Fishing out of Westport:
For people who have never been to Westport, tales of the Chehalis River bar at Grays Harbor can be intimidating, and sometimes rightfully so. For a small boat, a 17’ or 22’ with a V hull, if you watch the weather, time & tides, and use sound judgment, there should be no real problems.
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, at the next intersection will be a Chevron service station. The name of this station is The Hungry Whale. 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 & the water. The launch is owned & maintained by the Port of Grays Harbor. It is a good three lane concrete ramp with loading docks. There however is no freshwater wash down available. Launch fee is $5.00
Bait, both fresh and frozen can be had at the Hungry Whale. However fresh bait has to be reserved by the afternoon the day before you need it. Their phone number is 360-268-0136. One recommendation is if you call the order in, have the person taking the order read it back to you, specifically your name, the DATE WANTED, and the quantity.
The weather can be very unpredictable at times. If WDFW gives us an early Chinook season like they have since 2002, you can expect to stay on the beach a few days because of bad weather. As the season progresses, the weather tends to stabilize up until October or so, but the ocean salmon seasons are ended by the end of September.
Fog is often a problem out on the ocean during the summer season. A GPS coupled with a radar unit if you can afford it is highly recommended.
The wind if there is any, will come from offshore & usually from the northwest, but can vary and come from 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. The wind will, on many days pick up & be up to 15mph at about 1:00pm to 2:00pm, and calms in the evening.
If the ocean is rough enough for the Coast Guard to close the bar, you can still fish for bottom fish inside the south jetty. 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 are flushed back out with the outgoing tide. You can also 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.
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.
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 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 ft in depth and you will encounter a turbulence here for a couple of hundred yards. Once you get beyond this bar, the main river deepens and the water flattens out. There is a small red can buoy "4 T" in the middle of the exit channel. Head toward the "4 T" buoy, then turn to the west and head out the main river.
It is suggested that after you enter the main river & 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 in the area of this #9 buoy to beyond #8, which is about 500 yards. From #9 you want to head toward #8. Depending on the currents & roughness off the old submerged jetty (do not cross the submerged jetty it can be extremely dangerous), 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 & 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.
The 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.
Crossing the bar:
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 a crest so that you do not slam the boat into a trough on the backside of a crest.
On 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 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 6 hrs later during daylight hours.
This is a formula that can be used to calculate the amount of flow of a river at a bar. It is called the "rule of 12". This flow will be best described as: For each hour 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.
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. “Don’t leave home without one”.
If you run straight west 15 to 20 miles, out of sight of shore & fish quite a while, you may 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 & 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 condominiums at Ocean Shores will be visible behind the beach at the entrance to the river.
If you are coming straight in, one of the whitish shipyard buildings will show up in the town close to where you launched the boat.
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 may be able to see the south buoy line, as they run at a southwesterly direction & GH, the last buoy is about 1/4 of the way to the Willapa River entrance. Farther south, you can pick out a couple of clay banks behind the cranberry bogs of Grayland. Farther south yet, if you are off the mouth of the Willapa, you will see the higher land that drops off & stops at Willapa Bay. If you happen to be way south, the landmarks are totally different as you will be looking toward the northern tip of Long Beach, called Ledbetter Point. In recent years they have added a wind turbine farm on the hillside 4 miles south of the entrance.
Here is a photo of the North Jetty as you approach from the North. If you are heading back in from the south, when you get close enough to land & distinguish buildings, you want to head for #8. From the south your head to visual 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 & the next one will have you surfboarding, many times at an 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 of the trough at an angle. The most common thought seems to be "The boat will straighten up soon". WRONG, 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 the starboard under mostly full power, so your stern is at a 90 degree angle with the oncoming wave. As soon as it passes under you, straighten out & get back on your heading again. Some boaters will get on the backside & have enough power to stay there & ride it all the way across. This can work, is a very smooth ride, but be aware that IF something goes wrong, it will happen VERY FAST, as these waves are usually doing in excess of 30mph.
It is recommended that small boats acquire a GPS, 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 north or straight out, buoy #3 (46°55.00 N, 124°14.82 W) if coming in from the south then head for #8 (46°54.32 N, 124°11.00 W). You should also probably enter A buoy (46°55.04 N, 124°06.86 W) to get back to the basin, although the fog will usually clear off once you get inside the river.
The bulk of these Westport salmon will probably be Columbia River fish, 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 fishing will be where you find shrimp, which the Anchovies and Herring will be feeding on. The salmon will be feeding on both.
If fishing tends to be slow, 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.
Currently, for the last few years early in the season, a mix of both Coho & Chinook seem to be concentrating in 200 to 240ft of water 270° west from the harbor (46°56.55 N, 124°25.78 W). This location is about 18 miles from the boat basin. Early in the season, (first few weeks) they tend to be on the beaches in 60 feet of water or less north to the Casino and south to the Wind farm. They start moving out as the season progresses. Schools move from North to South as one school moves off to the south then later another school will replace it up North and the cycle starts again.
Here is a photo of the Casino in Ocean Shores and the hill behind it. Use both to mark a great fishing spot and to find your way back to Westport.
Coho can be found from right on top to down 15-30ft, however we have pulled some at 130ft later in the day. The Chinook will also be in the top water column if early in the morning or it is foggy. Later if or when the sun comes out the Chinook may decide to move down to from 50ft to the 100ft level.
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. If you see groups of whale birds sitting & diving, it may prove beneficial to stop & make a pass or two near them. Some of the best fishing can be within a stones throw of either Jetty.
If you plan on heading south, it may well also be beneficial to stop at the last buoy of the south Grays Harbor line, # GH (about 4 miles SW of #8) and make a pass or two there. We have in the pat at the last of the season pulled 30lb+ Chinook here mooching 20ft deep, targeting Coho, on a steelhead rod and spinning reel & 12lb line, late in the afternoon. These fish apparently are Willapa fish that are just waiting for the right river conditions to develop.
Another salmon location farther south, is just off the Willapa River mouth (46°44.88 N, 124°18.80 W) in about 185 of water. This however is a rather long run south, especially if you get a northwest wind.
With the fish in the top part of the water column, you will probably not be able to see them on your fish finder.
About any salmon tackle can be used here, depending on your method. Mooching was the method that brought Westport to be the "Salmon Capitol of the World" in the 1950’s & 60's. This consists of using a 2 to 6oz kidney sinker tied to the terminal end of 25lb monofilament mainline, & 6' monofilament leader with a double hook, 3/0 4/0 mooching tie. These mooching leaders are usually 25lb test & can be tied as a solid 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 & 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 the most popular with the recreational boats. The depth will change depending on the species of salmon targeted, and can range from 15ft to 150ft. For Chinook, you may start out in the early morning or overcast days by only dropping it to 30ft. However the usual target depth will be from 50ft to 70ft. Later in the day you will probably have to go to 100ft to 120ft.
Bait can be cut plug herring, or herring/anchovy in a helmet, behind a Diver or your favorite 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. Change to red if for Coho. Those who prefer to drag hardware will usually add behind the attractor, Silver Horde spoons in green/white Irish Cream, Cookies and Cream, or Army Truck colors in 3.5" & 4" sizes. Silver Horde plugs in Glow White, mother of pearl, chrome/blue or Army Truck colors do very well in sizes 4 or 5". Of course you should add some Smelly Jelly in either herring or anchovy.
There are not any islands, very few uncharted rock reefs, and no kelp beds to attract bottom fish in this area. Some fishermen will bottomfish inside the South Jetty, or the bulk of them will go out and then pull in behind and south (outside) of the South Jetty, & fish for sea bass & lingcod.
The main bottomfish location is usually north quite a ways and off of Moclips or Copalis (47°13.48 N, 124°19.49 W). This location is in 100 of water, but the fish can be found out to 200ft. Remember that most of the year you can not fish deeper than 180 feet for Bottom Fish unless it is a Halibut day. Do not go to this location & set down hoping to be on the spot. The bottom here is gravel, and it seems that this is a spawning spot for candlefish 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 spawning beds, and then start watching the fish finder.
If there is one thing to consider here in the river, it is that you need plenty of pot weights & lots of line out, as the currents will pull a single pot float under if you drop it off on a low tide & 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.
The old standby crabbing spot used to be half-moon bay by the Coast Guard tower. However recently this areas bottom seems mostly covered with the green slimy aquatic vegetation later in the season and at times possibly crabbed out.
If you set your pots in the Ocean there is plenty of shore line to do it on. 30 to 60 feet are good depths. Be courteous of the Commercial Crabbers and stay well clear of their lines.
Ensure you pot ropes are weighted and use LOTS of fresh bait
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 stay 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 25ft deep from #25 on the south to the Ocean Shores channel on the north. This area is used by some commercial crabbers at times also and it is possible that your pots may get pulled along with theirs. When you get back in from fishing & go to pull your pot and can’t find it, there is a possibility that someone else pulled it and dropped it wherever they were after they raided it. So if your pot is not exactly where you left it, look in a 100 yard location, in either direction depending on the last tide. If someone pulls it, the drift will take them about that far before they can drop it off again. 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. It has been mentioned by a Westport business man that the pots with staffs & flags seem to stand out better & will be the ones pulled first by these villains.