Willapa Bay Salmon Fishing

A Salmon can eat thousands of herring, but only one cut plug.

 This fishery is mainly a Chinook fishery, with the season officially, usually opens about the first of July, or when the adjacent ocean waters are open, but the main salmon run does not really enter the bay until the middle of August. “Dip Ins” are salmon that are swimming down the coast, (probably heading for the Columbia River) that follow the coastline, then when they come to a river/bay, where bait (usually anchovies) will drift into the bay with a incoming tide. These salmon will be following their food and also slide in an back out with the outgoing tide. They are not salmon that are yet committed to the spawning phase.

These few “dip in” Chinook can show from mid July until the first week of August into the mouth of the bay, but unless you live there and have the time, it is not practical to make a trip only to keep your fish-box clean. There however can be a enough “dip ins” mixes with the regular Willapa run to make it worthwhile from the first of August on as the usual timing with enough fish to begin to be productive would be about the middle of August to the middle of September. This can well change with the weather however.

Here the average hatchery fish will be 12-18# you will also encounter up to 35 pound big saltwater Chinook, and when hooked in 14 to 25 feet of water, they can not go down, so do put on a fight. These fish return to the bay as the result of three major salmon hatcheries in Willapa Bay, Forks Creek, Nemaha and the Nasselle. The forecast for 2008 year’s Willapa Bay Chinook salmon return is around 35,000, a healthy number compared to many other western Washington watersheds.

2010 had the vast majority of Chinook fin clipped, with 2011 being more clipped so you can only retain the clipped hatchery fish. In the 10 days that I fished here in 2011, we only encountered 1 unclipped Chinook out of 15 fish. However most fishermen there in 2012 experienced a increase in unclipped fish.

The Willapa Bay/River above Tokeland can be fished with a smaller boat, even a car-topper, IF YOU WATCH THE WEATHER, and stay within reason, close enough to one of the launches. Almost always the westerly wind picks up to near 15 MPH in the afternoon like most coastal locations which can make for choppy water conditions if you have to buck this getting back, so here the upriver launches are a benefit. And it can be FOGGY here also, usually in the mornings, so take a GPS plotter with you, mark some locations off a chart before you go. Also when you stop at the Tokeland Marina, consider purchasing a set of two of their laminated charts for $8.50 each of the bay that list GPS locations.

Then there is fog to contend with here at times. In the late afternoon (after 4:30), I have seen it sock in so bad that without a GPS plotter to guide me, it would have been very hard to find home (which ever launch or dock you came from). However I have seen it foggy all morning so bad you can maybe see 100 yards. It seems the farther upstream in the bay you get the lesser fog. Fog and wind HERE for a small boat is not a good thing because of the narrow channel and adjacent mudflats, especially on a outgoing tide.

This bay can be flat calm in the morning and then rather choppy for a small boat in the afternoon. I have seen 12′ Port-a-Boats, 14′ Jon boats, even a 10′ Zodiac, 2 people aboard, with only an electric trolling motor for power there. Not ideal, but OK, IF they understand the possible weather conditions and react as soon as the wind begins to blow.

Here a small Jon boat fisherman on a calm 2012 day Here is a peddle kayak fisherman again on the same calm 2012 day

 

Ribbed inflatable Zodiac type boat in 2013 

Every year there are some nice Chinook and some Coho taken from these waters. The salmon runs coming in from the ocean to their spawning grounds in the river can be influenced by many things such as tides, ocean conditions, river water flows, water temps, light levels and more. The biggest factors in some opinions are the temperatures, tides, and water flows. For a link to my Estuary Fishing CLICK HERE.

As the salmon start entering the bays in enough quantity for the sport fisherperson to have any success about the first of August, they are still feeding and following the baitfish in and out with the tides. In these areas the most popular and successful method of fishing for salmon is using herring, anchovies or other food fish that the salmon feed on in the ocean. The Coho won’t normally start showing in any numbers until about the middle or late September. The Chum population has been all but decimated, but with WDFW plans of recovery putting them inline to avoid a ESA listing. This is no directed chum fishery and restarting a hatchery program, with the long range goal to bring them back to historic levels. Abundant Chum fry in the bay provide food for other fish, like the Chinook or Coho.

A 30 # class Chinook in the boat for Doug & Lois Stowe aboard the “Lucky Lois”, using Plaid Fish Flash & whole rigged herring in 2007.  And he does it again repeatedly even into  2013.  Who says you can’t have fun fishing even if you are in your mid 80s, even with Lois getting around by the aid of her walker. An 18# Chinook taken on a 6″ Fish Flash & herring in a Les Davis bonnet 9-12-05

Fish Travel Times : It has been my observation that in the early part of the salmon season, (mid July to early August) in the outer area of the bays during (first 2-4 miles) that fresh ocean salmon will “dip in” at a high incoming tide following the bait. They may also move out with the outgoing tide. The area of fishing at this time is what is known as “Washaway Beach”, which is on the north side of the river mouth and up to marker #2 off the Tokeland entrance.

You notice I said FRESH OCEAN fish, these fish are not anywhere near approaching the upstream migrating, spawning fish that you will encounter later in mid August or September. These early fish are mostly headed south to the Columbia River. I have even caught a 20# Columbia River Chinook Tule here in mid August. The later fish are committed to entering their home streams for a rendezvous farther upstream on the gravel and they travel differently.

As the season progresses, about the middle of August, these fish will again slide in on the in coming tide, but generally stay near the location they end up at upstream at the high tide and to stay in the bay system until a rain or cooling of the water temperature. A few fishermen will be at Washaway on the incoming tide and can do good on the fish that move in then. This fishery here has a lot more current running so a heavier sinker is needed. The usual location to fish is troll the beach in from 20′ to 40′ of water. Salmon seem to lay just downstream of the rock jetty on a outgoing tide where they have some protection from the current.

Now remember that fish do not normally swim backwards nor downstream, however they may allow the tide/current to carry them that direction. They will go about anywhere, like being flushed in and out if they are following something to eat. I believe the later fish (closer to spawning time) will enter the bays on a high tide just after the tide starts to turn and run out. They can now smell their home stream then by moving into the bay as the tide is going out have a method of following the smell and current upstream. I further think that they move as far upstream as possible on this outgoing tide, depending on how warm the water is. If they do not get above tidewater where there is no downstream river water movement at all times, they just stay there kind of like in a confused state until the next outgoing tide. Once they get above tidewater, they move upstream pretty much all the time, at least if there is enough flow to travel. If the flow is low and the water is lower, they will hold up in larger cooler pools. Someone has said that they tend to move better after dark. I can not confirm this however.

Now taken into account of the aforementioned fish movement, the fish are not normally moving at either the high or low slack times. It has been pretty well documented that in the bays the best times that fish bite is an hour or so before and after the high and lows. This is probably because they are slightly confused, are milling around until the next tide change and the water is again running out where they can again become oriented. During the outgoing tides they are on the move with other things on their minds. Sure you may catch one between the tide changes, but not with as much regularity as you will at a slack tide. That said, my best bites some years have been about 2 hours after low tide, between markers #2 and #13.

Some fishermen do not even leave the dock unless it is near an hour prior to high slack, however I like the low tide fishing as in my book this concentrates the fish more if the water temperature cools down. If you get there before the low slack, then remember the downstream troll as it puts your lure in their face.

 Water Temperature Plays a Role Here : Water temperature will vary with the tide and how far upriver you venture. Temperatures for the year 2006 taken off the Willapa River marker #13 east of Tokeland varied from 56 degrees at a high tide to 61 degrees at a low tide, but this was on a high runoff tide in early September. Then later with a low runoff, it was 64 /67. 2006 saw a temperature of 61 degrees at high and 63.5 at low tide. 2007 saw a temperature of 59 / 66 degrees. 2009 I saw 56 / 66 degrees to 55 / 62.5 depending on the month. 2010 was 61 / 64.5. 2011 was 61.5 / 66.7 in late August but by mid September it was down to 59.7 / 63.6. 2012 saw temperatures of as low as 59.7 low down at a high tide and up to 66.6 upriver near marker #15 as the tide was running out. This variation happens depending on the amount of cooler ocean water is mixed with the warmer lower river/upper bay water. It also varies with the amount of run-off there is in the tides as in a large outflow, normally cooler ocean water replaces some of the warmer bay water. It seems that the warmer the water, the less the fish bite. North River water is usually a degree or two lower than the Willapa, so that may be why the fish seem to concentrate around markers #10 to #13.

After extensive trial and error here, it has become very apparent that early in the fishing season (early August) if there is little or no rain, the Willapa River water can become rather warm. Upriver water temperature above Raymond has been recorded in the 67/68 degree range. Depending on the amount of sunlight and wind on any given day, or cloud /fog cover for the preceding days, the water’s surface temperature at low tide at marker #13, (the mouth of North River) can be from 63, to even near 68 degrees. This is rather warm for salmon, which may get lethargic.

The Chinook salmon seem to congregate west of there (#13) as there is a deeper channel from the north side of #10 and west past #7 and then toward north of #2 a ways at a depth of about 40+’. This deeper water seems to be a haven for the fish as given the depth AND that North River’s slightly cooler water temperature, mixing with the Willapa River water, this tends to create a pocket of cooler water downstream for a couple of miles in this deeper old shipping channel. So on a outgoing tide, with this in mind, if you have to fish the outgoing tide, this slot may be one to think about.

The Chinook may be there in the upper bay (above #13 to #19) in this warm low tide water, (and I have seen them jump and have caught a few) however it is my experience they are not aggressive biter UNLESS you may happen to drag your bait right in front of their noses. Then if no baitfish are there for some time, maybe they become hungry and their feeding habit changes.

With the incoming tide where cooler ocean water mixes with and backs up the warmer fresh water, this area between west of marker #2 (Tokeland) and upriver to about #19 can cool down. This in my mind may be one of the major contributors of what triggers the high tide bite from an hour prior and possibly two hours after the published low tide.

Now comes deciding just when to be on the water which affords you the fisherman the best CATCHING time? Here your tide-book is your friend. The tides for Pacific Beaches is the one to look at, but add about 45 minutes to that for the tides off Toke Point (marker #2).

The ideal fishing time would be a morning high tide of say 6-7AM. This would allow you to be there at daylight, fish the prime flood tide and do some crabbing or sightseeing in the afternoon. A high tide up to noonish is also fine, you just don’t have to get up as early. A afternoon high tide is also OK IF it does not go later than 3 PM. The reason is that USUALLY a wind from the SW will pick up from 1 to 2 PM, which within a couple of hours, it is not uncommon to have wind waves to 2′ and 12′ apart. Sometimes it may flatten out a tad bit, but don’t count on it. For a small flatter bottomed open boat this create for a rough ride and wet fisherman on the return trip to the Tokeland docks. Unless you launch at South Bend or Smith Creek, which then you do not have to contend with heading into these waves, but can return to your launch going with them.

On this high tide bite, the best fishing tends to be on the south side of the river channel from marker #2 to #8 and then on to #10 and #13 and to #19. Start one hour before high tide at west of #2 about 1/3 a mile, head to NEAR #2, (either side), but remember there is a sand bar and oyster beds not far south of it, then toward #8 trying to stay in water from 24′ to 32′. As you get closer to #8, it shallows up, (14′- 16′) so then angle off toward #10.

All the above said, I have caught salmon here on the low tide, (usually one hour after low tide) but this was later in the season, like the first week to the middle of September where the fish seem more committed to being closer to the spawning grounds AND more abundant along with being confined in the river channel, otherwise it seems to be more of an isolated fish and not be a “bite” where other boats around you are also catching fish.

If I were to rate catching times/tides, with 100 being the best, 100 would be for high tide a early morning (daylight), 85 would be mid morning, 75 a afternoon. For the low tide I would probably assign a 65 early morning, 55 for mid morning, with 45 a afternoon number

This Willapa Bay/River system is in reality a small system in relationship to others, so depending on a lot of variables, there are not a lot of Chinook that swim across the bar at any given tide change. They will move into the system either alone or in small schools and congregate in the mid bay. So depending on the weather (rain, or lack of it) they may stay there, or move upstream rather quickly if it rains even a slight amount. This may leave a void in the fish concentration area for a while. It then may behoove you to run downriver to Washaway to try to intercept new arrivals, then slide upstream with them until the process starts over.

These fish move into the bay then basically mill around there (between marker #2 to # 15) until the weather changes and we get some rain (lowering the water temperature). SOON after a rain they start migrating upstream and if you want to catch them you need to also move. The first day after a rain, they tend to be up to the town of South Bend or even above. After that they move a lot farther upstream, and seem to congregate at the upper end of tidewater near the Old Willapa (Wilson Creek) boat launch and the bridge near the Tombstone Willie tavern.

 Methods of Fishing – Chinook : Unlike out in the ocean where the use of downriggers and or divers is common, in the tidewater and estuaries the most common method is using lead on a dropper line with a three way swivel or sinker slider attached, and a leader of 4 to 6 feet to the cut plug herring. You will see a few downriggers in use here, but only in the main or edges of the channel (and those that do, are probably handicapping themselves). The few fishermen that use downriggers contend that the wire runs interference and collects the weeds before they get to the bait. So take your pick, it may well work for you, but you more than likely abandon the idea on days or tides/wind that you have lots of suspended grass.

Here in the fall, there are floating weeds, (worse after a high runoff tide) both on the surface and suspended if there has not been a large outgoing flush tide recently. When the tide gets to running out on a high tidal exchange, on into a low tide is when the weeds seem to get worse. In other words, extended low runoff tides are the best for fishing if you have a weed problem. This appears to be because many of these weeds are partly rotted and settle near the bottom. During a high runoff, this fast moving current brings the weeds up, suspending them. At a high flood tide when things stand still the weeds seem to be the worst as on a low tide, much of the weeds are flushed out to sea. If you watch your depthfinder, you will see many suspended weeds in the water column. Many fishermen mistake these suspended weeds for fish. When you pull some of these suspended weeds in on your sinker/lure, you will see that most of them are partially decomposed, therefore the suspended situation.

Then after the high run off, when a low run off, like 3′ or 4′, these weeds are trapped in the bay, creating lots of clogged fishing gear.

Early on, the bulk of these weeds were the invasive Spartina Alterniflora, a non-native grass that is a perennial that dies at the end of the growing season and forms large rafts of seed-rich stems which float out on the tide. WDFW has become active in spraying this noxious weed for the past few years and headway seems to being made in eradicating it.

For those using a diver here, they can accumulate enough weeds so that the diver may NOT release when the fisherman tries to trip it. This then can become a problem IF for some miracle a salmon does hit the weedy lure, as you now are fighting a fish AND a large gob of weeds, which will give the fish the advantage and could possibly loose the fish. This is not to say a diver can not be used, but I would only use one on the few rare days that the wind has pushed the floating weeds out of the area. More than one rod has been broken when trying to pull a heavy gob of weeds in.

There are at least 2 schools of thought on fishing depth here. The old school is when trolling herring, it is usually important that you keep your bait within 2 to 3 feet or so of the bottom. This requires the fisherperson to pay attention to your rod because usually this bay is very shallow with constant possible depth changes when you fish the edges of the channel, as viewed by your depth-finder so you must make sure that you are in that salmon zone at all times. However as years pass, it seems that there has been more vegetation growing on the bottom, especially above river marker #10, so you may rethink here and shorten your line a bit.

I know another fisherman who usually only fishes the upper bay and has done well on a low tide. However he fishes shallow, (like 12 pulls of line out) and with a 4 or 5 oz sinker). And he only fishes herring. So maybe the low tide bite is something to look for in the shallow upper bay area.

I also know one lady who catches many fish here, but she uses the spectra type mainline, uses a cut-plug herring for bait, fishes a foot off the bottom, never sets her rod in a holder and has developed the sense of feel that she can tell if any weeds have become attached and can also tell exactly when she has a fish inhale the bait. She however has an experienced skipper husband so she can concentrate strictly on fishing unlike most of us.

The other school adheres to the concept of somewhere above that. Some Chinook are even caught near the midsection. These may be fresh traveling fish as compared to others that have been there a while waiting for rain to cool the water and for them to move upriver.

More than one fisherman says use a 4 oz. kidney sinker, let the line out 15 or 16 pulls, (a pull being 2 feet) no matter what water depth they are in. They may change to a 6 oz. sinker if fishing during a faster moving tide. I personally want to have at least one rod set at a 3/4 depth and depending on the water depth and that total depth will usually be from 20′ to 35′. Using this method, a line counter reel proves it’s worth as once you find your comfort zone, just return to the line counter’s number.

If you have a fast moving tide, any salmon that may be there will tend to be hugging the bottom where the current isn’t quite as fast as there are few depressions there. Also look far any drop-offs or behind piling markers where the fish tend to rest downstream from them.

For me I have found that if I use one method of fishing and a constant weight, (like 6 oz.), I do not really need to watch my speed, (it could be from 1.5 to 3.5MPH) but judge my speed by my line angle of which I try to maintain about 30 degrees from the surface. This way my line angle guarantees I am fishing the same water depth no matter the current/tide/wind. If I get into deeper water or faster moving tide, I go to a 8 oz sinker, or let out more line. My target line counter number is usually 32′, up to 42′ in the medium water, up to 65′ in deeper or faster moving water. The above method governs my trolling speed over ground (GPS speed), however remember the more line out the more drag you have so your line angle may lesson a bit.

At a slack tide or trolling across the bay (North/South) I try to be just under 3 mph, but as the tide starts to run the same motor speed may equate to 4.2 or even down to 1.0 mph depending whether you are trolling with or against the tide/wind. Here I may even increase the weight up to 10 oz. If your line angle gets at your desired angle but you are bucking the tide and your speed is say anything under 1 mph, you need to pick up then run back to make another pass of trolling with the tide/wind.

This chart gives some computer driven numbers using the known angle

 

Wind here can be somewhat of a problem in trying to control your direction of troll especially if you are trying to head directly into it. This is especially bad if you have a cabin boat. For those convertible top/windshield boats, if you open the center window, which allows the wind to pass through the boat, and this helps.

This salmon fishery can be frustrating at times, as it can be hot and cold from one day to the other which is possible due to the watershed being a very short as far as drainage and not a large number of fish enter the system at any given time. You have to be there when the fish are. The people who seem to do fairly well here are the ones who put their time daily, year after year from August 10th to about September 15th and learn the few tricks required, like when and where the bulk of the fish are picked up. I hope I am able to convey a few in this article.

It seems best to place your rod in the rod-holder so the rod is about even with the gunwale and angling rearward maybe 45 degrees, loosen your drag so that when a fish hits, that they can pull line out somewhat, then put your clicker on. Also when letting your line out, leave the clicker on otherwise your line may free-spool off so fast your flasher / lure gets tangled with your line and you drag it around long enough before you check your bait that it is badly tangled. I try to have a spare rigged flasher, sinker, lure all ready in cases like this and untangle after your new gear is in the water fishing.

 Chinook Takedown : When these Chinook do bite, is usually nothing dramatic, you may see the rod tip make 2 or 3 quick dips, but most of the time (if you are not actually watching the rod), you may think that you hung up on a gob of weeds. Your line could come up in the water column and when you start reeling, the weeds wriggle. It seems that if you do not detect the initial bite, even with with the reel’s drag set at a moderate setting, the fish may tend to somewhat swim along with you and the boat. That is not so if it may be a fish much larger than 20#. At least the last 12# / 20# fish just seem to follow for me. Or if you are not paying attention, you may just hear a ZZZT ZZZT ZZT of your clicker. If you are using monofilament line, then a modest hookset would be appropriate. If you are running braid line, then a MINIMAL hookset.

However, when using barbless hooks, and where the hookup is not detected at the takedown, (or soon thereafter) this could be a chance for a lost fish because of the hook not being imbedded into bone where the fish then is not hooked solidly.

These early fish tend to be hatchery males.

 Methods of Fishing – Coho : The bulk of the Coho do not enter the bay until about mid September and later. Usually by this time the commercial gill nets really move in and things can become congested. However a goodly number of these Coho appear to be non-biters for the sports fisherpersons. But then there are a few that do connect more often than most, you have to have your gear in the water. In recent years, my experience is by the first week of September about 15% of your catch can be Coho. Some of those who target Coho will fish different areas of the bay than they do for Chinook. They fish shallow water, at the edge of the oyster beds during low tide and in water even to 4′ deep. Coho tend to follow the shoreline way more than Chinook.

If you happen to see a school of Coho jumping and moving upstream at a high incoming tide, they will be near shore. Move away from them, run upstream, wait then cast spoons or spinners in front of the school. These fish are very spooky, so if you need to move while close to them, use a electric trolling motor instead of an outboard. Do not let the fact that the ones you can see are on the top of the water column fool you. The biters will not usually be the jumpers, but beneath them.

 Area Definition : The official separation between the bay (Marine Area 2-1) and the river is at the South Bend boat launch. This is where the fresh water is more prevalent than salt water, the use of spinners and lures starts being the predominant lure and most times will out produce all others. This area upstream to the Camp One bridge over the Willapa near the Wilson Creek launch is fished differently and is covered in a different article. When salmon hit spinners or lures they seem to be getting out of the feeding mode and into the reaction strike mode this usually coincides with the influence of some fresh water and or a temperature rise.

 Sonar : Sonar/depthfinder will be your best ally here, but not for finding fish as the sonar cone at 15′ to 25′ is going to be so small that you will have to be right over the fish in order to see any. It will be used mainly to help keep you focused on the bottom depth contour, and since you will want to be fishing near the bottom, to help you adjust your lure depth. And there is so much suspended weeds that you may confuse these weeds for fish.

In this shallow water, you will find it best to lower the sensitivity on your sonar unit, as fish can feel this electronic signal on their lateral line and may well shy away if it is too powerful. So if you are using the same boat that you also use in saltwater where you may be in water 200′ to 300′ and need to remove “clutter” on your screen by decreasing the sensitivity there, remember to make this simple adjustment downward, otherwise you may be placing yourself in the 90% category who don’t catch as many fish.

 There is Also a Commercial Gill Net Fishery Here: So, go to Commercial netting schedule, Willapa or to check with WDFW at the Montesano office as to when the netters are on the river, which is usually shortly after the middle of September. If you call the WDFW, be prepared for them to give you some dates and commercial areas that mean nothing to the sport fisherperson. Here is the Commercial salmon/sturgeon landings. For a map of the Willapa commercial areas CLICK HERE.

For a weekly account of the commercial netting CLICK HERE.

A number of years ago, when I first started to really fish this area, I tried to run from the South Bend launch downriver and had to weave thru 32 net sets at low tide which was not fun. If you are really determined to fish this river when the gillnets are in, it may be best to slide up the North River channel and out of the bulk of their way. Sport fishermen claim that for 3 or 4 days after the nets come out, the sport catch drops off to nothing. This makes sense in that the number of fish entering the bay on each tide may be minimal.

Their commercial season usually runs from mid August for a week, with the possible week-ends off for a couple of weeks and then for about 10 days straight onto the middle of October. You can try to fish on the 2nd day of the gillnet off days, but I have not been really successful in doing this, (caught 1 small Coho in one day of fishing). But by then the fish are homeward bound and are not very aggressive biters for the sportsmen anyway.

Legally a net can not be laid across the complete river, but you may see one netter lay his from the north side to mid river and another netter lay his from the south side to mid river, they tie up to each other for a coffee/BS session in the middle. A recreational boater then will have to negotiate around the end of the net, usually in 2-3 feet of water if it is a low tide. The gillnetters can not legally net west of Jacobson Jetty so, when they fill the bay in mid-September, sport fishing inside becomes difficult at best, but anglers brave enough to fish the beach can pick off late-run kings and bright silvers before they reach the nets.

I have also seen floating dead undersize sturgeon after these netters have pulled out.

Launches : There are actually at least 8 launches that can be used in the Willapa Bay. These listed below are in sequence from starting at the lowest one on the bay, then up the bay and then the actual Willapa River, finally into the southern part of the bay behind Long Beach.

(1) Tokeland, Port of Willapa Harbor

(2) Smith Creek WDFW

(3) South Bend, City of South Bend

(4) Raymond City Park (not recommended for low tides, as it is shallow and MUDDY)

(5) Old Willapa / Wilson Creek WDFW

(6) Bay Center (this appears to be a private launch)

(7) Palix River, WDFW

(8) Long Island, Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

Depending on what part of the bay you plan on fishing, you can consider any of these launches. For the normal fishery the preferable ones would probably be #1 & 3, they are closer to the action and do not require running thru a narrow channel, or longer distance.

A set of smiles  8-30-06 A happy ending to a nice day on the water 9-01-06

 

The Tokeland Launch : This launch is owned by the Port of Willapa Harbor and a $5.00 fee is charged. Pay before launching. The port has a self pay box at the south head of the ramp for lesser used days and during heavy usage will have a port employee parked there in a pickup truck with a sticker on it saying “Harbormaster”. Or you can purchase a yearly launch pass. This runs a year from the date of purchase and for us old geezers is $75. You will see an average of 40 boats launching per day from this ramp during the peak fishing time during the week of the first week of September. Weekends will be closer to over 100 and at times the launch line extends a considerable distance, however these are not boaters, but fishermen where they have their procedures pretty well perfected, so launching goes fast here. This number does not count the boats that are moored there. Moorage is limited as the port has not repaired one dock.

The store at the head of the ramp has been renamed to Tokeland Bait and Tackle Store and has bait, ice, advice etc. The preparation area is just south of the ramps, basically on the side of the main road leading in. The sport dock has moorage and the commercial docks are also available. There is plenty of parking area in the grass parking lot here.

Bob Cordova and daughter Vickie run the Tokeland Bait and Tackle Store at 360-267-2888. They have frozen and fresh bait if you order before 2PM, ice along with renting crab rings. However they order several extra of the fresh herring daily, but it usually sells out fast. Fresh herring should be picked up before noon, unless you notify Bob or Vickie for late pick up, otherwise, they will sell any left after noon. Their rule is fresh has to be Fresh Daily and no carry over to the next day. Frozen bait is always available.

They have fish ice, which stays cold longer than cubed ice. The fish ice is for coolers and icing down the fish (not consumable). Fish and Cubed ice is available in 10lb bags. Crab bait and tackle too. The coffee is strong and they have muffins and pastries. The fisherman junk food that sell the most is Twinkies and Ding Dongs, and the store has cookies, chips, candy and soft drinks. And they 2 provide good laminated charts of the bay at low tide for $8.50 each, (shown below) which is a must for the newbie here. They may just keep you off a sandbar.

 

The upper Willapa Bay section with the South Bend launch just out of sight on the river channel on the right hand edge of this chart

 

The lower Willapa Bay section to the ocean

 

This is a busy place during the last of August and September, especially on the week-ends. Their hours during the busy season are: Thursday-Sunday 5am to dusk, Monday-Wednesday 6am – dusk. They are very nice and accommodating people. CLICK HERE for a link to a web page depicting more.

In early 2000 the Port redid the ramp to include a 2-lane corrugated concrete ramp with docks on both sides. The only drawback is that each lane is a single and the north side you had better be good at backing otherwise your pickup fenders will be hitting the sides of the docks if you have to maneuver a lot to back down.

The port later dredged the whole boat basin. Now the concrete ramp extends down to -2.0′ with a bumper at the end of the concrete. The picture on the left below was taken 7-02-04 at a MINUS 2′ LOW tide. The pole farthest out on the right has marks at 1 foot intervals. Using this marker system, the foam shown here is about 10′ below the top mark.

Tokeland launch at a – 2′ tide right after the 2000 dredging, and the port re-dredged it in 2010. 

The port has a grant for rebuilding the boat basin 2013, so possibly things will improve.

Fuel : There is no fuel anywhere near this dock area for those who may moor here. The fuel dock upriver at South Bend appears to be private for the commercial crabbers and or other commercial boats. The closest land based gas station would be to haul from the Shoalwater Indian Reservation casino on Highway 105, they have built (10-10-2010) a convenience store/ gas station with the 3 fuel bays high enough to accommodate RVs. And during the 2013 season are also constructing another large building, supposedly to house a restaurant and gift shops. One thing I like about this gas station, is that when you use a credit card to purchase fuel, it asks for your 5 digit zip code. This pretty well gives the user some security in reference to a stolen credit card as the address is not shown on the cards.

RV Parks : In the small metropolis of Tokeland, there are a few RV Parks. One just behind the bait shop and beside the launch parking lot, My Suzie Willapa RV Park, 3230 Front Lane, Tokeland, 360-267-7710, and the fees were $25 a day for full hook up, $150 a week, or $350 a month as of 2013. This park has full hookups down to tent camping.

The other is Bayshore RV Park 2941 Kindred Ave. 1-800-638-2625, which about 1/2 a mile before you get to the launch on the south side of the road across from the old hotel. Their website is www.bayshoretokeland.com .

 The South Bend Launch : This launch as been rebuilt the summer of 2004, with an extra wide single lane poured corrugated concrete ramp with a spot or two of parking for handicapped. There is a portable sanitary toilet on the premises.

The City of South Bend has revised it’s boat launch and dock ordinance the spring of 2007. Fish cleaning is NOT ALLOWED on floats, dock, ramp, etc. as this is in violation of the city ordinance. There is now a $5 maintenance fee for launching at the ramp. That maintenance fee includes one day’s parking in the launch area. One day is defined as 00:01 to 24:00. If parking multiple days, a $5 fee is due each calendar day. Unattended vehicles without trailers are also assessed a $5 fee. If you have buddies, with their vehicles, it is suggested to have them park downtown and pick them up by boat at the main dock. Also a $10 tent or RV parking fee is charged. The tent camping appears to be the small grassy area just west of the upper part of the launch and just south of the upper end of the launch. The sign for RV parking indicates that this is only allowed west of the sign which is about mid point of the trailer parking. It is a little wider here, or it appears to be some gravel extended on the west end that may be possibly used for this parking.

A street light was added 2008 at the head of the ramp near the information board, making early launches and late retrievals easier. Also one can read the info on the board in predawn times. Previously, a few did not pay claiming the dark or the fog prevented them seeing the launch pay info.

As of 8-2009, the city has been expanded the parking area further south of the old parking area. But now the DOT then posted signs prohibiting parking on highway shoulder (which previously happened week-ends around late August up thru Labor Day).

This launch is located on the main Hiway 101 just West of the town of South Bend. The main parking lot is just past the launch northwest of the main launch area. It is a good ramp for boats up into the 20’+ class. Even the 30′ gillnet boats launch here at a high tide. The ramp is is angled out and downstream with a dock on the downstream side. A loading/unloading float running parallel with the river as been added early 2007 off the end of the main launching dock. The concrete ramp goes to just below the end of the dock with heavy gravel below the concrete that is angled down at about twice the ramp angle. This launch would probably be the best for a minus tide launch of any the launches on the bay area, however you may well be off the concrete.

At minus tides below -1′ the slab end is exposed and you are end the gravel/mud. A number of boats, 17′ to 19′ boats do launch at minus tides with trailer off slabs and have no problems.

Retrieving might depend on vehicle, size of boat, etc. I personally like a lot of water over the slab when retrieving.

Launching from this ramp will put you into the upper fishing area rather soon, as you will be running downriver and can be fishing at the big bend seen to the left in the picture within 1 mile. The distance by water from this launch to Tokeland is about 8 miles. However you will be fishing about 3 to 4 miles upriver from Tokeland. If you are coming in on Hiway 6 at Raymond , it is a lot faster to run the distance to the fishing area than it is to drive around to the Tokeland launch, & then run back into the same fishing area of the river that you had driven by.

The South Bend launch parking lot LATE in the season (during a break between the commercial netting) so it was a slack day. The South Bend launch with 2007 revisions, looking downriver at a high tide on an overcast winter day.

Weather : This time of the year (mid fall) fog can be there all morning, or it may set in later. A times like this, a compass and even a handheld GPS with your launch point along with a few buoy locations will give you some references that in addition to your depthfinder will allow you to at least feel not as lost as you could be. At a low tide, the mud flats on either side of the channel kind of reaches up and grabs some boat hulls which has taken their toll on depainting props if the skippers are not watching very closely AND understanding what they see even in broad daylight.

As the time slides into September and since this bay is exposed to the ocean you may get a sample of fall storms of any southerly or westerly winds up into the 25 to 30 MPH strength, the outer bay will in all probability be unfishable. The waters even off the Tokeland Marina entrance up to Willapa River markers #8 and and 10 will also probability be somewhat unfishable. However you MIGHT find the water calm enough to possibly fish farther upriver close to marker #19 up to #30 nearing the bend and up to the South Bend launch.

If the wind picks up in the fall of the year here, it can also usually be accompanied by rain. That is good in that it also brings in new fresh ocean fish into the bay/rivers. So, all the more need to consider sliding upriver as these fish are freshwater bound by then and usually do not linger very long in the estuary then.

If the wind gets too bad, (over 20 MPH) then consider moving farther upriver to launch at the Wilson Creek boat launch on the main Willapa River above Raymond about 3 miles, and fish the upper reaches of tidewater LINKED TO HERE. The one thing you should consider if you do this, is that with any boat in the 18′ class, is to probably consider fishing downstream from that launch, because after you read this along with others doing it is a bit wider and also less brushy debris in the main channel. Up here the water will be more murky, especially during a high run-off tide, so the lures of choice are generally spinners.

Rules Change Depending on Where You Fish: WDFW rules define Marine Area 2-1 as anything in the bay downstream (west) of the South Bend launch. If WDFW allows barbed hooks in the marine area 2-1 BAY, it does not apply to the RIVER above the South Bend launch. The Willapa River Area 424 is designated as from the South Bend boat launch to highway 6 bridge approximately 2 miles below the mouth of trap Creek. “August 16-Nov 30 night closure, single point barbless hooks REQUIRED, and stationary gear restriction, except stationary gear restriction not in effect from the mouth, (the South Bend launch) to WDFW access at the mouth of ward Creek/Wilson Creek.” This barbless hooks can be a sleeper to the unknowing and barbless tickets have been written in this upper section by WDFW.

As of 2010 the barbless hooks requirement went into effect for the bay, as is release unclipped Chinook, so both bay and river are now the same to simplify enforcement.

Definitions of Areas & Background Information: If you drive the Highway 105 past the Shoalwater Tribe’s casino, stop at this rock breakwater (Jacobson’s Jetty) during a mid outgoing tide, look off the end of the breakwater, you will notice a rather swift section of water. Since this breakwater has been installed most of the fishing has shifted upriver after about the last of August. There are a few “Dip In” fish that enter the outer bay (“Wash-Away”) area from the middle of July up until the 1st of September. But this depends on the amount of bait available that they follow in. Dip In fish are defined as ocean fish that follow the baitfish into and out of the bays on a high incoming tide.

My belief is that this breakwater has raised the water speed and or turbulence to the point that the bait does not stay there in the locations/concentrations that it used to. There will be a tide rip off the end of this breakwater that at times can become nasty for a small boat, depending on the tide.

The fall of 2006 and then again in 2012 saw some rip-rap rocks being placed along the road below this jetty on the banks of Cranberry Creek.On a low tide, you as a fisherman will usually be confined to fishing the upper bay from Willapa River marker #2 to #28. As a definition, the upper Willapa bay is DEFINED FOR THIS ARTICLE is anything east of the entrance to Tokeland Marina and marker #2. Observing the piling marker numbers, which seem to use a separate system for (1) the outer Willapa bay, (2) the upper Willapa bay, (3) North River, (4) and the southern rivers where each may somewhat duplicate the other. As a point of interest there is a bay marker #15 and also a Willapa River marker #15. Remember that the lowest numbers are closer to the mouth of each.

The south bay would contain any part of the bay behind Ledbetter Point/Long Beach Peninsula leading to Bay Center, south to where the Nemah and Naselle Rivers branch off. I am not that currently familiar with the markers for the southern part of the bay.

 Commercial Oyster Harvest : At low tide it is not uncommon to see employees of the commercial oyster companies on the sand/oyster beds south of piling Willapa River markers #2 to #8 gathering oysters, putting them in large baskets to be picked up by large flat bottomed oyster barges using overhead booms and a winch later during the high tide. If the tide is going out, you do not realize it and slip south of the piling markers #2 to #8, you may very likely find yourself in very SHALLOW WATER, like being stuck in the mud on the edges of the oyster beds.

Oysters hand picked & placed in large metal baskets during low tide, waiting for a high tide to be loaded on a oyster barge

 

Oyster barge heading back in that has just reseeded young oysters onto the beds Oyster barge, heading out to recover large baskets of picked up oysters

 

Washaway Beach : In the summer of 1998, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) with funding assistance from the Federal Highway Administration, constructed a rocky groin and underwater dike adjacent to State Route 105 on the north side of Willapa Bay in the vicinity of North Beach. The structure was designed to arrest the northward migration of a deep ebb tidal channel that, if continued to move northward, threatened to erode the only transportation link connecting Tokeland and the Shoalwater Indian Reservation with Grayland and Westport.

This rock structure is known locally as Jacobson’s Jetty, (named after a old-time landowner in the area) as shown by the black line in a map below, at the upstream section that used to be the fishing area. Off the end of this breakwater/rock jetty is an underwater diversion dike, so if you are boating here at before a high or low run off tide, be careful of the turbulence. This jetty has not placed there to stop the erosion of Washaway Beach as most people think, but to protect the highway.

This jetty was not what was needed to preserve Washaway Beach as the washing away action was not caused by the river, but the southwesterly winter winds pounding the beach at Cape Shoalwater with no north jetty for this river for protection. But the word was that since Weyerhaeuser no longer used ships to send export logs from this mill, there is now no commercial traffic and the US Army Corp. of Engineers has no authority to maintain a river mouth jetty.

It is a sad sight to walk the beach here at low tide and count the 1 1/2″ to 2″ metal pipes standing a few feet out of the water in line with the washed out roads. These are well pipes that are all of what was left of the homes in that area that got washed away over the years.

At Washaway Beach, you can see some of the well-pipes protruding from the sand at a low tide giving evidence of what is left of a housing community.  This one is artesian Here you can see the aftermath of the winter’s storm at Washaway Beach.

 Fishing Area : In the map below you will notice the lower buoys, as purple dots, north side marker piling in round green dots, the south side piling markers in red, with the launches in purple. The piling on North River are in yellow. The piling marker numbers are indicated on this chart. I am hesitant to give the buoy or marker numbers for the bay unless accompanied by GPS numbers also, as they may duplicate the river marker numbers which can get confusing. Also the map below is a satellite photo so you can see the deeper holes or channels along with exposed mud at which appears to pretty much be a high tide photo.

Willapa Bay Marine area 2-1 with the upstream boundary being the South Bend boat launch

The Willapa River channel runs from just south of Toke Point in the bay, east to the upriver Range Point on the bay’s eastern shore. You will see the north side green piling markers #1, 7, 13, 15, 17, and 19 plus the red range markers on this upriver bend. There is a sandbar south of river marker #1 coming out of Tokeland where it gets real shallow just north of #7 so don’t try to drift to much north of these markers from #15 on, as it starts to get shallower where the mud is unforgiving on an outgoing tide.

The south channel markers will be #2, 8, 10, 22 and 26. Also do not use the previous Fishing and Hunting News illustrated map of about the year 2000 or so. The shaded area they list as motor mooching is really tide flats at low tide (MUD) north of the green marker line.

And at a tide in the lowish end (but not actually there yet), as mentioned previously, do not slip south of river marker #2 to #8 as you will be aground on a sandbar leading to the oyster beds. Below (west) of river marker #2 is bay marker #16. There is another sandbar that extends northwest into the river channel that can sneak up on you in the morning if you are running back upriver, looking into the sun glistening off the water (Been There-Done That). This bay is a area where your sonar needs to be set at a 5′ low alarm.

The farther west and downstream in the bay you get, the more sand sharks you will encounter.

Most of the fishing that currently takes place are in five general locations in this bay.

(1) Starting at just inside the breakers at the mouth, in about 20′ of water, along Washaway Beach, to the breakwater jetty. There seem to be a few fish lay just below this jetty at times. But getting there especially on a outgoing tide, it gets rather rough off the end of the jetty for a small boat.

(2) Above the breakwater to the bay piling marker #12 then upriver along the east shore about ¼ mile

(3a) From near bay marker #13 then west along the north shore to just outside the Tokeland boat basin entrance. NOTE that at this entrance the markers change numbers from the bay to river numbers so here you will see #1.

(3b) From the Tokeland boat basin entrance move across the channel to the south side following the red marker pilings from river marker #2 up to river marker #8

(4) From river marker #8 to river marker #10, #13 and up to #17 off the mouth of North River. Marker #13 is at 46-42-012 / 123-54-577 which is just east of the entrance to North River.

(5) Then above marker #17 and on up to below the South Bend launch at #26 which usually takes place like most estuary fishing on the incoming, up thru the high flood tide. Marker #19 to #24 is in the upper of this location that seems to be a preferred location for some, usually on the last part of the high tide or with a south wind blowing.

The low tide difference from the ocean to this #5 fishing area is about another 45 + minutes. The most preferred time seems to be the last one hour of high incoming flood tide and then 2 hours into the start of the outgoing probably. Others fish the low slack tide, again about an hour before and 2 hours after. This seems the time when the bites will occur. So if there are few fish in the bay, this is the time to fish, however if there are fish moving in, then again the best, but you can then pick up fish all day long, only not in any quantity.

It is my experience that a low run-off tide of say 3′, (the difference between the low tide and the previous high tide) will not be as good catching, probably because of a lesser flow where the salmon do not move into the bay. Trolling will normally be best WITH the incoming tide up until about high slack tide, then the troll becomes both directions. Trolling however may be a problem on being able to go exactly where you want to go because of the wind or a large amount of weeds in a weed-line. Or if there are a lot of boats fishing, it is kind of hard to not follow the flow unless you move away from them.

I personally tend to like the low slack tide fishery better as the fishable water is condensed, also forcing the fish into a more confined location. Some so called knowledgeable fishermen say this fishery is to not really a time of the day fishery, but a tide fishery. Well some of my catches do not totally substantiate that. My experience is possibly there are both a time and tide bite. And IF you can get the two to coincide, then your chances get better. By time, it seems the morning along with the evening are the best. And like most say, 1 hour before and 2 hours after a slack tide seems to be good. Sure you may catch a fish or so in between, but even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally.

Do not pass up a low tide at daylight where you can get on the water and fish the incoming tide, up thru a high slack. With the low tide, the bay shrinks considerably. This can be a benefit in that there is a lot less area for the fish to hide in, but concentrates the floating weeds also. At this time is best to slide upriver from #13, which tends to have less weeds and also forces the fish into a smaller channel. But remember that fishing at low tide, the fish will not necessarily be in the same location in the bay as they were at high tide.

Also there can be a very good evening bite if the tide and wind cooperate.

Most of the fisherpersons who set up camp there for a month and appear to be the dedicated ones who seem to catch fish and they seem to fish only the tide changes. But I guess if I was there for a month, that is a lot of time on the water, that I could get tired of that much fishing. They usually get out before breakfast, fish then go back in only to come out on the later tide change.

In the photos below these are typical hatchery Willapa Chinook. You will find fish up into 30# range, but not many.

A 16# hatchery hen Chinook August 21, 2010 This one is a 18# hatchery hen Chinook August 23, 2010

 

Method : Probably one of the most common mistake is to get set trolling and not realize the tide has increased in speed and you are not covering much ground. This may be attributed to a good slack tide troll in either direction, and then as the tide starts to move again the fisherman does not realize just how fast it is going unless he is using a sonar/GPS that has a MPH reading or moves past a piling but will continue to fish in the easiest direction of travel. This problem can be eliminated if you use my line angle method of governing the speed. Remember a GPS reading can also read a speed if you are loosing ground.

If this is the case, it is best to pick up and run into the tide, set down then troll back with the tide. Sometimes this troll back seems to fly by, and you begin to wonder if it is worth the effort. One very observant young fisherman said that we are trying to reproduce the action of a wounded baitfish and that he has never seen a wounded fish swim into a current, but rather being carried by it. Makes sense to me. Sometimes we just keep doing what everyone else is doing, not really understanding why, kind of like a flock of sheep.

In my mind, the ideal time would be when the high slack tide would be say about 7 AM and a full moon out. This gives you time to get out and on the water at daylight, 5:30 AM, fish the prime times and be off the water when the wind picks up in the afternoon. Again the wind WILL pick up from the west about noon to 1-2 PM. If it doesn’t, consider yourself lucky. If say at 3PM the outgoing tide is running and you are trying to troll downstream with the current with the wind blowing you back, it is very hard to control the boat.

Under other conditions or areas, this would be the time to troll in a zig-zag, but here there are usually enough boats nearby that it would be way too much of a hassle. When the conditions get that bad, you should consider calling it quits for the day instead of fighting the wind and getting nowhere. On second thought, pick a likely location out of the main channel so the other fishermen are not going to get irritated with you, drop anchor, then simply “Plunk” your lure as if you were a bank fisherman until and if the wind calms down.

The other mistake is to not check your gear often enough to be sure there is no weeds on the lure. In a lot of weed infestation, pulling it in to check every 10 minutes may not be excessive.

A nice day’s catch of Chinook to 16# & a Coho, September 9, 2011 Here is a 22# Chinook, September 11, 2011

One trend of thought here is that the fish at the entrance of the bay will be partially swept in by the incoming tide and maybe a couple of miles, but early in the season it is probably that they are really just following baitfish. This moving later in the bay may also relate to those that are committed to their spawning run and they then will stage at the upper location they were at and then be migrating upstream into the out-flowing water.

Now this may vary depending on the amount of run off. If the flow gets too strong, these Chinook may well slide into a protected area of a depression in the bottom, or duck behind a piling marker that has collected debris in front of it, creating a resting place. This can well be used to your advantage.

Then trolling with the current it may well be hard depending on the time of the day and the tide if you have other boats in the area and you have the wind to contend with also. Not saying you will not catch fish trolling against the tide, but your odds become less. You will have to adjust your motor speed to keep from just standing still. This is not a fishery where you get a lot of upstream migrating fish passing under you. As the tide nears either low or high slack, then there is an hour or so that you can effectively troll either direction.

The wind WILL pick up about 1 to 2 PM, so this also effects fishing. It may lay down later in the afternoon at times (5:00PM or so if the tide is right), but do not count on it happening. The worst days of catching for me happened to be with an east wind, maybe this was just coincidental, with no fish were in the bay, BUT? The worst days of trying to control the boat when trolling is when the wind is coming from the west or south as the bay is exposed more from these directions. The best is when it occasionally comes from the north. If it gets so windy that you can not fish near the entrance to the Tokeland Marina entrance near marker #1 and #2, the only thing to do is move upriver which gives you some protection with the hills to the south. It can at times then be fishable from marker #19 upriver. And there is a slightly deeper slot at #19 which sometimes proves productive as evidenced by the fish in the left hand photo below at the end of the high slack “Bite”.

The 2nd place winner in the Willapa Fishing Gang Salmon derby, a 21# hen Chinook,  August 25, 2012 Here is the brother to the one on the left, another 21# Chinook,
August 26, 2012

 

I have not been able to locate depressions in the bottom here like other bays, as much of this bay (at least in the fishing areas) is rather flat or slightly sloping. If you do find a depression or “holes / troughs”, these could only be a foot or so deep and would be a prime place to drop your lure into. If you can mark these, and troll over them watching your depthfinder closely, as you pass over them, let your line out, or slow the troll down to allow your bait to drop into this hole. Fish will tend to stop and rest here, and you might just have figured out a way to find them. If you just follow the others you may occasionally stumble into a fish, but buy using your depthfinder maybe even just a certain water depth on a certain tide time could be where they are then.

It appears that the fish DO NOT necessarily follow the shipping channel which is usually 35′ deep, but they seem to migrate on the edges of it, in water depths from 12′ to 25′ depending on the tide. This may just be their way of staying in touch with finding their way once they enter the rivers.

In the photo on the left below, dad confides that his daughter really concentrates on fishing. She does not use a rod holder, but holds onto her rod all day and has developed a sense of being able to tell when a fish is near or even smelling her bait.

This was her 3nd fish for the day & dad didn’t even get a bite Foggy morning on the water
A beautiful overcast sunrise on the river from marker  #13 looking east Same area as the photo as on the left, except less morning clouds and 7 years later, with marker #13 visible on the left.

 

There Are Very Few Experts Here : Don’t just follow the concentration of boats thinking that is the “place to fish”, as that may not be the only fishy area in the bay. Most all the non-locals think the other guy (especially the one with a older boat) is the expert.

I was fishing there alone (basically trolling back to the South Bend launch), in 2001 near river marker #30, with one other boat, while the whole flotilla was downstream from us a few miles. The other lone fisherman in a 12′ Livingston boat, using a electric trolling motor and the tide was almost all the way out. His 20hp Mercury outboard motor would not start. I offered to tow him back up to the South Bend ramp. He graciously refused saying that he had a spare battery for the electric motor and that when the tide changed, started coming back in his electric motor would get him back to the ramp. He then confided in me that his main reason was that for the last 2 days he had pulled his limit of Chinook out of that area while everyone else was downriver, and we were alone in that area then. A few years later, I have seen fishermen jigging in that area.

Like anywhere else, a good pair of binoculars along with being observant, may help observe the lure, location used and ultimately possibly put fish in your fishbox. If a fisherman just reeled in to pull weeds off, watch to see how many “pulls” that he lets his gear back out to. The advent of line-counter reels kind of foils this method of spying however.

A 25# Willapa Chinook August 2008 A nice Chinook in the net 2004

 

What to Gear to Use & Methods : The standard practice of trolling near the bottom in estuary fishing is practiced here also. Since most large “Get There” motors do not troll down slow enough, you will see usage of drags made of 5 gallon buckets, to actual drift socks. One suggestion is that since there is usually a wind or tidal movement here, that if you are using a trolling motor, it may at times be hard to control the boat UNLESS you lift the main motor/outdrive up out of the water. Your trolling motor can not overcome the big rudder if you still have it in the water right next to the smaller prop.

In some estuaries, the water may be slightly murky at times, so a attractant like the Fish Flash that has little drag seems to work best. In recent years after the patent had expired there have been copies of the Fish Flash appear on the market. Some are made of metal while others are plastic. Most of these have a slightly different action than the original Fish Flash. The Kone Zone for one, has a lesser spin, this can be a benefit if all the other boats are using the faster spin attractor. Also it is my opinion that in shallower water like 15′ or so that the slower rotating flasher may be of a benefit because of less chance of spooking the fish if the water clarity is decent.

The medium size attractor in my opinion is best all around one if you had to pick one, as I believe in this shallower or clearer water the larger size could spook the fish. In the past, a red or chartreuse flashers have proved excellent. My thought here is that the size of this attractor needs to match the water depth and clarity, AND if it is that clear you may want to increase your leader length a bit to move the attractor farther away from the bait. For the Willapa, I would use the slower rotating Kone Zone or even use the small or the mini version of the Fish Flash, if the water clarity was good. For Grays Harbor with a more turbid condition, the large Fish Flash works OK. That said, when I fished the Willapa in 2010, the water turbidity was up/down to being on par with Grays Harbor but this was probably due to a a number of minus extreme tide exchanges. You can also adjust your leader length from short (24″) in murky waters to 6′ in clearer waters as sometimes I think these fish get spooked by the flasher attractors depending on the water clarity.

If you get there and there are a lot of boats concentrated, they will normally be trolling up or downstream, (East or West). You might move to the side of the fleet and try something different by moving in a zig-zag pattern crosswise of the channel (North-South). This allows you to cover, conquer the tide/wind better AND cover more potential fishy water during a critical slack tide “hot bite” timeframe. It also makes a presentation different than your competitors. This may be impossible at times with a high number of boats, but you can usually move to the side of them a bit and be out of the line of fire. Also with a lot of traffic on the water, the fish may just be pushed to where you may have a chance to intercept them in an uncrowded area.

It is my humble opinion that the bright fish fresh here from the ocean will take about any salmon lure. But after they have been there a while they became acclimated while waiting for the right water conditions to move upstream because of lack of rain, these fish need to have a very active lure pulled right in their faces so they strike it as a defense. This can be a herring, artificial lure or even a large spinner. For more information on estuary salmon fishing and tackle, CLICK HERE. This article has a illustrated diagrams of the gear used.

Now if you are not connecting, do not hesitate to change the leader length from the flasher to the lure, even down to 24″, which is what Al Hazelquist, the inventor of Fish Flash originally started with.

One thing I have changed from the illustration below is my extension between the mainline snap and the Fish Flash. Initially I was using 50# Dacron, (the same as my sturgeon leaders). But here, with all the weeds you may encounter, the Dacron seemed to attract weeds and allow them to twist around it badly. Also I was using ball bearing swivels. I have now converted over to 6 bead chain swivels on both ends, 60# monofilament and adding a golf tee at the lower end. This allows me to strip the weeds off easier and the extra bearings seem to at least allow some to still function as even with the best ball bearing swivel, one weed can stop it’s action, twisting your mainline. Also the golf tee helps divert some weeds off.

 

Shown here is an estuary salmon set-up that has been perfected for this type of fishery

 

How Deep Do I Fish? : This will probably be the one question that most fishermen will have in the back of their minds. Most agree that for Chinook, about 2-3′ off the bottom is usually preferred. I however tend to fish a bit higher, from the normal 2′ to maybe up to 10′ at times. However it is best to try different weights when trolling if more than one person is in the boat. This will allow you to “search” the area and cover the water column better, where you may get some suspended fish at about 1/2 depth with the lighter weights. Also you may want to vary trolling speed if you are not catching anything while others are. The normal fishing locations here has a very forgiving bottom with very few snags. In all my years of dragging the bottom here I have only lost one set of terminal gear because of them.

Now here is another thought to add to the mix. Do not run heavy weights (10 to 12oz.) unless there is a tide running. I try to keep a line angle of about 30 degrees, so with a flat or slack tide a 6 oz. seems to work OK, but when the troll speed picks up because of the current, you may need to go to heavier sinkers. Here most of this fishing will be in basically shallow water, (12′-35′ deep). Since you will be trolling, and at times in a confined space, your 2 cycle trolling motor may well create enough noise if you are basically right above the fish you may well spook them also. All the more reason to but yourself a new 4 stroke trolling motor.

Therefore it may be better to use a slightly lighter sinker and troll it a bit farther back behind the boat. I do not like to set my rods in rod holders mounted so that the rod tip is high in the air. I cringe when I see a boat with the rods set in a rod holder as if it was a downrigger, pointing to the sky with only with a 4 oz sinker on during a concentration of boats in the bay. Kind of makes for a lot of scowling looks at them when they cut short in front of you as the line have to be a long way back. But by having your rod lower and using a lighter weight you have accomplished about the same distance and possibly less chance of a frustrational tangle with other fishermen.

Most tangles are caused by letting the gear out too fast. Either strip it off by hand, or keep the clicker on as you let out, which will slow down the gear decent.

Here the high mounted rod holders can be a detriment.  They are fine for downrigger fishing
but when normal trolling like this, the hookup to retention ration will have a great disparity

 

One local fisherman who seems to catch his share confided that he just uses a 6 oz. sinker and pulls out 12 to 15 strips of line, which would put him down about 17′.

 Lure? : Most bay fishermen here use large (blue label) cut-plugged herring, however you will see many whole herring being fished there. I do not really like the cut plug bait here, in that with the volume of weeds that are here most times, the bait gets battered a lot, changing the cut that you tried so hard to produce.

I tend to go another step and have found that the herring bonnets perform even better than a whole rigged herring here. The best I have found are Rhys Davis made in Canada. The regular size is the Anchovy Special, while if you insist on LARGE herring then their Super Herring Special is the one needed. These utilize a plastic pin, but they get lost, any round toothpick works OK to secure the head of the herring into the bonnet. I do make one change, in that if I do not like the spin I get, so use the round toothpick and once I get the body shape of the herring I like, inset the toothpick lengthwise down the herring’s body at the backbone line, pretty well holding that bent shape. This gives me more of a better roll instead of having a sharper kink at the head giving a faster spin. I have found that the Chinook here prefer a spinning rotation of the bait a bit faster than when being used in Puget Sound, but slower than a normal Coho roll. A second choice which is very similar is the Les Davis herring bonnet.

In using the bonnet and the faster spin facilitated by the toothpick up the backbone, my catch ratio has increased. With this all said above, I have recently (2011) become a convert to cut plugging and my catch ratio on the boat has increased dramatically when having guests onboard. Possibly because the toothpick method is hard to teach someone else to get the proper roll, and the more bait in the water the better chance of getting the fish-box bloody. OK, I am a bullheaded German/Swiss and it takes me longer to concede (like about 15 years).

Time for a change again in 2012, where I went to the plastic Brads Super Cut Plug, which is made in 2 parts with a hinged lower rear section where you can load it with herring/anchovy or even scent. This hinged section is held together by a special rubber band. These plugs come pre-tied with one triple hook, or unrigged with just 2 bodies for about a dollar more than the single rigged. I like to tie mine using 40# mono leader with (2) 5/0 Octopus hooks tied as a solid tie moocher leader. I place (5) 6mm beads on the leader above the hooks, but only to space the hook back just behind the plug. I also like to have at least 3 of these beads fluorescent red and red hooks which would simulate a wounded, bleeding herring. My two trailing hooks seem to slow the action down slightly, but it still catches fish, even Coho can’t seem to resist it.

This lure has the lower rear part hinged with a sponge to absorb scent. I pull the sponge out so I can insert a herring/anchovy/tuna strip as a scent. Or recently I have gotten lazy and simply have been squirting liquid smelly jelly herring scent into the cavity without removing the rubber band.

I have, when running 2 rods here, run a herring in the bonnet on one rod and this plastic lure on the other, at same depths. I finally quit using the herring after a week as 95 % of my hits were on this plug. As for colors, Shamrock / Blue Hawaiian / Seahawk / Pirate or Watermelon, even Wonderbread seem to produce well. However in 2012, late in the year I ran a bright orangish one, hoping to target Coho, but caught a small Chinook on it.

Brad’s Super Cut Plug in color Blue Hawaiian, side view

Brad’s Super Cut Plug shown with the hinged section open with modified trailing hooks

 

It seems that many times color may mean very little as evidenced by this well worn, tooth marked lure that is still catching fish.  Kind of hate to use this old warrior, in case of loosing it, but as long as it catches fish why not?

There are times that there is so much bait in the water that you will be lucky to catch a salmon. I have even seen the seagulls so full they are not interested in the bait showing in the bay. This bait is normally anchovies in the size of 6″ long. The fisherman who uses anchovy is probably a step ahead of the rest in that he is “matching the hatch”. However frozen anchovy becomes mushy very fast unless it is soaked in rock salt brine overnight. Fresh anchovy would be desirable, and you could do that by using a herring jig to catch your own bait under these circumstances. It is legal to use the other rod to catch this kind of bait, however you may get stares from other boats until they see you pulling in anchovies instead of a lure so I have resorted to using a small 2′ ice jigging rod.

When you see a lot of bait on the surface and the whole water column on your sonar is red with bait, it is my advice to move to a different location, as your chances of a salmon picking out YOUR bait out of millions is rather slim.

This water is shallow enough that you will normally NOT be able to “see” many salmon on your depthfinder.

To attach your sinker, a lighter mono sinker dropper of about 12″ is attached to a Slideo or sturgeon slider on the mainline is ahead of the Fish Flash about 14″. This distance is needed to separate the sinker dropper from the flasher and avoid tangles with the flasher. There appears to not be any logs or brush on the bottom to tangle with here.

Some successful fishermen will simply troll a mooching set-up. Sinker weights from 4 to 6 ounces are normally used. So try what you are comfortable with, do not be led to believe to use a heavier weight trying to keep the lure closer to the boat with less chance of tangling if another boat cuts close behind you is mandatory.

I have at times wondered if it would help if when the wind picks up and it becomes hard to troll into it especially if the current is running heavy, is to anchor just out of the main fishing area, mooch a herring or plunk fish a Spi-N-Glo or large spinner in the current upriver above Willapa River marker #15 to #19.

Or some of the successful local fishermen will just troll a large #5 or #7 brass spinner behind their small Fish Flash.

One thing I do at times, that gets many stares, is to troll a large Spi-N-Glo behind the Fish Flash. Even put a gob of salmon egg roe on the upper hook. I use this set up basically as a spare, so if I happen to get tangled gear or lots of weeds, I just unsnap it and replace it with this Spi-N-Glo set-up, get it back in the water, then untangle later.

The advent of the line-counter reels has made life a lot easier to judge how far you are out, as you can be trolling at 20′ depth with a 6oz sinker at an average current, when you let out and hit bottom, the current will flow your line back, let it out again till you bump bottom. Then crank it up a couple of turns, you will be about right. It doesn’t take long for you to tell your water depth in relationship to the current and your blow back, then being able to realize that your line footage out will be near 40′ or so in the above depth. From here on, you can be pretty close by just looking at the depthfinder and adjusting your line in or out.

 Cleanliness : Many times in things pertaining to fishing, cleanliness is next to godliness. Therefore think of anything that you touch, or comes in contact with anything that may impart a offensive odor. Do you clean your sardine wrapped KwikFish after using them and putting them away? How about cleaning your spinners that are attached to a lure that you have used salmon roe, tuna oil, shrimp, prawn, or even herring or anchovy? Then there is your attractant dodgers or flashers that also need to be cleaned.

One very easy method is to purchase a painters 5 quart plastic bucket with a snap on lid. Fill it with clean fresh water and squirt a small amount of Lemon Joy soap into the water. Use this to soak your lures and flashers in.

Any of these little things that many fishermen overlook, my be a contributing factor that is why your neighboring boat is catching fish when you are not. Years ago in my commercial salmon trolling years, we used a gallon jug of herring oil, that after we were done pulling gear, all of the spoons, rigged hoochies and flashers were either soaked in or at least dipped in until the next trip. This did two things, it protected the metal parts from corroding/rusting AND removed any bad smells.

 Kids First Salmon : In the photos below, on the Labor Day 2007 derby, we were heading in, back up North River when right behind Willapa River marker #13 was this small 14′ aluminum boat with dad trying to net son’s fish. Dad was also trying to get a photo or two in between being there if and when the fish got close enough. The boy was doing all the fighting of the fish on his own, a real fisherman. From what we could tell, the fish appeared to be about a 15#er.

Kid’s first Chinook, how’s this for bonding? The kid is just not tall enough

However the distance of the flasher and leader made it rather hard for the boy to bring the fish close enough to the boat for dad to be effective. Numerous attempts were made, dad even to grabbing the leader below the flasher. But the wind was rapidly blowing them into the mud flats. In these photos they were probably unknowingly in 5′ of water and getting shallower with the fish not cooperating at all. We stayed nearby in hopes of getting a picture of the actual netting. Finally the fish went on the other shallower side of the boat and the netting was unsuccessful.

We pulled alongside, I got the dads e-mail address, the later sent him the pictures that I had taken. Later when I asked for permission to use a picture for my articles (the one that you are now reading), he said he of course, and he had no idea who I was and he being from out of the area, (from Alaska, visiting a brother) he had printed off a copy of this article and had it in the boat with him at the time.

This is Not a Area to Fish if You Are Starving : Everyone says that you just have to put your time in here. What they are really telling you to do your own homework and figure it out yourself. Some of the little things may begin to add up after a few years of stumbling around. The other thing is that the fish enter the bay on their time schedule and this places the fishermen on a disadvantage because the fish may be there one day and gone the next with not many more entering for as day or so. It is also my belief that since this river system is not really that large, that the number of fish swimming across the bar at any one time may be minimal. It may take a few days for enough of them to stack up in the holding water in the bay before a slight rain, barometer change, moon change, etc. that triggers them to move on, and then the process starts over.

This kind of puts the retired fishermen at an advantage if they rent RV space and fish every day from, the first of August until the middle of September.

This article is designed to try to improve your odds. I have fished this area for a number of years and I am still learning every time I go out there. I think being very observant is more important, watch what the others are using, but more importantly WHERE they are pulling the fish and at what time of the tide. Talking to some of the locals helps also, especially if you convey to them some of your frustrations. Don’t expect them to give away all their secrets, but even a few tips to a novice is better than stumbling around for years making the same mistakes and maybe only snagging an occasional sleeper fish, but never really knowing what you did right.

There are many fisherpersons camped at the RV spots near the boat trailer parking area. It may be well worth your while to rent a campsite and get to know a few of the regulars. Some days there is no bite with only 5% of the fisherpersons bring back a fish, then the next day new fish arrive in the bay or something changes where half of the boats bring in multiple fish. This is a location that the average fisherperson can NOT expect to limit out even every other day, unless you are VERY GOOD, understand the area and are DARNED LUCKY. This is not a location to fish if you are newbie here, starving and need a fish to eat that day.

One thing you’ve got to understand in estuary troll fisheries (B10/WB/GH) is you encounter biters in proportion to their relative abundance in real-time while you are on the water. Which means the more time you spend on the water, the more of a chance you have of putting a fish in the box, or at least that is how it SHOULD pencil out. If Chinook predominate the real-time abundance, your biters will be mostly Chinook, and of course they will predominate in your catch. The same can be said if Coho predominate.

Floating & Suspended Weeds: As mentioned before, this can be a problem at times. I would recommend having a spare rod all rigged up, plus have some spare sinker droppers tied up. The reason is that at times there are enough weeds here enough to tangle the gear. It may be to your advantage to stay on the beach when the big minus tides are prevalent, as the bay can become un-fishable with sea grass broken loose, partly rotted, then suspended in the water from the hard tide exchanges.

If you have to fish these tides, you will need to pull the gear in every 10 to 15 minutes and clean the weeds off. If it happens to be tangled, switch rods and then take your spare time undoing the tangles. If there are a lot of weeds where you are dragging around a lettuce laced herring, you will probably not be getting any bites either. Every minute you have your lure in the water being fouled, or not in the water, cleaning it is pretty sure you are NOT going to get a strike.

The worst weeds are the fine green hair like weeds, that seem to be near the bottom and stirred up with high run-off tides. These plug up your swivels and can lead to twisted line. The large wide grass shown in the RH photo below are a lot easier to remove.

A typical trolling set up from a 18′ boat Weeds tangled on the gear, notice the Spi-N-Glo on the upper LH

 

Some bad days, if every fisherperson would place all the weeds they removed from their gear during the day in garbage bags and placed it someplace on the shore later, I am sure that before long the whole bay would be devoid of floating weeds.

 Tokeland MTA Salmon Derby ; This derby is usually the Saturday closest to Labor Day, so expect it busy that week-end. CLICK HERE

 Where to Fish : We will start this section of the article at the furthest downstream fishery with the old main fishery in outer Willapa Bay itself. For many years the place to fish was to troll the beach in 15’ to 25′ of water along “Washaway Beach”, just inside the main channel mouth on the north shore of the river near North Cove. This section of the bay is the westernmost section that comes right to the outside ocean breakers. The name was coined after many acres of land, probably 4 or 5 square miles of land was washed away by winter storms. Over the years the ocean/river washed away over a mile of beach, including many houses and the old Coast Guard lighthouse.

Most of the sport fishing upriver will be in or near the Willapa River’s old shipping channel. For some reason not much sport fishing is conducted in the south arm leading to the Nemah and Naselle Rivers.

 Washaway Beach : This would be part of the outer bay. You will now (2009) find fishermen plying the waters of Washaway Beach from the middle of July up to the middle of August, during the incoming tide. It appears they are relearning how to fish this bay. A couple of hours after the tide starts coming in, they slide upriver to the area just south east of the breakwater in a pocket that forms all the way up to piling channel marker #11 (46-43-103 124-02-279) in from 25′ to 50′ of water.

What they are fishing for in these two areas at this time of the year will be ocean Chinook and Coho. These fish are not actual Willapa fish, but “Dip-Ins”. They are more than likely Columbia River fish that are following large schools of anchovies into the bay on the high incoming tide.

Here you need to fish for them higher in the water column since they are not yet committed river fish. Usually the fishing depth, no matter the actual water depth will be about 15 pulls (30′) out from the reel. Medium sized herring or anchovies seem to be the preferred bait.

There is a yellow Can (“D” buoy) about mid stream off the end of the breakwater GPS#s 46-43-254 124-03-388.

This photo taken from slightly upstream of the breakwater, at a minus 1.7 low tide, with bay marker #11 hid behind the dead tree on the point of land.  This shows the beach ridge where fishing occurs just outside of on a high incoming tide where an an eddy is formed from the breakwater just out of sight on the right. Standing at the same location as the photo on the left, looking downstream at the breakwater & outward at the Bar, from the Hiway pullout just east of the breakwater, with Washaway  beach & what is left of Cape Shoalwater in the distance on the right.

The photos below depict the same area as shown above only January 1, 2010 at 11:45 AM  with a wind of about 20 MPH blowing from the southwest and the high tide of 11.1′ expected at 12:15 PM.  Low tide is expected at 7:15 PM at -1.8′.

This photo taken from the same location as the one above.  Note that on this rock island is what appears to be a post in the  center.  Think again! This photo taken from the same location as the one above, but looking Northwest toward the breakwater.

In the photo above, the “post” is in reality a woman standing there apparently mesmerized by the wind, rain and waves. There is probably 8 feet of fast moving turbulence water between her rock and the shore when the wave is out. There was another 1/2 hour before predicted high tide, but with the wind blowing the waves in, probably add at least another hour to that. The waves were breaking over the seaward side of the rock and washing very near her feet at times. Now by the time the tide goes out far enough for her to get ashore it will take at least another 3 hours. She will have had a lot of time to be by herself along with possibly get wet before she gets back to her SUV parked at the old road approach.

After the 2011 winter storms, the dead tree on the island shown below has now been washed away, however one local source said no, that it was someone who needed firewood for a beach party and cut it down.

Here is a close-up of the sandstone island with the tide out about 1/2 way

Lower (outer) Willapa Bay: This area will be upstream from the Washaway area and off the residential area of Tokeland near the Willapa Bay channel marker #15 at 46-42-086 123-59-743. I would also consider this area outward into the main channel to where the bay splits and the Willapa River runs east where the Nemah and Naselle Rivers branch off and heads south.

I have seen bait (usually anchovies) so thick in the main channel off what used to be Long Island, that if you had a long handled net you could have gotten all the bait you would need for the next year. Usually where there is bait, there are also salmon. This time there was so much bait that our lures simply got lost in the crowd. I have also caught fish in the outside the main channel, but crossing the bar can be dangerous for a small boat that does not understand tides/bar crossings. As just outside the point of land, the channel angles off to the Southwest and somewhat parallels the breakers. Recent reports are the bar’s channel has changed to where at a low tide the depth is less than 20′. If you have a wind and tide running, it is best that the small boater remain inside. For further information go to “Ocean Fishing from a Small Boat”.

There used to be a “South Channel” to the open ocean, which was a 50-60′ deep large area just south of Long Island and north of Leadbetter Point. This area can change yearly. There at one time a slot thru, but not anywhere near what I would consider using as a ocean access. It is NOT recommended crossing here to the open ocean.

As of the summer of 2000, sandy Long Island had pretty much been washed away after the installation of the rock jetty downstream a couple of miles. This did improve fishing somewhat from the standpoint that there was a colony of seals living on this island. 2002 and 2003 saw some of the island visible at low tide, however, but apparently not enough for the seals to return to in any numbers. 2010 saw it return and in 2011 multiply considerably, as at low tide it is now rather large.

 Upper Section of The Bay: This is where the bulk of the salmon fishing takes place. In the end of August 2005 during a local salmon derby, when I was at about Willapa River marker #13, looking upriver and then downriver, I being in about the middle, counted over 120 boats in about a 3 or 4 mile section. This is about as crowded as I have seen it, but still enough room for everyone, even including the larger boat that wanted to zig-zag thru the parade. The 2006 derby day saw lots more boats but no real problems.

The one main complaint is that the boat skipper will also usually be fishing and if they happen to be sitting on the stern facing one direction steering the kicker motor, they usually do not look to their back side, then if you get one skipper facing right with the other facing left, (with their backs to each other) sometimes the other fishermen aboard may have to advise the skipper of a close encounter coming up. This can really get exaggerated if the skipper is cleaning his gear of weeds with the wind blowing.

When heading upriver from off Willapa River piling marker #2 (which is about straight south of the Tokeland harbor entrance), to #8 it is rather straight with the river, then from #8 to #10 is a slight jog, then straightens out again to about #26. The channel has shallowed up between #13 and #15 so you may only have 20′ here instead of the normal 35′ channel. My thinking here is the current is somewhat slower on the sides of the channel. Also observed is the fish tend to cut across the “flats” (15′ – 20′) at high tide, from south of #10 and blend back into the main channel upstream near #19.

If you fish the bays enough late in the season, you may see Coho jumping within 5 feet of shore at low tide in less than 2 feet of water, while everyone is trolling out in deeper water. There are no piling or protective brush here, but they must may feel more secure than in deeper water that everyone is crowded into. Here the fish seem to be moving upstream in small schools. If you see a school of finning or jumping Coho, they will be moving upstream. Follow them without spooking them, or run on the other side of the river to avoid them and then go above them hoping to intercept then again. Cast #4 or #5 spinners to these fish with a spinning outfit. However the bulk of these Coho seem to have been afflicted with lockjaw.

 

A 14# Chinook hen taken 9-16-2006 Here a 21# Chinook hen was just netted by a solo fisherman,
August 25, 2012

 

North River : This river empties into the north end of the bay and the river channel wonders thru the bay, then into he north side of the Willapa channel from marker #10, closer to Tokeland and between Southbend. The lower section of this river itself from the big bend to the Highway 105 bridge can be productive if you happen to find a school of fish in the channel.

This is a situation where the Smith Creek launch can be utilized. This launch has the concrete slabs ending at waterline of a 0.0 tide, has crushed gravel below the slabs, but there is a few inches of drop off. However a larger tall boat may not be able to get under the low Smith Creek Highway 105 bridge at a high tide to get the 100 yards needed to enter into North River. My guestimate of clearance under this bridge at a average high tide is near 11’+. I have not hit my tall VHF antenna on my North River boat yet, and it extends 10′ above waterline. It is hard to measure while you go under being that close, but I don’t have lots to spare.

Early spring of 2013 saw new bridges being built over both the Smith Creek and North River. These appear to be concrete spans and at least the Smith Creek bridge appears that it will be higher than the old wooden bridge.

Smith Creek boat launch & old Highway 105 bridge at a HIGH tide of  9.2′ with storm warnings, raining heavily and 25 knot winds pushing the tide in holding the run-out back  10-14-2012 Here is the new Smith Creek bridge being built June 2, 2013

 

One thing to watch for from this launch, downstream to the first big bend are deadheads. If you are watchful, they will be obvious at a low tide. They do move from year to year.

There is no public launch on North River itself, (however there is a private launch behind a locked gate) but a WDFW one on Smith Creek just off North River. Heading out (downriver) from the Smith Creek launch, you go under the Smith Creek bridge, about 100 yards you will enter North River. Go down-stream (left) heading west staying between the piling markers, (but in deeper water closer to the RH markers) you will then enter a slight right hand corner with a marker on the right. This is only one more RH piling below on this corner until you come to another left corner. All of these markers are set up for a returning boat, so you have to look at the shape from the back side to determine which they are. The triangle ones are red, while the square ones are the green. Remember Red Right Returning code for the markers.

There are usually a couple of dead-heads in this channel out to this first big bend, which change year to year, so be on the lookout for them. I have only seen one deadhead below this bend but it was there only one year.

The installed GPS locations on my Lowrance unit for North River and found that their markers #19 and #28 are wrong as they are in the mudflats to the east of their actual locations. However the river water depth coloration is correct.

From the left big bend you will be heading mostly south, stay on the West of these piling (except for a couple on the far west shore after you make the first big bend) watch your depthfinder, this channel is usually about 8′ however after the big 2007 flood, it shallows up to 4′ at a -.05 tide on the next LH corner as you pop out into the bay.

The red/green marker signs (or what is left of them) are designed for incoming boats so the colors with the numbers (what is left of them) being hard to distinguish. This channel however is pretty well marked and deep enough for navigation until you get close to the actual Willapa River channel which can be narrow and SHALLOW for the last 1/4 mile. There is no actual marker at the entrance of North River. From the last piling marker in this river, you need to be headed west of Willapa River marker #13 and more toward marker #10 at this point, which is actually across on the south side of the Willapa channel (or toward the most RH point of land in the distance). This last section near the Willapa markers shallows up slightly just before it drops off into the Willapa River channel, so at a low tide your target would be west of #13. My GO TO location here is 46-42-100 / 123-54-670 before you actually enter the Willapa River channel.

It is best to have a GPS/Plotter and follow the river channel. Be very watchful of the markers, as even the seasoned traveler here can get distracted (like wiping off the inside of the windshield in a slightly foggy day) and find themselves setting on the mudflat (been there-done that). Fog will be the worst (which happens this time of the year) then I suggest you do not travel this river unless it is a clear day, or you do have a GPS/Plotter and depth-finder.

It takes a boat that will plane, only about 12 minutes to get from the Smith Creek launch to Willapa River marker #13, (unless there is fog and you are new to this area).

There was a private hatchery program on this river that released a considerable number of Chinook, Coho salmon into this river every year. However the elderly gentleman doing this passed away possibly sometime near 2005. The WFDW does not make this information readily available however as they do not plant any fish in this river. And it is not known to what extent the old man’s project has played on current fish stock.

Tidal changes for this Smith Creek launch will be near 2 hours later for a low tide using Pacific Ocean tide book reference.

One bad thing about this launch is that the parking lot is not square with the ramp slabs and to compound things the gravel above the slabs that blends with the parking lot is arced in a manner so that when you are backing the trailer toward the ramp you can not see the slabs and since it is not square, this further compounds seeing where you need to be going. As of 9-1-09, I had driven a steel fence post on the downstream side of the upper slabs giving some reference point for the slabs, which someone removed. Otherwise try to have one of my passengers stand at the top downstream top of the slabs to give you some reference.

To compound the launch problem of the ramp not being square with the parking lot, some not so thoughtful boaters, after they launch, don’t pull ahead far enough into the lot, park the trailer and vehicle close to the area needed for a subsequent vehicle to pull into to be able to back in straight to the ramp.

In the left hand photo below, you will notice the 4″ X 12″ planks on the bridge supports. They have 6″ between them. You can also see the high water mark on them.

With an average 18′ boat it is very doable to launch at a .50′ tide. And depending on your boat, trailer and towing vehicle it is possible at a -1.00 tide, but you have to drop your rear vehicle wheels off the concrete slabs. And use the downstream slab section as you can see in the photos below that the upstream slabs are broken loose.

Some people have been launching SMALL boats at these low tides by using 4 wheel drive vehicles and launching OFF the upstream side of the slabs as the gravel appears hard there whereas there is muddy goo on the downstream side.

At the -1.7′ photo shown on the right, I would not recommend trying to launch even if you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle or if you have a boat trailer that uses roller bunks.

It might not be good to try to recover a boat at this tide as you would have to drop the trailer tires off the end of the slabs. In the photo on the right below you can see where someone has shoveled gravel at the end of the pads to elevate the drop off and allow the trailer tires to come up easier. So it appears they made it. But this ramp is has a covering of slimy mud and it is recommended to use 4 wheel drive if the boat is anything over 16′. WDFW did some repairing this ramp, early in 2010, it is better than the photos below, BUT NOT MUCH ?

Also these concrete slabs the lower ones tend to be covered with about 3/4″ of slimy goo. There is a slight amount of gravel off on each side at the lower end. But climbing into a boat that is not a open bow can be a problem here. At high tide, you can nose the bow into the grassy bank on either side of the ramp.

My one complaint of this launch site is not the site, but those DUMB INCONSIDERATE PERSONS that do not consider anyone else who may later want to use this launch to either launch or recover their boat AFTER these guys park their towing vehicle and trailer at the head of the ramp or parallel with others before them, effectively blocking everything. It is very hard to pull in, then back up being aligned with the ramp which is at a slight angle with the parking lot. You can not see the ramp unless someone stands at the upper edge of the slabs. I have in the past asked the few offenders I saw or left notes on windshields to please consider other boaters when parking. In my old age I am am where I am not really concerned about peer pressure. It seems that most of the ones that are doing this are driving a new vehicle and have a new fancy boat, kind of like they are better than everyone else and consider this is their own private launch.

Smith Creek launch at a about a  .50’+ low tide with the bridge you need to go under to reach North River another 50 yards to the west.  Smith Creek launch again at very near actual tide change, but with a tide of -1.70  (08-18-09)

Season limits for North River from the Highway 105 bridge to Salmon Creek is open to salmon fishing from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 with a liberal total limit of 6 salmon. There are numerous houseboats tied to pilings in this lower stretch of river. There is a good section of boat fishable water above the bridge for about 3 or 4 miles upstream to the end of tidewater at about Float House #29. At a low, 0.0 tide you may encounter only 3’ of water at this upstream location.

One method of fishing this upper extreme spot is to get there just before low tide change. Stop in the middle of the river, but do not anchor, and simply cast spinners using a spinning outfit and 15# monofilament mainline. If the fish are there, they will be jumping or rolling occasionally. Use a Metric #5 spinner that has a single Siwash hook ahead of it about 20”, place a 3/8 oz. bead-chain keel sinker. There are plenty of underwater limbs and snags in this area. This sinker helps you cast farther but keeps the lure near the bottom, plus it runs interference for the spinner’s single point hook and lessens possible hang ups. Keep casting, as the tide turns and comes back in, the fish seem to drift upstream past you. Just because you see the fish jumping or rolling, do not be duped into thinking they are on the top of the water. This water is shallow (4′-6′) & you need to fish the lure NEAR the bottom.

 Southern Section of Willapa Bay :

 Palix River : The Palix River boat launch is right off the Highway 101 just beyond the river bridge and after the road that goes to Bay Center. This is a single lane concrete pad ramp with a small parking lot. The ramp & lot are to the east immediately next to the highway. This is a pretty well protected launch except when you get a wind coming in from anywhere but the east.

Palix River boat launch at a medium tide

Long Island Launch : This launch is at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge headquarters which was actually set up for equipment and logging trucks to be ferried across from the mainland to the island.

This is a no charge concrete launch wide enough for 2 boats, with a dock on the south side and parking is across the road by the office.

 

Long Island,  National Wildlife Refuge boat launch  & dock Long Island,  National Wildlife Refuge boat launch

Most boats fishing the lower Naselle River tidewater would launch here. Launch here then head north, staying close to the piling markers on the east side of the channel most of the way out, as this channel is also narrow, shallow and is covered with oyster beds. However I have navigated it with a 20′ fiberglass deep Vee at a 0.0′ tide. You can make it if you go slow and are willing to back up then try another spot until you learn the channel. You may only have 3′ of water under you at times at a low tide. When the piling markers on the right side of the channel cease then you get to where the channel opens up, you will see a clay bank bluff on the western shore of Long Island ahead of you, head angling across the channel toward this bluff, then follow this shore until you come out into the mouth of Long Island and Stanley Peninsula where you take a right at the piling marker to the east and head up the main Naselle River.

 Most of the sturgeon fishing will occur at the junction of this channel and the Naselle River, then upriver from above the high bridge to upstream about a mile.

 Other Things to See & Do : You owe it to yourself to stop at the Old Tokeland Hotel and Restaurant for a meal. This is a resurrected building dating back to 1885 that was reopened in 1990. This is a large gray structure on the left about as you get into the residential area. Phone 360-267-7006 www.tokelandhotel.com. There is even a golf course nearby.

Nelson Seafoods has a retail store in the area. You can’t miss these as the road ends at the marina just beyond the store. Then there is a wood carver who specializes in creations from driftwood.

 The Shoalwater Bay Indians have a casino with numerous slot machines and a small cafeteria style restaurant at the intersection of Highway 105 and the Tokeland Rd. with cigarette sales nearby. There is even a fireworks stand open most of the year. And early in 2011 they have built a new fuel/convenience store which they call Georgetown Center. In the summer of 2013 this location is being added to for a tourist type sales area. And they are also adding a new road at the northerly end of the reservation that leads up on top of the hill which is supposed to lead to a Tsunami refuge. This is being done by dredging the bay and pumping the sand onto the marshy beach area west of the reservation. Recently they have also purchased the Tradewinds Resort which is just SW of the tribal center.

 OH yes, the Indian tribal police do make their presence known near the casino for enforcement of their 35 MPH traffic speed limit. However their current black with white striped Dodge Charger cars do not have enough room on the reservation to even get into high gear, rather impressive machines however. For a small reservation, (about 1 square mile) they have a total of 3 Dodge Chargers and another regular patrol car plus a van. The word is that they will pull you over for 1 MPH over the posted signage.

 Crabbing can also be an opportunity for the family in the lower sections of this bay IF you put them in a location where there is minimal boat traffic. However I have not been fortunate enough to catch enough crab here in the bay to make it worthwhile given the amount of weeds that seem to have a magnetic attraction for your pot. If I were to try it again, I think possibly in the waters off the residential area of Tokeland and west toward bay buoy #13 would be better. Or Vickie from the store says south of marker #16 is where many go, however this is a lot shallower.

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