Jetty Fishing

Jetties : These are large man made rock structures placed at the sides of river mouths where they enter the ocean to protect the channel from being sanded in by the ocean current. Most large rivers that have cargo ships entering and leaving need at least 40′ of water and it to be consistent from year to year for navigation. The US Army Corp of Engineers builds then maintains these jetties for the above purpose. This would mainly be the Columbia River and the Chehalis River at grays Harbor. Smaller rivers like the Quileute at LaPush would be for the protection of the small fishing fleet that calls this location home. These rocks are large, some being so large that one or two would fill the bed of a dump truck.

In Washington and Oregon the south jetties will usually protrude farther into the ocean than the north jetties. The reason is that our winter storms come from the southwest, so the south jetty takes more of a beating by the waves during a storm. The smaller finger jetties sometimes called breakwaters or groins, (actually named revetments) near the harbors are a lot safer fishing from, especially for younger kids. You may want to go to the NOAA weather report website for Portland OR. CLICK HERE. The reason for Portland, even though you are looking at say the Washington coast is because most of the weather comes in from the southwest. Cape Shoalwater which is the northernmost report here is at the mouth of the Willapa River. Safety taken care of, now we can concentrate on fishing.

There are other smaller structures that act as breakwaters for internal harbors. They are all there to protect something, like land or to protect inner boat basins.



The south & only jetty at LaPush, notice logs piled up from winter storms One of the smaller breakwater jetties at Westport taken from the observation tower, with the Coast Guard practicing in the distance




The side aspect of jetties is that boat-less fisherpersons can usually access them and many times be able to walk (climb may be a better word at times) even a mile out into the ocean on them. Just trying to use these jetties, means you should be in very good physical shape, as this is not a walk around the block. You usually have to jump from one to another, but they are not anywhere near being placed with any thoughts of you or I ever navigating them. The purpose is to STOP heavy waves from washing sand into the channel, ruining commercial traffic, or property. Climbing on these can even be dangerous as they may be wet & slippery, uneven shapes & can be sharp if you fall. Wear shoes that have soles that are conducive to rock hopping.

Also if you happen to choose the large ocean southern jetties like Grays Harbor at Westport or the Columbia River, sneaker waves can come in, knock a fisherperson down if you are not vigilant, even sweeping them out in the water. It is recommended that all persons attempting to traverse very far out, wear Personal Flotation Devises, (life vests). Get a tide-book learn how to read it, remember that when the tide comes in, the water raises, you do not want to get caught out farther to where you can not get back if the tide does come in, plus if the weather gets bad, it will take you considerable time to reach shore. You may find driftwood from small limbs to LARGE logs piled up or wedged in among these rocks. Be careful here as the logs may well not be anywhere near solidly located. The Coast Guard has been known to motor out along the jetties in bad weather and instruct fishermen over a bullhorn to vacate the jetty for safety reasons.


It is a good idea to fish here with a partner


The north jetty at the Columbia River has a special season and regulations during salmon season. The north jetty at Grays Harbor is off the city of Ocean Shores which is a lot friendlier to fish off of for us old geezers.

Species of Fish Normally Caught : There are a wide variety for “bottom fish” in & near these rock structures. The reason I say “IN” is that with these large rocks, there are many underwater crevices for baitfish, crabs, piling worms, etc. to hide. All this then relates to a next step up the food chain, for the larger fish that you are interested in. Here you can have the opportunity to catch any of the many varieties of sea perch, flounder, sole, kelp greenling, rockfish, even a cabizon or ling cod. There could be others including dogfish shark also if you get in the wrong area. You may even catch a Dungeness crab.

You can also cast off the jetties for crab with the little bait-box snare loops type crab traps.



Black Sea Bass, a common specie of the “Rockfish Family” Starry Flounder




Open Seasons : Washington State waters are open to most bottomfish year around with liberal limits. Serf perch has a daily limit of 15, rockfish, 10, other bottomfish like kelp greenling, cabizon etc. 15 total. The season for ling cod generally is open from March 15 to Oct. 15 with a limit of 2 & a minimum size of 24″ Check your state’s fishing regulations before you go. 2013 saw a change in some of these limits.

 Seasons & Timing : About any time of the year when the weather is decent is when you will see people fishing off the jetties. However more use it during the spring and summer than the rest of the year it seems. It seems that the best time to fish these jetties would be on the incoming tide and as minimal a tidal change as possible. The big tide swings make for a fast current and the big swells keep the fish close to the rocks so you get hung up more and lose a lot of gear. Then with less current running, it is easier to keep your gear where you want it. Also go on a day the swells aren’t too big because you may manage a few saltwater showers despite fishing up high on the rocks. They can came up out of nowhere!

1 hour before and after tide change seem to work best.

Rods & Reels : The most commonly used units will probably be an 8′ 6″ heavy steelhead rod with a spinning reel.

 Tackle Requirements : Here you will have about as many different terminal gear as there are fisherpersons. But the main requirement is to use a sinker that is heavy enough to cast your bait far enough out to keep from getting snagged in any of these large boulders that may have been washed out of position and farther into the ocean or river, depending on which side you are fishing on.

Usually it may be best to attach your sinker with a lighter weight dropper line, so if snagged, it will break off but you can get the rest of your gear back. In circumstances like this a heavier mainline than actually required to land a 2 to 4# fish may be prudent. 15# or more mainline would not be uncommon here.

Method : The method may depend on which specie of fish you are targeting. The sea perch, sole and flounder will be on the bottom. Up from the bottom a few feet will be the rockfish and greenling. Normally you do want your gear actually on the bottom, but up from 2 to 6 feet. This can be hard when casting from shore. If you keep snagging up, move slightly as you may be in an area where there are more rocks washed inward.

Many will fish 2oz. bobbers with a variety of baits set from 8-15 feet. If that doesn’t work then try 2 oz. jigs with 4″ white grubs scented with herring oil.

These fish are using the sunken rocks as a hide out, so if you cast straight out you may well be casting beyond the fish. Try casting more at an angle with the jetty. You may have more hangups but you may well get more fish in the process.

One method would be akin to jigging, and that is to cast out, let the lure sink to the bottom, hold the rod high, then reel in rapidly raising the lure. Then drop the rod tip, letting the lure sink. Count numbers until it hits bottom again, then raise and reel again. Repeat this process, raising the lure, bringing it toward you, then allowing it to drop. This dropping creates a fluttering action that most bottomfish can not resist. Keep this process up until you get close to the jetty, then cast and start over again.

An effective method for rock fish, ling cod, flounder and even salmon during the season is to use a 3″ float with a 2-3 ounce mooching weight (for casting) a foot below the float. Attach a 6′ leader with a size 1 – 3/0 salmon hook. Whole fresh or frozen herring work very well. Let the herring free float at the discretion of the float with the wind/current.

Some fisherpersons have devised methods to get your bait out there, but yet off the bottom. One is a small battery powered propeller driven float. Other fisherpersons use a rubber balloon or plastic toilet tank float above the jig or bait. They use a small enough sinker or jig to cast out but not heavy enough to sink the balloon. Here, get it out, let the tide and or the wind keep it there.

I have been experimenting using a #000 Spi-N-Glo with a single hook attached as a buoyant device about 24″ above a jig. This gives me a jig as a primary lure, plus some buoyancy with another hook attached above. The trick is to balance the jig to be just below the buoyancy of the Spi-N-Glo. With this method I can raise the rod tip which also raises the lures. Then I reel in a few feet, let the tip pack down, this lets me cover more area not only in distance but also in height of the water column. It appears that about a 1/2 or a 3/4oz. jig will work, depending on the current.

The same basic tackle that is normally used for surf fishing for sea perch will work with modifications.

Which side do I fish On? : Normally this would be the river side because the bait tends to stay in a protected area. The ocean will be on the other side and will have more current or breakers coming in against the jetty. However the ocean side may be more productive for sea perch. For the smaller breakwaters either side seems to usually work OK.

Bait : Here again can be many different things. Sand shrimp, sand or piling worms, chunks of herring or squid, anything that will stay on the hook for a while will work. Others may use 2″ to 4″ plastic tailed curly tails either with shrimp bait on a hook or attached to a lead-head jig from 3/8 to 4oz. Others may try casting metal spoons.

Tackle Box : In a situation like this, lugging a tackle box out there is not something I like to do. The best thing to get is a backpack. With this you can take extra tackle, rain gear, even your camera, & a lunch.

Landing Net : This is something you will have to decide on yourself. But I have seen many larger fish lost because the fisherperson, (or his partner) could not get close enough (for safety reasons) to the water on sloping slippery rocks, then the wave raises and drops fast enough that the fish gets the leader broken off right at the fisherman’s feet.

Something to Put Your Catch In : Here possibly a small plastic garbage can liner that will fit in your backpack. Others use a burlap sack. Others will take a 7″ section of broom-handle, cut a circular groove near each end and tie a section of 3/16″ nylon cord on one end, with the other end loose so you can string the fish onto this end of the cord. When you want to move or bring them in to shore, shorten the cord up & tie the other end around the other end of the broom-handle forming an easy to carry fish carrier.

Coho Salmon : Late summer and early fall if Coho salmon are in, as they take bait near the surface. When these fish are a possible target, some fisherpersons use a rubber balloon as described above, but above a whole herring. Again they use a small enough sinker to cast out but not heavy enough to sink the balloon. In use you want to cast upstream of the current, allowing the float to carry the lure down toward you. Reel in the slack line is when a fish strikes the bait, you need in contact, not a lot of slack line where you would most likely miss the hookset. As the float passes you, then gets pulled in closer to the jetty, reel in and start over with another cast.

Probably here where you need a strong floating line, the braided line will work best, but you will probably need to coat it with Muscilin line coating paste used by fly fishermen.

This can be challenging however if there are a lot of seagulls in the area. Here, get it out in a possible travel path & let the tide & or wind keep it there.

Sharing the Area : Water near the larger long jetties will many times be shared by boaters, while water near the smaller revetments you could see surf-boarders on a decent day. The boaters will be tossing 2-4 oz jigs into or near the rocks on a rising tide. They will hit it at low tide and fish as it comes up. As a suggestion to the boaters working this area, keep your motor running, and don’t leave the helm if the water is the least bit rough.

Other Things to See : You will observe many starfish attached to the rocks that are under water most of the time. Seals & sea lions are also known to use these rocks. Sea otters are even known to hide in the rocks & steal unsuspecting fisherman’s catch. And of course many seagulls a few cormorants, & possibly some pelicans will round out the sight seeing.

Copyright © 2005 – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Comments are closed.