roughness off the old submerged jetty, you may have to hold slightly north of it.  When you get beyond the old jetty turbulence, you then can head close to either side of #8.  At #8 you can immediately swing to the left then head southwest toward #6.  Buoy #8 & buoy #6 are fairly close together.  After you head toward #6 you will usually be beyond any bar wave conditions.


Distance from the launch to buoy #8 is about 5.5 miles. From the end of the existing South Jetty to buoy #8 is about 1.5 miles.  Buoy #8 is about equal in a westerly direction as the end of the North Jetty.

 

Highlights from BM 1st class Nathen Burns presentation at the Olympia PSA June 2011 meeting, plus a phone interview.

   If the bar is rough, but not enough for the Coast Guard to close it AND you intend to go out.
(#1) Decide by buoy 9 if you are going to cross the bar.

(#2) Slop hole is the triangle formed by buoy 8, buoy 9 and the end of the south jetty.

(#3) North of buoy 5, 9 and 11 is called the middle ground.

(#4) The red line is from buoy GH to buoy 8.

(#5) The green line is from buoy 3 to 5.

(#6) The worst time to cross the bar (max ebb) is approximately 2 hours before low tide.   Rough water can last through the low tide on an EXTREME tide change.   It’s best to cross on a flood rather than an ebb.

(#7) If the swell is from the west the waves will be the same across the bar.   If from the SW the waves will be taller towards the north jetty.   If the swell is from the NW the waves will be taller towards the south jetty.

(#8) Tune 1610 AM for weather channel. Phone 360-268-0622 for weather. To talk to Coast Guard 360-268-0121, 268-0122, or 268-0123.

 

Grays Harbor, bar with Buoys
 

 

 

Crossing the Bar :   As mentioned before, the actual bar will be from about buoy #9 to just beyond buoy #8 under most conditions.  Timing of the tide can make a great difference as to whether you may encounter a flat bar or a rough one.  If there is no wind, or about a 10mph one, when you try to cross and the tide is slack or within an hour after, you MAY be able to cross at 25 mph.  However if you try to cross 3 hours either way, in the middle of a tidal exchange, things WILL be different. 

 

The one thing that will get you in more trouble than any other thing is SPEED.  This is not a boat race, hold your speed down if it is rough, and then cut the throttle as you ride over the a crest so that you do not slam the bow of the boat into a trough on the backside of a crest. 

 

This river, like most rivers on the coast, you will need to be observant of the tides if operating a small boat.  Tidal exchange is the key to crossing any bar.  Probably the ideal time to cross is on either high slack, or low slack, or an hour before to two hours after it.  However the time of this tide many times does not allow you as a fisherman, to cross on one high tide and come back on the next high tide 6 hrs later during daylight hours. 

 

The formula below is used to calculate the amount of river flow at a bar.  It is called the "rule of 12". 
This flow will be best described as:

  1st hour after a tide change will
       have
1/12th of the flow
 
  2nd hour will be
       
2/12ths
   
  3rd hour will be 3/12ths
  4th hour will be 3/12ths    5th hour will be
       
2/12ths
 
  6th hour will be 1/12th

 

From this table you can see that the maximum flow will be about the middle 2 hours of an exchange.  This equates to the bar being roughest at that time. 

 

Under normal condition the roughest bar will occur on the middle of an outgoing tide when the river is rushing out and being resisted by the ocean.  Usually if nothing else is encountered, (as wind conditions) on the outgoing tide, the bar will be roughest from about 3 to 4 hours before a low tide. All else taken into consideration, the bar usually tends to not be as rough on the incoming tide.   Again the flattest of any tide will be the 1 hour before to 1 after the tide low or I hour before up to 2 hours after high listed on a tide book.  Under most conditions a high tide crossing will be smoother than a low tide crossing.

 

It is also my opinion that the main flow of the river and the fastest, either in or out will be in the center of the channel.  Therefore it is recommended to stay away from the center of the river on anything other than a slack tide.  You don't want to hug the south jetty either, as there could be a slightly slower "rip" somewhere away from the  center.  Look for it, but you will have take into account that it may change with each tide.  

 

The tide exchange will govern how rough the bar is going to be.  The low tides will have one real low tide each day with the other low tide being somewhat higher.  Look at the tide book and compare the difference between two tides closest to the time you intend to cross.  From a fisherman’s standpoint, if we look at the Pacific Beaches tides for July 13, 2002, the high tide is 8.4’ at 3:33AM and the following low tide is –1.0’ at 10:26AM, you therefore have a 9.4’ run off.  The next high tide is at 4:59PM at 7.7’ with a difference of 8.7.  For the inexperienced, this is not a really good week-end to try to cross on YOUR fishing oriented time-frame.

 

Using the above figures, if you want to fish AND cross at about 6:00AM, this means you will be bucking the roughest section of the bar at that time.  You may consider waiting a couple of hours.  This bar was crossable at 7:30AM on this day with no real problem, it was however a little snotty. You then can come back across about anytime from up till 8PM with little problems because you will be coming in on the incoming tide high slack and beyond.  If you cross during  the mid tide you may encounter incoming swells pushing you in.  These swells will probably never be right on your stern, but quartering, and usually from the West or NW.  You will be going slower than they are, so his means as these swells will catch up with you, and pass under you.  You will be rocked to the right as it rides up to you, then to the left as it passes under you.  This can get dangerous if you are going too fast.

 

Another situation can be looked at for August 4, 2002.  The high tide is at 10:31 AM and is 5.6’, with the following low tide at 3:27 PM at 3.1’.  This gives a runoff of only 2.5’.  With this low runoff, it means you can cross the bar about anytime you wish during normal fishing hours.

 

If any roughness is to be encountered, you will be able to see it better from inside looking out, as you can see the white water off the tops of the waves.  Coming back in, you are looking at the backs of these waves and can not see if there is any white water coming off the tops on the back sides (to you).  Therefore the water looks calmer when you are outside looking in.

 

One thing to be on the outlook for is commercial crab pots if the season is still open.   I have seen them in numerous quantities in the main channel and all over just outside of the entrance, but more on the north side than south though.  You will even see them at times out to about 200’.  When passing a crab pot, try to pass by it on the lea or downward tide side to ensure that the pot line does not tangle your in prop.   If in somewhat shallow water these pots do not have line weights so the line may be long and floating on or just under the surface.  This can be a bad situation for a casual fisherman who is not VERY VIGILANT if it gets tangled in the prop.  They are usually placed in a string, parallel to the beach.  Each crabber uses a different color buoy.

 

Crossing The Bar Going Out :  If crossing when there is some roughness, you WILL NEED to have your hand on the throttle at all times.  When you ride up a wave, cut your power so that you rock over and down the other side.  It is also best to try to do this at an angle other than straight head on, as the boat will roll slightly making the ride easier than hitting the water on the back side like a ski jumper.  The main thing here is pick where you want to go, use enough power to get you there but still maintain your headway, then cut back on the crests, then re-power for the next one.  Quartering the waves, you might not be able to head exactly where you want this way, but it will be a lot smoother and safer. 

 

Once you decide to go, don’t get part way out and decide it is too rough and then try to turn around in rough chop. This could very well broach you if a wave catches you broadside.  If however you do get in this situation on an incoming tide, your best approach may be to slow down enough to yet maintain steerage and let the waves push you backwards enough to a point where you then can then turn around. 

 

If you are not sure when you get close to the rough water, DON'T GO THEN.  Lay back under slow power, watch, observe if and where other boats are crossing watch the conditions they are encountering. 

 

If the tide is at a ebb, and you are want to head north, then head for just outside of the North Jetty.  You can cross within a couple of hundred yards of the end with no problems.  However you need to be aware that over the past 20 years or so this area just outside of #5 and north, has sanded in and has a water depth of 30’ or so.  If the wind, tide and water conditions are from the West or Northwest, with the ocean forces doing their thing, this shallower depth sets the stage for a rough sea until you reach about buoy #3 and the water depth drops off to 70’or so.  This roughness is usually is not as noticeable on a high or low tide change. 

 

Heading Back From Outside :  You can navigate here without a GPS, but it is a lot easier with one.  To head back in by compass, you of course will have to mostly reverse your outgoing course.  Watching your water depth can also be a help because this region has no drop-offs, just a slight slope to the bottom until you get way out.  Finding your way back may be somewhat helpful if you refer to your chart.

 

If you do not have a plotter, run straight west and fish quite a while, you do not know which way the drift is on that particular day, and when heading in, unless you are familiar with the landmarks near the beaches, you may be on the wrong side of the harbor when you run back eastwardly to come in.  The drift however is normally toward the south.

 

Coming in, if you can see the Olympic mountains with snow on them, if they look somewhat due East of you, you are way North. Heading on in, when you get in close enough to see the shore well enough to pick out landmarks, if you happen to be way north, there are a couple of hills in the background called “saddle mountain”.  If you are on the north side slightly, the Quinault casino which will be the largest light brown complex on the north beach will stand out.  There are 2 other hotels/motels south a mile or so from the casino.  Next the condominiums at Ocean Shores will be visible behind the beach, with the north jetty just south of them.  If you are coming straight in, the white  shipyard buildings will show up in the town close to where you launched the boat.  

 

And if you are slightly south, the Westport water tower will be more visible, this is when viewed from the water a dark tank jutting above the trees.  In the old days before it got painted it was nicknamed the "Rusty Bucket".  From the south if you are not that far out, you should be able to see the south buoy line, as they run at a southwesterly direction and terminate at GH, the last buoy is about ½ way to the Willapa River entrance.  Or if you are south and are out farther so you can not see the buoy line, you will see the shore, but if you are off the mouth of the Willapa, you will see the higher land that drops off then stops at Willapa Bay.  Farther north along this shoreline, you can pick out a couple of clay banks behind the cranberry bogs of Grayland.  If you happen to be WAY south, the landmarks are totally different as you will be looking toward the Willapa valley and the northern tip of Long Beach, called Ledbetter Point.

 

If you are coming back in from the south, when you get close enough to land so you can distinguish  buildings. You want to head for #8.  From the south your visual head to landmark will be the condominiums of Ocean Shores.  If you head for the headland to the right of the condo's you will be heading more toward the end of the south jetty.

 

Crossing The Bar Coming Back In :  This will be pretty much like going out, with the exception you will usually be riding in on a wave instead of heading into it.  The situation can also be different if there is a tide and or wind involved where you will have to quarter the wave.  You can be riding the back of a wave like a surfboarder but on the back side.  It will run out from under you then the next one will have you surfboarding, many times at a angle.  You will then have to straighten up the boat so that when you are being pushed into the trough of the next wave you are going straight with the wave.  You do not want to be in the bottom or trough at an angle.  The most common thought seems to be "I will straighten up soon".  You  will need to power down somewhat.  With the normal wave conditions here, you will normally be tipped to the starboard, your response should be to sharply steer to port under mostly full power, so your stern is at a 90 degree angle with the wave.   As soon as it passes under you, straighten out and get back on your heading again.  Some boaters will get on the backside and if they have enough power to stay there and ride it all the way across, OK?  This can work, is a very smooth ride, but be aware that IF something goes wrong, it will go wrong VERY FAST, as these waves are usually doing in excess of 30 MPH.

 

There is also a situation of a "Trailing Sea".  In this situation you will probably be bucking some chop, a slight crosswind with the waves are coming in on your stern.  With the waves coming in like this you won't have the steerage you would like and if the stern of your boat is low, you may need the bilge pumps running.   Here is where you may have to go where you really did not intend to go for a ways, then quarter the other way to get back to your intended course to keep from having the side of the boat exposed broadside to the waves.

 

The above information is not to scare you off, just to make you very cautious and possibly realize that you have to be VERY OBSERVANT as to all the conditions around you.  I might just be leaning slightly over more on the side of safety, but I don't want a greenhorn to this area to think this is a ride in the lake.  I have known people who have fished out of here that just launch their boat, go out, do not look at the tides, and don't own a chart.  My opinion is that god does look out for fools at times, where I have personally seen situations where angels were sitting on both shoulders of these types of people.

 

For more information on weather, bar crossings and general ocean conditions for a small boater click HERE.

 

GPS/ Plotter :    It is recommended that small boats acquire a GPS, (even a handheld) learn how to use it and put in some locations to come home to.  Here it can be foggy all day offshore, but will usually be clear during the regular salmon season on shore.

It is recommended to use as a head in location from the open ocean, from the north or straight out, buoy #3  (46-55-00, 124-14-82)  if coming in from south then head for #8 (46-54-32 , 124-11-00).  You should also probably enter “A” buoy (46-55-04, 124-06-86) to get back to the basin, although the fog will usually clear off once you get inside the river.

 

Salmon Locations :  The bulk of these Westport caught salmon will probably be Columbia River fish, migrating from the north, so the school will tend to move in that direction (southerly) as the season progresses.  The salmon will concentrate where the bait is, the best will be where you find shrimp, which the herring will be feeding on.  The salmon will be feeding on both.  The bait seems to like water temperatures between 48 and 52 degrees.  When you find bait, you will usually find salmon.

 

You may some scattered salmon on your sonar screen, but usually not near the surface as the sonar cone angle does not pick up fish individual fish well until it starts seeing a broader area at 50'/60' or so.  However you may see schools of baitfish, if so look for individual salmon just below them.

 

There is usually a Chinook salmon troll fishery off the north coast from Ocean Shores up the the Quinault Casino in from 30' to maybe 50' of water.   However I recently observed something on a real minus tide  (-1.8').  The wind and current was from the south making the north coast water rather dirty and more weeds than normal even out to about 80' of water.  This was after the low tide by about 3 hours.  My conclusion was that possibly with that much run-off, the river water running that fast had picked up more sediment than normal & the ocean current was pushing it north.

 

One bad thing about trying to troll here, is that the commercial crabbers will lay their rows (running north/south) of crab pots in water from 20' out to 100'.  They even go out to 200'+.  But are more concentrated closer to shore.  This can get hectic when a strong current is running which may pull the pot buoys underwater part of the time.  You do not see a underwater buoy.  Many lost gear, both downrigger balls and tackle has been donated to the fish gods here under the wrong conditions.  So maybe the use of divers (which does not handicap you) is a thing to go for in this shallower area congested water.

 

Map of the Pacific Ocean off Grays Harbor, (Westport)
 

 

 

It is a good idea no matter what, when you catch the first salmon, cut its stomach open to see what it has been feeding on and try to match your bait to these stomach contents.

 

Early in the season you may find Chinook that lay in 15' to 40' of water off the north beach. This will be from just north of the north jetty up to the casino above Ocean Shores.  Many Chinook do not travel out far into the ocean, but follow the shoreline.  One thought here is that if you look at a surface salinity map, you will find that area with a concentration of fresher water coming from the Chehalis River and pushed northeast by the prevailing ocean currents up against the beach.  Now think about where these fish are coming from, Alaska and along the outside of Canadian Vancouver Island, down past the Straits of Juan Defuca, with most of them heading for then Columbia River.  This lower salinity next to the beach will be their first exposure to any fresh water that is their ultimate intended destination another 40 miles farther south.  It makes sense that they may just hesitate here a bit longer than if they were farther out in the ocean with the higher salinity water.   Out there they are traveling fish, inside next to the beach they may be lingering a bit.

From about 2010, midway into the season, a mix of both Coho and Chinook seem to be concentrating in 200 to 240’ of water 270 degrees west from the harbor (46-56-55,  124-25-78).  When running to this spot, watch your depthfinder for bait and salmon starting at about 150' or so as there is no sense of overshooting a school of fish.  The above location is about 18 miles from the boat basin.  Early in the season, (first few weeks) the schools seem to split with some staying out, while the other moves shoreward.  Those that are out, tend to be from the above GPS location to slightly north of this location, then they start moving south as the season progresses.  The current usually is moving northerly, therefore if you troll with the current, it is best to troll north.

 

If this northern location does produce, then shift to the south.  Start at the GH (Grays Harbor entrance buoy) which is the most southerly of the south buoy line.  It is in reality not that far north and west of the Willapa entrance.    GH buoy is about 4 miles SW of #8 on the bar.   Make a pass or two there. There have been many fish pulled  immediately around this buoy.   Start here and or west just as recommended for the northern location.    This is worth looking at both early in the season as well as later.  We have, the last of the season, pulled a nice 32# Chinook here, mooching 20’ deep, targeting Coho, on a steelhead rod and spinning reel with 12# line, late in the afternoon.  The fish that hang around here late in the season apparently are Willapa fish that are just waiting for the right river conditions to develop.

You will find the Coho from right on top to down 15-30’, however we have pulled one at 130’.  The Chinook will also be in the top 30' water column if early in the morning, the day is overcast or is foggy.  Later if / when the sun comes out the Chinook may decide to move down to from 50’ to the 100’ + level.

 

There are also a small amount of Chinook that later in the season that lay in 15' to 40' of water off the north beach. This will be from just north of the north jetty up to the casino above Ocean Shores.  Some of these fish can go into the 40# range.  But there are not a lot of them.  If the normal fishing areas are not producing for whatever reason, this is an option.

 

In the year 2010 and 2015. things changed and boats had to run a ways to find the fish, even out to 350' or 400' of water.   They had to go that far out to find cool enough water temperature.  Those that stayed in near the 250' depth had to do down to 120' to 180' deep to catch fish.  

At times, salmon can be found around buoys #6 to #2, so don’t just run offshore because your buddy said that is where he caught his last weekend.  Stop in and at least take a look or make a pass along the south buoy line before you make a long run to open water.

 

Another salmon location farther south, is just off the Willapa River mouth (46-44-88, 124-18-80 in about 185’ of water.  This however is a rather long run south.

With most depthfinders, if the fish are not schooled and in the top part of the water column, you will probably not be able to see them on your fish-finder unless you are watching it constantly.  As you get into deeper water (100' plus) and your sonar cone expands, then you can usually identify fish.


Birds :   Keep an eye peeled for any activity that may result in finding fish with actively feeding birds being one method.   Seagulls and terns may be congregated, reeling above and/or diving into the water.  This can be because fish are driving anchovy/herring to the surface and the birds are accepting that as a dinner table.

 

If the birds are just setting on the water, (even large quantities of them which will commonly be called whalebirds), this does not mean that the above is happening.  However the technical name for these birds are Sooty Shearwaters.  Watch these whalebirds when they are trying to start flying from setting on the water, they will be paddling trying to get enough momentum to get airborn.   They have such stubby wings in relationship to their bodies that if they have just gorged themselves with baitfish, many times they can not get up enough speed by trying to fly and paddling/walking on the water that they can not get airborne.  All this means is that yes there has recently been baitfish in the area.

 

The seagulls will usually only work the surface, terns will dive in (sometimes deep) for a meal.  Whalebirds will dive, then swim deep for their meals. 

 

When you happen to see lots of birds working the surface, stop your run or move slowly to within 100 yards, troll around the working birds.  You do not want to scare them off as the bait-ball may get a chance to dissipate.

 

However it might be that no salmon are under them driving them to the surface.  Look closely when you get near enough as it may be that whalebirds are what is driving the bait up to the surface.  You may not see most of the whalebirds as they will be underwater as found in the LH photo below.  You may see a few fly in nearby, then dive.  If this is the case, troll close to verify and move on as very likely there will not be any salmon nearby.
 

Seagulls & terns working the water in July 11, 2011 off the north beach, in this instance there were whalebirds under the surface forcing the bait up        Whalebirds IN Grays Harbor July 23rd, 2011
 

 

 

Gear/Tackle :   About any salmon tackle can be used here, depending on your method.  Mooching was the method that brought Westport up to the "Salmon Capitol of the World" in the 1950 and 60's.  This consists of using a 2 to 6 ounce kidney sinker tied to the terminal end of 25# monofilament mainline,  6' monofilament leader with a double hook, 3/0 4/0 mooching tie.  These mooching leaders are usually 25# test which can be tied as a sold or a slip tie.  

 

The slip tied ones are usually used if you are using whole herring for bait.  You can then thread the hooks into the bait then pull the rear one forward to put a bend in the bait to give it the proper roll.

 

The solid tie leader is usually used if using a "cut plug" herring, as the angle on the bait gives the rolling action.

 

Trolling with downriggers is probably the most popular fishing method with the average trailered sport boat.  The depth will change depending on the specie of salmon targeted, which can range from 20' to 150'.  For Chinook, you may start out in the early morning or overcast days by only dropping it to 30'.  However the usual target depth will be from 50' to 70'.  Later in the day you will probably have to go to 100' to 120'.   I start with one at 50' and the other at 70', if this does not catch fish drop them another 20'.

 

Bait can be cut plug herring, or herring in a bonnet, behind a Hot Spot flasher or a Fish Flash.  These attractor colors will usually be green/glo for the Hot Spot, or quilted chrome, green, blue if for Chinook.  You may want to change to red if targeting Coho.  Those who prefer to drag hardware will usually add behind the attractor, a Coyote spoon in White lightning, green/white glo, Cop Car, or Army Truck colors in 3.5" and 4" sizes.  2010 saw the need to go to 5' spoons.   Another good setup is a white glo or green spatterback hoochie behind a #4 lime green Spi-N-Glo about 32" behind the flasher.

 

The year 2010 saw extended usage of the Brad's Super Cut Plug lure.  This lure has the action of a cut plug herring and has a cavity in the rear that scent or herring/anchovy fillets, even oil packed canned tuna can be inserted in to.  Anchovy scent seems to be something that drives Chinook to bite.  A small bit of garlic scent in addition to the anchovy can also be of a benefit on any bait.

 

Apex plugs in chrome, mother of pearl, chrome/blue or Army Truck colors do very well in sizes 4.5" or 5.5".  Of course you should add some Smelly Jelly in either herring anchovy, sardine or anise. 

 

Once you find fish, you could switch one downrigger to a 5 or 6" Tomic plug (white) with smelly jelly.  Run this about 60' behind the clip with no flasher.   These are usually used when targeting large Chinook.

 

If this does nothing, then try a large herring behind a flasher on the downrigger but change or recharge it every 20-30 minutes with scent.  If things slow down keep moving west with the max usually about 260', some even go out to 300', but this is a long run as the slope of the bottom is very gradual.

 

Remember "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" when it comes to fishing. One salmon charter boat skipper when the encounter jellyfish, is to change out your gear, and cut off 20' of your mainline. Remove ALL they jellyfish residue even to the point of using a toothbrush to get it all from the swivels and knots. Wash the entire gear off in soapy water and let it dry for 1/2 hour. Then spray it all down with WD-40 and apply your scent before fishing it again.

He also uses a bucket of fresh water and soap to soak the flashers/leader-lures in overnight which keeps them clean and the hooks rust free.  Most hooks that have been exposed to saltwater and then dried out, or put in your tackle box, the plating on the point will be thinner than the shank and will start to rust if not sprayed with a rust preventative.
 

 

After You Have Caught Some Fish :  It is best to do 2 things, #1 is immediately bleed the fish by cutting the gills.  You can thread a bleeding rope thru the gill cover, out the mouth and tie the rope to a cleat, drag the bleeding fish in the water for 10 minutes or so to bleed it out, then place it in a cooler of some sort AND ice it down.  However you want to be careful that you are not baiting the blue sharks.  You will be amazed at the increase in eating quality over just throwing the dead fish in a fishbox until you get to the dock.


The local cannery in the downtown area, on the south end of the public parking lot has ice.  You can take your cooler with your fish in the large side door and they will sell you a large flat shovel full of shaved sea ice for $1.50.

 

Late Fall Salmon inside Locations :  After the ocean fishery, (marine area 2 closes), the season, marine area 2-2, opens east of buoy #13.  HOWEVER CHECK THE REGS TO VERIFY IT IS OPEN. AS DUE TO CONSERVATION EFFORTS, AREAS CAN CHANGE.  This buoy is about straight between Westport and Ocean Shores.  To fish this location, launch as usual and go out past “A” buoy.  Number 13 will be north of there basically on the center of the river.  Fishing will concentrate from just east of #13 to upriver on a high incoming tide.  This is essentially a mini version of the Columbia River Buoy #10 fishery.  Here, this time of the year, the Coho will probably dominate.  However there are some large Chinook heading up the Chehalis, Satsop, Humptulips, etc., so your chances of picking up one of them is possible.

The Humptulips River empties into the bay off the north side east of Ocean Shores. You can also try this channel for salmon.

It is advisable to enter in the GPS locations for these buoys, as this late in the year it can be foggy up until noon at times, if you intend to fish the lower bay. 

 

Ocean Shores #3    46-56-60 , 124-06-00 John’s River #8       46-55-40 , 124-00-57  
Buoy #14                46-55-27 , 124-06-43 Buoy #24                  46-55-59 , 124-01-97
Buoy #SC               46-55-33 , 124-02-85  Buoy #25                  46-55-70 , 124-01-17
Buoy #21                46-55-29 , 124-03-46  

 

You may have heard of the fall Chinook fishery at Johns River.  This is a small river that empties into the Chehalis from the south shore, just upstream from Westport.  Much of this fishing is in the South Channel (15’ of water) from upriver of the Johns River #8 about a mile, to back to the range markers at #SC and the main shipping channel near #24.

To get to Johns River from #14, the main river shipping channel heads east, and at #21 a northeasterly bend to #25.  You can enter the South Channel between #SC buoy and #24.  Just to the east of #24 are the range markers for the upper crossover channel.  Johns River empties into the south channel a little over a mile east of #24 at it’s own marker #8. 
 

There is a launch on Johns River, just upriver from the Highway bridge at Markham. The launch is on the old Highway just east of the current one.  It is however not recommended for larger prop boats, as the channel out to the Chehalis South Channel is shallow at low tide (5’) and NARROW in places.  If you do decide to use this, stay to the west of #1 and #3 markers, and follow the small trees that have been pushed into the mud by local fishermen.  Then when you enter the south channel, going past the Johns River marker #8, stay heading NE for about 100 yards to be sure you clear any sandbars.

 

Johns River at about a 0.0 Tide, with still some ramp left Johns River looking downstream toward the Hiway bridge

 

Fishing here is usually a slow troll just off the bottom with a Fish Flash and a large plug cut herring.  Floating weeds can become entangled in the line and gear, so it is advisable to pull in every 15 min. or so to clean the weeds off.  The tide usually preferred is the incoming high to half way back out.  However don’t pull out and leave just because the tide has changed. 
 

Upriver of this area, to Cosmopolis can be fished for these late fish, but it seems that most of them will wait in tidewater until the river conditions are right, and then quickly move on upriver, and not much interested in taking a bait.

There are Coho raised in net pens inside the Westport boat basin off the point.  The info that I have is the pens are owned by WDFW and that the Kiwanis Club is the sponsor with the local high school pupils feeding the fish as a project.   These fish are released here and return in the basin in the fall.  There is a special season for them.  Charter boat personnel tell me that you can buy live anchovies from the bait float, hook one in the back, fish off the docks & just let it free swim.  If these salmon are there you can have a ball.  This is just another attractor for the local businesses after the main summer season is over.

 

Bottomfish Locations :  There are not any rocky islands in this area, and very few uncharted rock reefs, along with no kelp beds in this area to attract bottom fish.  Some sport fishermen will bottomfish inside the end of the South Jetty, however the bulk of them will go out salmon fishing and then on the way in will pull in behind and south (outside) the South Jetty, to finish the day off with sea bass or lingcod.

 

There are a few underwater reefs along the north side of the harbor, but most are a long run from the mouth of the river and not worth the effort unless you happen to be near in your quest for salmon.  These are few and far between with most being small enough that even if you find them, it is a chore to stay near enough to them to be into sea bass or ling cod.  Some of these rocks are no larger than a car with larger ones maybe the size of a house.  The boat operator will not have a chance to fish as he is busy maneuvering the boat.  You will have to find the direction of the drift then possibly put the motor in reverse to back the boat into this drift so you can stay in a position enough to either fish the structure top or to the leaward side.   These GPS number locations are closely guarded by the charter fleet and not normally available to the sport fishermen.  These small reefs are not shown on any charts and apparently were found only by accident if a skipper just happened to be looking at the depthfinder when the boat crossed over the top of one.

The main bottomfish location is usually north quite a ways and off of  Moclips. (47-13-48 , 124-19-49)This location is in 100’ of water, but the fish can be found out to 200’.  Do not go to this location then set down hoping to be on “the” GPS spot someone had given you.  The bottom here is gravel, and it seems that this is a spawning spot for candlefish or small baitfish in the late spring and early summer.  The sea bass and lingcod will tend to move around to where these baitfish are.  So you will have to get near these possible spawning beds, and then move around while watching the fishfinder for fish on the screen.

 

Crabbing Locations :   There is one thing to consider here in the river, is that you need plenty of pot weights along with lots of line out, as the currents will pull a single pot float under if you drop it off on a low tide and come back to pick it up on a high tide that has lots of exchange.  You will come back and swear that someone has stolen your pot.  But the float is just under water.  You might have to come back next weekend at a low tide to try to retrieve it.  However with the tidal currents, it may have been pushed even a couple hundred yards.  One method is be sure the pot is weighted.  Some will use old cast iron window weights and 2 floats.  Another trick to increase your odds at attracting crab that was passed on by a Westport RV owner is to tie and old soda can with a small rock or two inside the can, inside the pot to make an attracting noise similar to that of crabs eating. 

The old standby crabbing spot used to be half-moon bay by the Coast Guard tower.  However recently this area’s bottom seems mostly covered with the green slimy aquatic vegetation later in the season and mostly void of crab, either by over harvesting or otherwise.  It may be wise to take a GPS location of where you dropped them off, just in case you for whatever reason can not get back to pull them, you may be able to have someone else retrieve them for you.

One crabbing spot would maybe be in Elk River, which is the body of water you enter just as you exit the boat basin from the launch.  You might run to the right slightly, (south) up this small river to get away from boating traffic coming into the launch, and try a pot or two.  However you may want to say on the east side of the channel, as just around the harbor's upriver entrance, much vegetation has been encountered.

Another location for crabbing would be the flats upriver from #14.  This area is a large area that covers most of the center of the river and is about 25’ deep from #25 on the south to the Ocean Shores channel on the north.  This area  is used by some commercial crabbers also, and it is possible that your pots could get pulled along with theirs.  If your pot is not exactly where you left it, look another 100 yards beyond, as if someone pulls it, the drift will take them about that far before they can drop it off again.

 

If you drop your pot off as you leave for a day of fishing and when you get back in, go to pull your pot, but can not find it, there is a possibility that someone else pulled it and dropped it wherever they were after they raided it.  Therefore you may have to do a little searching.  I would rather drop my pots in a more secluded place where everyone else doesn't travel.

 

Sturgeon Locations :   One thing that is unique on this river is that it is open for sturgeon fishing 24 hours a day.  There are launches at Aberdeen, Cosmopolis, Friends Landing and Montesano.  Most of the sturgeon fishing occurs from Aberdeen upriver to Friends landing below Montesano.   However there should be about the same opportunity in bay here as in the lower Columbia River.  It is suggested that you try some of the troughs around Sand Island or Goose Island.  Or even the upper part of the South Channel, or in the back side of Whitcomb Flats off Elk River.  There appears to not be much of this type of fishing done in the bay, maybe simply because there is so many other fishing opportunities during the summer, and winter winds could set the stage for it too rough to keep an anchored boat steady enough to hold the bait down.

 

Most of the lower river tidewater sturgeon fishing is usually is out of the Cosmopolis launch.  This is located at the east end of the short side street next to the police department, which is located close to the Weyerhaeuser mill on the main Highway through town.

 

There is also bank fishing done at this Cosmopolis launch area.  Most of the boat fishing will occur either below the launch or upriver at the next 2 bends.  The second sharp bend has a deep hole where many boats do anchor.

 

During the winter when a high runoff is in process, you can slip into the 2 soughs, Preacher or Blue Slough.  These give both the fish and the fisherman a little protection.

 

There are not as many sturgeon in this river as the Columbia, and the Quinault Indians do net them usually at the  2nd bend above Cosmopolis.  Therefore I would recommend trying to fish below or above this netting area.

 

Miscellaneous :  There may be times when you get a high tide and bad weather, like a heavy rain for a period of time before creating a river flooding situation, plus a SW storm with high winds, creates a lot of water like the photo below on 11-07-2009 at 6:14AM.    This was only a 7.2 high tide, but all the contributing factors stacked the deck. 

 

The whole street /storm drain system has been changed since then.
 

Westport's main street looking north

 

After the commercial crabbing season ends, you may still see a few “lost pots”.  These can usually be identified by the float being rather black from algae and is usually is only visible at a low slack tide, as the rope has lots of seaweed and algae growing on it, dragging the float under if any tidal movement is there. 

 

These pots will usually be sanded in.  Years ago I have tried to pull them, with only about a 60% success.  If you try, you need to tie the pot line off (but with as much slope as possible, not right above it) to one GOOD side stern cleat, with partial power, let the boat twist or rotate but keep the power on until you rotate the pot a few times.  If everything goes OK, you may speed up slightly for another round or two but being careful of the stern still having enough distance to as to not pull yourself under. 

 

What you are trying to to is to loosen the pot to find the one side that the pot's line is attached and with the boat on the opposite side, have enough leverage to tip the pot up out of the sand.  BUT have someone with a sharp knife handy as if it is sanded in and a wave catches you, it could pull the stern under.

 

The new 2012 Westport observation tower

 

History :  My fishing out of this port dates back to 1951 or 52 when, as a young boy I would go out with my uncle who lived in the Grayland/Westport area working as an auto mechanic for many years.  He had a passion for salmon fishing.  We would take his 7.5 or whopping big 10hp outboard, and rent an open 16’ cedar strip boat from Heally or later a large 18’ plywood boat or Bar-View Marina.   These boat rental businesses were situated on the point near where the bait net pens are now.

 

These days were before depthfinders were common or even affordable, and many of us never even had a handheld compass onboard.  The charters and some commercial trollers had marine radios, they also used CB radios, which were then nick-named  “Mickey Mouses” because they were not very reliable in those days (especially near saltwater).  You had to learn on your own where to go and what to do to catch fish, as our rental boats of course didn’t have depthfinders or radios.  The fishing gear was a 6’ mooching leader with a slider top hook, as we ran whole herring, (cut-plug herring was not heard of then) a 4 to 6 oz. kidney sinker and a short rod.  Rods were short, solid fiberglass, 5’ to 6’ with a 7’er being long, as they were a carry over from the stout bamboo rods used for the wire lined dodger trolling setups.  The newer reels were usually Penn or Ocean City star drag, non-levelwind type.   Most of our mainline was Cuttyhunk as monofilament had just started to come in standard usage for leader, but was not totally accepted as a mainline yet.

 

Here are the Good OLE days at Westport

 

We never targeted Coho, as Chinook were rather plentiful and the season ran from the first of May to the end of October, with no season quota governing total allowable catch. The fishing method was to drop your bait to the bottom, reel up 2 or 3 feet and drift with the tide.  If there was no wave action, then you simply raised and lowered the rod tip to generate bait action.  You would occasionally drop it down again to see if you had drifted into deeper water, or crank it up if you were dragging bottom.  Then if you got nothing, or if the birds were working within sight, pull in and make a run back, or to a potentially better spot, and start your drift over again.  We soon learned where the productive spots were.

 

A few years later when the large charter boat fleet was based there, just getting out of the harbor or the main river could become a challenge for these small boats if you happened to be leaving at the same time the 240 or so charters were also heading out.  The wakes from these charter boats were great enough that a small boat had to really be on the outlook, as it seemed the skippers never looked back at the little open boats.  At times we thought they seemed to think of us as pests to be exterminated.  Your only hope with that much traffic was to get behind one of them, have a motor with enough power then stay close in but far enough back in their protected wake to have easier going.  One thing you could do however, if you did not know where the fish were, was just to get behind one, follow them to there they were going.  The bad part of this was you did not know how far out they were headed on that particular day and maybe you didn’t have enough fuel to even return for this kind of a run.

 

The charter boats were nicknamed the “puker fleet” for a seemingly good reason by the the townspeople and the commercial fishermen.

 

There was so much diesel exhaust fumes that the air was darker and that it was not hard to tell the direction the charter boats went.

 

The South Jetty in those days went to within about a hundred yards or so of buoy #8.  With our little boats, we could hug the inside of the South Jetty to it’s end, then go between it and #8 through potentially rough water and be in the open ocean without much exposure to the bar.  We would usually watch the tides and try to go outside a few hours before high tide change then be back a few hours after the change, there usually was no need to wait until the next change as fishing was usually very good.

 

Most of the outside fishing was along the south buoy line from buoy #6 to #4 and occasionally when fishing slowed down, we would have to venture WAY OUT to #2 buoy.  In those days we never crossed the mouth of the river to fish the north side, didn't have to as there was enough fish there to satisfy us.  

 

At that time, there was a deep slot just inside of the South Jetty.  We could fish outside in the ocean, then after the high tide changed we would slide inside to finish the day here.   Many a Chinook was pulled in this slot without going near the bar in the latter part of the season.  There was also good bottom fishing here, many black sea bass and some nice lingcod were pulled.  Occasionally we would hook into the bottom that moved, and after about an hour you would get to see what you had.  Usually it was a large sting ray with wings about 8' wide.  Mind you that our boats were only 16'.  The word then was CUT THE LINE QUICK.

 

The original South Jetty was constructed from a railroad on top of driven in piling. This jetty has been rebuilt at least twice since those days but never back to the length of the original jetty.  Therefore, I would be very cautious crossing over between the end of the existing jetty and #8.  There are still considerable submerged rocks, causing a turbulence off the end off the jetty and out toward #8.  Many have done this, but if you decide to, look it over during a low tide, watching where the submerged rocks (turbulance is) so you have an idea of where they are at a later higher tide.  I would not want to try this on a low tide, OR a SW wind blowing as there is a lot of turbulence right at the inside end of the jetting if the tide is going out.

 

The North Jetty never extended much beyond the beach.  These days were before Ocean Shores was even thought of as a town.  Later the north jetty was rebuilt and extended somewhat.  The North Jetty end still does not extend much beyond the north beach.  In the early 1970s if we were heading out, we could cross the river over to the north side and head to the end of the North Jetty, then move around the end to open water off the north beach with little exposure to the bar.  This has now changed somewhat as the north beach has sanded in considerably for miles out, making for a shallower rougher passage at low tide.

 

In the late 1960's to mid 1970's I commercial trolled out of here with a 22' inboard boat.  We were called "Kelpers".   We were small, 20-24'ers, which had no ice capacity, limiting us to "day trippers" which meant we stayed closer to port, and since kelp grows in shallower water, hence the nickname.   In the early years we could use any gear, including sport poles, of which I ran 6.  Later in the year when the Coho were in, when trolling thru a school of Coho, 2 fishermen with 4 fish on the rods at once could get rather interesting.  

 

Many a large Chinook were pulled off the north beach in 15' - 30' of water right behind the breakers with the sport poles.   Later, sport poles was made illegal and we had to use only commercial trolling "Girdies" (much like heavy downriggers, shown in the photo below)  of which I had 2 hand operated ones.   The stainless steel wire lines had dual crimp on stops at 15' intervals where the we snapped 20' of 80# mono leaders to.  The lure of choice was split between a #5 Canadian Wonder in 50/50 brass/chrome or just a plain hoochie in pink representing a shrimp or green/blue for a herring.  In 200' of water you could have 10 or 12 spreads out on each side with a 30# cannonball on the bottom.

I did not keep a log book then (it would be interesting now), but as close as I can calculate, I have crossed the Grays Harbor bar at least 1000 times.  With a few of these crossings being rather interesting.

 

Then later yet (probably about 1972) the commercial regulations was again changed and we had to go to barbless hooks on any of the lures we used.   So you sport fishermen, don't complain that you are being discriminated against for having to pinch your barbs decades later.

 

My homemade  22' inboard commercial "Kelper" trolling boat moored on float #15
 

 

 

The peak year of 1977 saw about 230 charter vessels working out of the Westport Marina.   As of the year 2001 there are only 28 charter boats operating out of Westport.   The year 2007 saw an increase to 32 charter boats in the fleet.   The summer of 2010, 32 charter boats composed the fleet.   Currently on a GOOD Sunday when the fish are in, there will be up to 400 private boats hitting the water here in search of salmon. 

The charter industry reached its peak here in 1977 when 267,000 people a year flocked to these boats for a day of deep sea fishing.  The industry went “downhill” from there until the late 1990s, and the industry has been fairly stable since then.

There are a variety of things that brought about the decline, including natural stocks being overfished, the effect of the Boldt decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that dealt with tribal fishing rights.   Shifting ocean conditions — such as currents and temperature — that impacted the survival rate or the baitfish that they ate, and hence the salmon, and new generous commercial fishing quotas, (some for the baitfish) up and down the coast also affected our reduced Washington season lengths and bag limits.

 

Most recently the WDFW has issued licenses for sardine seining off the coast.  With the advent of this, salmon fishing here has again changed.  It seems that with this seining, removing much of the salmon's feed, the sport salmon fleet has to move farther offshore to find any fish.  When I commercialed here in the late 1960s to mid 1970s, we never went farther out than aboutt 160' of water, now in 2016 it is not uncommon to be out in 300' or even 350' of water.  Also they have to fish a lot deeper than before, possibly because of warmer water, or in search of food.  And any fish that you do catch seem to be smaller, maybe because of a less abundant food source.
 

 

 

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Last updated 01-27-2004  Last Updated   10-16-2016
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