Local history: Westport has been known for years as the “Salmon Capitol of the World”. Literally hundreds of charter boats fished out of Westport and nearby Ocean Shores before the salmon crash of the late 1980s, and thousands of anglers from the Pacific Northwest and the entire nation made an annual summer salmon pilgrimage to this area.
The charter fleet is much reduced today. Despite all of the changes the Washington central coast’s Marine Area 2 – which includes waters between Ledbetter Point on the south and the mouth of the Queets River on the north – this area still remains the most popular and most productive Chinook destination on the Washington coast.
The Westport salmon season normal gets cooking in early June, with the bulk of the Westport-caught salmon being Columbia River fish; consequently, schools of fish will tend to move southerly direction especially later into the season.
Finding fish: Look for salmon to concentrate where the bait is located, and the best fishing will be where you find schools of herring or sardines. These salmon will be actively feeding in these areas. For years, the process of finding feeding birds or marking bait on your sonar as you pass over it has translated into some long days before finding feeding salmon. One of the newest methods of locating bait is the Terrafin SST satellite chlorophyll charts. This subscription service usually used by tuna anglers to find warm water on temperature charts now includes chlorophyll charts.
Chlorophyll in the water is generally produced by plankton, so in effect you’re measuring the amount of plankton (herring food) in the water. High levels of chlorophyll indicate off-color, nutrient- rich water. Lower levels of chlorophyll indicate cleaner blue water. For ocean salmon fishing, you typically look for the nutrient rich, off-color water. You want the areas on the chart with the higher levels.
These charts will get you into the general area by providing GPS locations and distance from port to the location on the chart, but after that it’s back to locating bait by feeding birds and putting your sonar to good use to locate bait.
Also extremely popular here is following the charter fleet out to the fishing grounds.
Bar crossing: When heading out to fish the ocean from Westport, you will be crossing the Grays Harbor Bar. Tidal exchange is the key to crossing this bar. The best time to cross is on high slack or an hour or two each side of it, but as fisherman wanting to be on the water early, that doesn’t always pan out.
The key to remember is the roughest bar crossing will occur on the last part of an outgoing tide, when the river’s outgoing water is being resisted by the ocean. The bar tends to flatten out on the incoming tide, with the flattest at the high tide change to several hours after.
The tidal exchange and offshore winds will govern how rough the bar is going to be to cross each day. When it’s rough, keep your boat speed down and be ready to throttle down as you crest waves so that you do not slam your boat into a trough on the backside of a crest you just crossed. If the ocean has been churned up by a storm, it may take several days to lie down.
Foggy conditions can make for interesting bar crossings, and those conditions can last all day at times. Good GPS and radar are worth their weight in gold. The typical wind here will come from offshore, and usually from the southwest.
It pays to be prudent when fishing the ocean: go out in groups, and if you’ve never crossed the bar before, follow a more experienced angler out the first time. Also be on alert for commercial crab pot strings just after you cross that bar – they tend to be in this shallow water when the commercial crab season is open.
Where: The town of Westport is located on the central Washington coast and is part of Marine Area 2 which has a northern boundary of Queets River and southern boundary of Ledbetter Point. It requires crossing the Grays Harbor Bar to access the Pacific Ocean.
How to get there: From the Seattle area, take I-5 south to Olympia, take the ocean beach exit US-101 N via exit 104 to Aberdeen. In Aberdeen, take a left onto US-12 W to Westport.
To get to the boat launch, as you come into town continue on Montesano Street, until pass the airport on the right, and next right will be a Chevron service station at an intersection. The name of this station is The Hungry Whale, turn to the east (right) on Wilson Street and the launch is about 2 blocks straight ahead. The trailer parking lot is located on the right. The Coast Guard station is between the launch and trailer parking area.
Boat Launch: The launch is maintained by the Port of Grays Harbor. It is a good three-lane concrete ramp, with nice docks. Launch fee is $5.00. Fill out the launch ticket, put your money in the envelope and drop it in the box. Moorage is available at the port office located at 327 Lamb Street, which towards town on Nyhus Street about 3 blocks. Contact number is 360-268-9665.
You can phone ahead and reserve dock space. Moorage with electrical hookups is available. Log on to www.portofgraysharbor.com for info.
Local Information: Westport/Grayland Chamber of Commerce (800-345-6223 or www.westportgrayland-chamber.org; USCG Grays Harbor Station (360-268-0121), Grays Harbor Bar forecasts (360-268-0622)
Lodging: Chateau Westport (800-255-9101), Islander Resort (800-322-1740), Coho Motel (800-572-0177), Pacific Motel & RV Park (360-268-9325), Glenacres Inn (800-996-3048).
Fishing Charters: Advantage Charters (800-689-5595), Catchalot Charters (360- 268-0323), DeepSea Charters (800-562-0151), Coho Charters (800-572-0177), Westport Charters (800-562-0157).
Tackle Shop & Bait: Englund Marine Supply (360-268-9311), located next to the boat launch, Hungry Whale Grocery/Gas (360-268-0136).
Who to call: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Region 6, Montesano Office (360-248-4628)