Karyl Beyerle of Olympia with a 20 pound king. Big fish like this can be found at places along the inner-coast waterways and estuaries in fall. Credit photo to Tony Floor.
By Mark Yuasa
Now that ocean salmon fisheries have concluded, it’s time for anglers to shift attention to estuaries and lower tributaries as fish migrate upstream heading into autumn.
One area garnering plenty of notice lately is Willapa Bay where a king forecast of 36,805 (32,674 are of hatchery origin) have started to appear in catches, and fishing has been decent since it opened on Aug. 1.
“I give high marks as we head into (September), and the main herd of the local king run typically peaks historically around Labor Day,” said Tony Floor, the director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.
“When WIllapa opened on first of August they had one of their best early fisheries ever, and that can be based on Columbia River kings dipping into the Washaway Beach area (located west of Tokeland),” Floor said. “The first 10 days were very good and it has cooled off since but still kicking out some fish.”
Salmon fishing this past Saturday during the Willapa Day Salmon Derby was good with some anglers hooking multiple fish between Channel Markers 13 and 19 during the mid-day incoming tide.
The hatchery chinook fishery will continue to produce glory moments now through the end of this month.
Those will be followed on the heels of what should be a very nice return of coho from the middle of this month through October. The forecast is 91,718 (54,998 are of hatchery origin) compared to 67,609 (28,093) last year.
On the bigger tidal exchanges grass can be a problem for anglers and will foul up fishing gear.
“I’ve heard the grass was minimal early on, but as we have these long hot summer days the grass has become more problematic in the past week to 10 days,” Floor said. “Grass is horrific on the ebb tide, and worse on bigger tide exchanges. The best way to avoid this is by fishing during the softer tidal series.”
This is a shallow water fishery so letting out 12 to 16 pulls of line at depths of 15 to 25 feet is key to get your presentation spinning just off the sandy bottom. Gear is similar to the Buoy-10 salmon fishery where an angler will use a five- to seven-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six- to eight-foot leader and cut-plug or whole herring.
Willapa Bay is open now through Jan. 31 with a six fish daily limit and only three may be adults. Minimum size limit is 12 inches, and release wild chinook. The two-pole endorsement is allowed.
The non-tribal commercial gill-net fishery gets underway on Sept. 16, and word to the wise is avoid going when the nets are in the water. For a netting schedule, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/commercial/salmon/season_setting.html.
Moving up the coast, Grays Harbor is another fall salmon fishery that is definitely worth trip when it opens on Sept. 16, and while chinook are off-limits look for this spot to produce big, brawny coho that can reach in upwards of 20 pounds.
The Grays Harbor coho forecast is 86,398 (50,043 are of wild origin) compared to 27,841 last year, which is a remarkable turn-around. On the other-hand the chinook outlook of 21,824 (5,362 are of hatchery origin), but will allow an in-river fishery in Humptulips River that opened on Sept. 1.
“I would anglers who plan to fish Grays Harbor is to be very knowledgeable with the rules as they change from year-to-year,” Floor said.
Just as a refresher on the rules right now the Humptulips North Bay fishery is open through Sept. 15 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and release wild coho. The eastern Grays Harbor fishery opens Sept. 16 through Nov. 30 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and only one wild coho may be retained and release all chinook.
Another fun coho-only fishery in early fall is the Westport Boat Basin which is open through Jan. 31, but the best action usually occurs now through October. The daily limit is six salmon, and no more than four may be adult fish. Release chinook, no night fishing and an anti-snagging rule is in effect. Only single-barbless hooks may be used.
The boat ride from the Westport Marina to the main fishing ground takes about 15 minutes along the harbor’s south channel toward an area off the Johns River mouth. Start at the “Goal Post” – a set of rotting wood pilings – near entrance marker off the Johns River.
Plan on trolling in an easterly direction where a trough runs east and west along the shoreline toward the Chehalis River mouth. Many will use Stearns Bluff, a landmark hillside east of the Johns River as the ending spot.
The gear is a six-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six-foot leader and a whole or cut-plug herring. Simply let out 12 to 16 pulls of fishing line — since this is a shallow water fishery at depths of 15 to 25 feet — and make sure your bait is spinning just a foot or so off the sandy bottom.
Constantly check your gear as the harbor can be loaded with eel grass mainly on a low tide when its pulled away from shore.
“Fish don’t like salad on your bait,” according to Floor.
The action occurs during the flood tide, but there can be brief bites on the ebb tide too. Getting out at the crack of dawn is how it works at Grays Harbor, and here it’s all about tides.
There are three major boat launches in Grays Harbor, and the four-lane ramp at Westport is the most convenient. Next is a small two-lane ramp ideal for smaller boats just inside the Johns River. Both are best to access the south channel.
The other is the 28th Street launch in Hoquiam just inside the Chehalis River mouth, and is best to access the north channel fishery.
Use caution when running your boat from any of the launch sites, and always be sure to follow the channel markers as there are many shallow sandbars (especially at low tide) where you can ground a vessel. Also be aware of large ships traveling to and from the ocean.
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