Ilwaco & the ocean
Fishing the Pacific Ocean off of the Columbia River mouth (near Ilwaco)
Ilwaco: Port of Ilwaco 165 Howerton Ave., Ilwaco, WA 98624, 360-642-3143, $5.00
Fort Canby (State Park) $5.00
Chinook: Port of Chinook, 1 Portland St., Chinook, WA 98614, 360-777-8797, $5.00
Hammond: Hammond Marina, 1099 Iredale St., Hammond, OR 97121, 503-861-319, $5.00, with a parking fee of $5.00
Warrenton: Warrenton Marina, 550 NE Harbor Pl., Warrenton, OR 97146, 503-861-3822, harbormaster's cell 503-791-1925, launch fee $5.00
Skipanon Marina: Skipanon Marina, 200 NE Skipanon Drive, Warrenton, OR 97146, 503-861-0362
Youngs Bay Yacht Club: Youngs Bay Park, Astoria, OR, 503-325-7275, free
The launch at Ilwaco is off the main road into town just after you drop down off the hill, take a left at the sign that says launching ramp. If you miss that, then just go a few blocks to the stop light, turn left and the frontage road at the dock area, follow it back to the eastern end & then south around the boat basin to the launch on the south east side. There is a nice new two lane ramp, also a sling, & with lots of paved parking.
For Fort Canby, you have to go east thru the town of Illwaco, at the stop light, west & south & then back east, winding thru the park then down to the ramp. The State Parks is planning to improve this launch in the early summer of 2003. The plans are to install a 3rd lane & to increase parking.
The Chinook launch is off Portland Street. It has a new concrete ramp and a sling, but parking is limited & the overflow is along the streets. Also the channel out of the Chinook harbor is narrow & somewhat winding on a LOW tide. There are however small hemlock poles pushed into the edge of the channel.
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 quantity and the DATE WANTED, if you need it for any date other than the next day.
If the ocean is rough enough for the Coast Guard to close the bar during the regular salmon season, you might as well not even think about going fishing, as there are not many boat bottom fishing spots inside the jetties & the sturgeon season will be closed in the estuary by then. The season east of #10 does not open for salmon until August 1. About the only thing then is crabbing.
The closest buoy will be #11, (N46°15'75", W124°02'15") on your right, head toward it. From there, head southwesterly to buoy #10, (N46°15'32", W123°03'75"). Follow the red buoy line out, with #8 being your next pickup point. If you are going to encounter any roughness it will be at about this #8 buoy to beyond #6, (N46°14'35", W124°05'86") which is about a half a mile. From #6 you want to head toward #4, but depending on the currents & roughness off the old submerged jetty, which has a buoy #2SJ, you may have to hold slightly outside of. When you get beyond the old jetty turbulence, you then can head to the east side of #4. You should be beyond any turbulence about half way to #4. The distance from #6 to #4 is slightly less than another half a mile.
Do not try to cross the bar by following the "black", or north buoy line as it is shallower & can be quite a bit rougher.
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. The experienced fishermen from here say the ideal time to cross is on high slack, or an hour or two each side of it. However the time of this tide many times does not allow you as a fisherman, to cross on one high tide & come back on the next high tide 12 hrs later during daylight hours. The word from many who fish it regularly is to NOT to try to cross on a low, or ebb tide as there is quite a bit of turbulence.
There is a formula that is used to calculate the amount of flow of a river flow at a bar. It is called the "rule of 12". This flow will be best described as: For each our after the tide change the flow will be
1st hour will be 1/12th, 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 the middle 2 hours of an exchange. This equates to the bar being roughest at that time. Wind conditions, on any tide, will extend these times. All else taken into consideration, the bar usually tends to not be as rough on the incoming 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 & the other low tide will be somewhat higher. Look at the tide book & compare the difference between two tides closest to the time you intend to cross.
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 & cannot see if there is any white water coming off the tops. Therefore the water looks calmer when you are outside looking in.
Backtrack your red buoy line going out
A smart fisherperson may, 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.
Many times, Chinook salmon can be found south of buoy #4 & farther south along the red buoy line. 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. If you see groups of whale birds sitting & diving, it may prove beneficial to stop & make a pass or two near them. With the fish in the top part of the water column, you will probably not be able to see them on your fishfinder.
Fish may be found where ever the bait is & straight west to 200' can be productive. Most of the salmon fishing here however will be southwest of the mouth. Follow the south "red" buoy line out. There is no #2 buoy, & farther southwest is the "CR" or Columbia River buoy, N46°10'84" W124°01'50", in about 200' of water. The bulk of the salmon fishing will be from #4 to this old lightship buoy, or in that general area.
You will find the Coho from right on top to down 15-30', however we have pulled some at 130' later in the day. The Chinook will also be in the top water column if early in the morning or it is foggy. It would not be uncommon to catch them on a diver with from 20 to 30 pulls out. A pull is the distance from the reel face to the rod's first guide, or about two feet. Later if or when the sun comes out the Chinook may decide to move down to from 50' to the 100' level.
In the past 10 to 15 years, trolling with downriggers is probably the most popular with the average trailered sport boat. A 8'6" downrigger rod is used here. They are a heavier but section up to about 1/2 way, with the tip a little stiffer than the mooching rods. These rods take a lot of strain when being pulled down against the clip on the wire. Ball weight will be from 12# to 15#. The ball depth will change depending on the specie of salmon targeted, & 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'. 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 change to red, if for Coho. Those who prefer to drag hardware will usually add behind the attractor, Coyote spoons in green/white glo, Cop Car, or Army Truck colors in 3.5" & 4" sizes. Apex plugs in chrome, mother of pearl, chrome/blue or Army Truck colors do very well in sizes 4.5" or 5.5".
One old standby crabbing spot used is the inside of Baker Bay, behind Sand Island & north of the Chinook breakwater piling. The entrance here is between breakwater pilings #1 & #3. If can be shallow here at a low tide.
I would rather drop my pots in a more secluded place where everyone else doesn't travel. But remember this river runs FAST & with a lot of FLOW, so pick your location carefully.
It has been mentioned to me by a RV business owner, that the pots with staffs & flags seem to stand out better & will be the ones pulled first by pot thieves. What they do when they pull your pot, they pull the line over one side of their boat & drop the float on the other side. They then handline the pot line up & over their boat, when the pot comes up they grab what they want & drop it back in the water. If you knew exactly where you dropped the pot & you find it moved about 100 yards, it is a pretty sure bet that it was pulled by one of these thieves, as that distance is about what
it takes if the current or tide is moving them.