Chinook Alley

Grays Harbor, Washington heats up in late summer for shallow water kings


Capt. John Keizer with a big Grays Harbor chinook that fell for a purple label herring in ten feet of water. (photo by Mark Abetz)


You’ll hear two or three anglers drinking coffee or talking about it, “I had 35-pounder and I know a guy who boated a 42!” Westport is the “Holy Grail” of Washington saltwater fishing and Grays Harbor is the choke point thru which some of this states largest king salmon have to pass through on their way back to the Humptulips, Satsop, Chehalis, and Wynoochee Rivers.

Sometimes called John’s River because much of the fishing takes place out front of the Johns River mouth, Grays Harbor becomes a trophy salmon fishery during the months of September & October.


Fishing Johns River

This is a shallow water fishery and most of the action takes places in 10 to 15 feet of water, so there’s really need for downriggers here. Most of the action takes place on the Westport side of the bay, with the area in front of Johns River by the Ocean Spray Company being the most heavily fished.

There’s a little bit of structure here and there’s a small trough that acts like the freeway for many of the fish passing through. After fishing here for many years I’ve noticed that any dip or depression in the soft and sandy bottom will hold fish. It really doesn’t take much to hold these fish up.

Tides are the key to scoring on this fishery and anglers can fish here all day without so much as a scratch on the herring, then an hour on either side of the tide change the bite can “go off” with fast and furious action. The rest of the day you can be counting seagulls and telling fishing jokes, but you better have the gear in the water at the tide change.

Grays Harbor is definitely a quality fishery and don’t expect big numbers of kings here. It isn’t uncommon for fish in the 40 pound class, or even bigger, to come out of this area.

If the silver fishery is open in the ocean we’ll often fish it for large hooknose silvers in the 14 to 18 pound range and then run back inside Grays Harbor for the tide change to target these large kings. It’s definitely a tide change show here for the kings and little else happens the rest of the tide, so if there’s silvers around a guy can “double dip”, catching both species in a day.



I recommend using a reel with plenty of line capacity, as these fish make some screaming runs when they’re hooked in the shallow water of the harbor. I’ll use 20 to 25 pound main line to a ball bearing swivel and then use a 4 to 8 ounce lead on a 12 inch dropper. Beyond this I’ll run 4 to 5 feet of leader with 5/0 and 6/0 super sharp hooks. Top quality herring is a plus here and I bring it down fresh from Tacoma or get the best vacuum sealed frozen herring I can find. I like big baits in purple or black label size, as they put out more flash in the murky Grays Harbor water. I’ll use a Big Al’s Fish Flash with this rig to help trigger strikes from these kings.

I’ll usually run two rods just off the bottom and two rods about mid-water and it’s usually 50/50 odds as to which baits get hit the most. There’s a lot of grass in the water here, so constantly checking baits is the one of the keys to success. This is a very popular fishery and a ton of boats can stack up in front of Johns River. With all those boats it’s important to keep the gear close to the boat or somebody will troll over it. The water is generally pretty murky here, so it’s doesn’t matter how close to the boat the baits are.


Boat ramps

Westport has improved ramps with lots of park, but it’s a little run to the fishing from here. A word of warning! There can be a lot of fog in the mornings in the harbor and it’s necessary to cross the shipping channel that all the ships use departing from Aberdeen. Use radar if you plan on running from Westport over to the fishing grounds. I can’t emphasize this enough!

There is also a ramp on the Johns River that’s great for sleds or boats 18 feet or smaller. It’s a narrow channel down the river, however, and boats need to follow the markers closely. It’s a very short run to the fishing grounds from this launch.



Grays Harbor normally opens October 1st, but can change from year to year, so check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations for Marine Area 2.2, east of buoy 13 for openers and bag limits.


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