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Washington Coast Fishing

Your central resource for Washington Coast Salmon and Halibut Fishing

Having an understanding of tidal exchange is the key to crossing any ocean bar. Probably the best time to cross is either on high slack or low slack, or an hour or two each side of it. However this may not be always available to you as a fisherman, so be of the rule of 12, a formula used to calculate the amount of flow of a river at a bar crossing. For each hour after the tide change the flow will be ½ of what it currently is.  For example , the first hour it will be 1/12, the second hour it will be 2/12, the third hour it will be 3/12, the fourth hour it remains 3/12, the fifth hour it will be 2/12, the sixth hour it will be back to 1/12 again.

 Using this information you can see that the maximum flow will be the middle two hours of an exchange.  This equates to the bar being the roughest at that time. Wind conditions on any tide will effect these times.  All else taken into consideration, the bar usually tends not to be as rough on the incoming tide. The tide exchange will also govern how rough the bar is going to be. The low tides will have one real low tide each day and the low tide will be somewhat higher.

Look at the tide book and compare the difference between two tides closest to the time you intend to cross. If any roughness is to be encountered, you will be able to see it better from the inside looking out, as you can see the white water coming off the tops of the waves.

Coming back in however, you are looking at the back of these waves and cannot see if there is any white water coming off the tops.

Therefore the water looks calmer when you are outside the bar looking in. Upon your return the Coast Guard on some bar crossings requires to notify them on Channel 16 on your VHF radio. 

There will be situations similar to those you encountered heading out, with the exception that you’ll be writing waves in, instead of heading into them.  The situation can also be different if there is a tide and when involved.  If that’s the case you’ll have to quarter of the waves.  You can be writing the back to waves like a surfboarder but on the backside.  It will run out from under you than the next one will have you surfboarding, many times at an angle. You will then have to straighten the boat so that when you’re being pushed into the trough of the next wave so you are going straight with the wave. 


You do not one of the in the bottom of the trough at an angle.  Too many people get themselves in trouble because they assume the boat will straighten it self.  Wrong!  You’ll need the power down somewhat.  With normal wave conditions you will be tipped to starboard side.  Your response should be the sharply steer into the starboard under mostly full power, so your Stern is at a 90 degree angle with the oncoming wave.  As soon as it passes under you, straighten out and get back on your heading again.

Some boaters will get on the backside and have enough power to stay there and ride it all away across. However you should be aware that if something goes wrong it will happen very fast as these waves are usually doing in excess of 30 mph.  The one thing that will get you into more trouble than any other thing is speed.  This is not a boat race, hold your speed down if it is rough, and then cut the throttle as you ride over the crest so you don’t slam the boat into the trough of the backside of the crest.


West Coast Bar Reports



Quillayute River 360-374-6993

Gray’s Harbor/Westport 360-268-0622


Columbia River/Astoria:  360-642-3565

Nehalen River:  503-322-3234

Tillamook Bay:  503-322-3234

Depoe Bay:   541-765-2122

Yaquina Bay:  541-265-5511

Siuslaw River/Florence:  541-902-7792

Umpqua/Reedsport:  541-271-4244

Coos Bay:  541-888-3102

Coquille River/Brandon:  541-347-2038

Rogue River/Gold Beach:  541-247-7219

Chetco/Brookings:  541-469-4571


Humboldt Bay:  707-443-2212

Noyo River:  707-964-6611

Goldengate/San Francisco:  415-331-8247


The area around the mouth of the Columbia has been named “The Graveyard of the Pacific for good reason. Many boats are lost in this area each season, if you want to fish here you need to know how and when how to cross the Columbia Bar. Once you have this down you can access some of the best salmon and tuna fishing in the NW. 

Leaving the Ilwaco boat basin from the launch, you will have head westerly toward the red cannery buildings.  As you leave the harbor keep Sand Island on your left and follow the green markers out, watch that you stay in the channel, it can get very shallow.  You will pass the boat launch at Fort Canby State Park on your right.  There is a speed zone/no wake zone from the Fort Canby Boat ramp passed the Coast Guard Station.

Follow the channel south and you will come to breakwater pilings as you enter the main stem of the Columbia River. Turn right & head west out into the main river.

The closest buoy will be #11 on your right, head for it. From there, head southwest to buoy #10.   Follow the red buoy line out. The roughest part of the bar is from #8 buoy to #6.  From #6 you want to head toward #4, but depending on conditions off the old submerged jetty, which has buoy #2SJ you may have to pass outside of it.  When you get past the old jetty, you then can head to the east side of #4 buoy.  You should be passed the roughest part of the bar about half way to #4.  Do not try to cross the bar by following the black or north buoy line if you don’t know the area very well as it is shallower and can be very quite rough.

Salmon Spots


Salmon fishing various on where the fish are day to day. Ilwaco has a sizeable charter boat fleet and many anglers will follow the local experts to prime locations. Lots of the fishing takes place around the Columbia River buoy. North up along Long Beach is another prime location as is south of the river mouth. Locating bait is the key to all ocean salmon fishing. Ocean salmon are active feeders and looking for a meal. Pay attention for flocks of birds feeding or bait on your sonar screen to capitalize on these fish.

Ilwaco has 2 boat launches, one double ramp and a sling run by the port, the other ramp at the Fort Canby State Park. All these ramps are busy places when fishing is on!

Reciprocity Rules with Oregon: When angling in the Pacific Ocean within 3 miles of the shore between Cape Falcon, Oregon and Leadbetter Point, Washington, either a Washington or an Oregon fishing license is valid.



The Ilwaco location is on a bait dock that is close to the boat launch area it’s very easy to find and opens early. They also sell live anchovies for tuna fishing.

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La Push, Washington is located on the northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The first building on your right is the fuel dock; a colorful mural painted by a Quileute tribal artist marks the building. The dock area follows, and at the end of the three ramps that access the boats, you will find a boat launch.


Getting from the harbor to the ocean requires a short boat to the ocean down the tide waters of the Quileute River, which flow on the lee side of James Island. The best part is, the potential for hooking fish begins instantly. This area, at the mouth of the river, offers fish that are staging for their journey up the Quileute and on to one of the three world-famous streams that make up the Quileute system which include the big fish rivers of the Sol Duc, Calawah and Bogachiel.  In late summer the area directly in front of the river out to the Q buoy becomes increasingly fishy and there is even a late fall salmon derby to take advantage of this fishery.


As great as the fishing is, be aware that when temperatures are hot inland, the possibility of fog increases on the coast. Anyone fishing here should have a GPS plotter system and the ability to use it accurately. It’s important save a GPS coordinate for the center at the mouth of the river, another way point at the red entrance and one more at the Q-buoy. This will ensure a safe entrance should you be encounter heavy fog conditions.


Anytime you’re faced with a heavy southwesterly wind, a large swell can come directly into the river and in this event, simply bag fishing; it’s not worth going out on the ocean. The good news is, this is not the customary wind during the summer. The prevailing summer winds are west-northwest and these are totally blocked by James Island. La Push does have fuel, moorage and somewhat limited overnight facilities.


Things to watch out for fishing here are it’s the ocean; the weather can change fast, ensure your boat is in top shape before you leave the dock and have a VHF radio and proper USGC safety equipment onboard. Double double-check the weather before leaving the dock and top off your boats fuel supply every day as you will burn much more in rough ocean conditions. Coastal winds typical will pickup in the afternoons and can make for a rough ride back to port. On offshore runs fish with a partner boat so you can gain assistance should you need it.


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One of the favorite fishing spots here will be on the inside the straits near the green can located just outside the mouth of the harbor near Wada Island. Trolling just off the green can and around Wada Island has produced nice kings almost every year.

The area from Wada Island near the Garage Dump up to Tatoosh Island also is a favorite small boat fishery. This area is known for motor mooching herring near the kelp beds and trolling flasher and hoochie setups.

Just outside Tatoosh Island and just to the south the Slant Rock area is famous for large ocean chinook. This is a great mooching and jigging area.  Kings will hold up in these rocky back eddies to rest and feed on baitfish. I have done well here on Pt. Wilson Darts or Shimano Butterfly jigs jigging early in the morning.

Neah Bay has a boat ramp at big Salmon Resort a large marina with fuel, small motels and a general store. Several charters for salmon and US & Canadian halibut are available. 

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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 for info.

Local Information:


Westport/Grayland Chamber of Commerce (800-345-6223 or; 


USCG Grays Harbor Station (360-268-0121)

Grays Harbor Bar forecasts (360-268-0622)

Lodging: Chateau Westport (800-255-9101)

Pacific Motel & RV Park (360-268-9325)

Fishing Charters:

Advantage Charters (800-689-5595),

All Rivers & Saltwater Charters,

Far Corners 253-606-5754 


Tackle Shop & Bait:

Englund Marine Supply (360-268-9311),

Hungry Whale Grocery/Gas (360-268-0136). 

Who to call: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Region 6, Montesano Office (360-248-4628)

Swell Info:

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Cape Alava has for the past several years been one of Washington’s top producing ocean salmon fisheries. Located between the ports of Neah Bay and La Push it does take a little running to reach but the trip can be well worth the trip. This area seems to hold tons of baitfish and hungry schools of salmon are right there feeding heavy on it.


Top fishing is July-August with around the end of July peak for large chinook and later in the month prime time for large coho. I have had many successful days trolling this area with downriggers watching birds feeding or locating schools of herring on the Lowrance sonar and targeting the bottom edge of herring balls with the tackle on the riggers.

My best luck on larger fish has been by slow trolling herring 30-35 ft off the downriggers early in the morning. The larger blue label size works the best. I would rigged them on 5/0-6/0 octopus hooks on 6ft. of 25lb test leader. Brine the herring good before using so they will hold up trolling.

When the fishing slowed I would forget the bait and started trolling large Pro-Chip flashers with green Gold Star hootchies tied on 45-inches of 50 lb. leader with 6/0 hooks.

Most of the kings we take late in day when the sun was high came from trolling the riggers down 140-160ft. in 250 ft of water.


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Known affectionately to anglers who fish the place as Johns River, its located east of Westport Marine Area 2.2 East, just off the mouth of the Johns River in Grays Harbor.

Why does this tidal area produce such big fish? The Humptulips, Satsop, and Wynoochee rivers all empty into Grays Harbor and they’re all known big fish rivers. Grays Harbor is the transition zone from salt to fresh water for these salmon heading to these rivers.

This is a tide water fishery, meaning leave your downriggers at home, you’re fishing in water that runs 10-30 ft. deep. Most of the fish caught here are in 15 ft of water or less, many times 8-10 feet.

Large cutplug herring is the ticket here, not the Puget Sound size green label, use the purple or black label to score on these fish; the same size ones you use for halibut. The normal fishing setup is a 3 to 6-oz. ball sinker on a 6-12 inch dropper to a 2-4 foot mono leader with 5/0-6/0 octopus hooks. The leader and dropper are mated together to a ball bearing swivel to make the connection.

Sometimes a little more attraction then the big herring is needed so use a Big Als Fish Flash. These pyramid shaped flashers give a great flash in the water and have zero drag in the water.

For rods standard mooching rod and a reel equip with a smooth drag that holds plenty line will work fine.

Most of the fishing takes place in front of the John’s River where it empties into Grays Harbor. There a trough located here where a lot of fish are taken. The bay is pretty featureless so any depression or ledge is worth a look and can hold fish. There is also good fishing on the North Channel back towards the 32nd street ramp.

The tide is the key factor to producing fish here. Tide change is when these fish bite. Sometime just before or after the tide change is when the bite takes place. The rest of the day can be long and slow, with little action happening. This is a quality fishery so don’t expect to limit, but it can happen.

The season here opens normally on 1 Oct. Check the WDFW regulations for current limits and closures. The chinook fishery can change year to year for openings and daily bag limits. The fishing can remain good into November depending on the needing schedule and the amount of rain the rivers receive.

There is a boat ramp on the John’s River that is fine for smaller then 18 ft boats or jet sleds. It’s located just past the Ocean Spray Company on the highway to Westport. For larger boats, use the ramp in Westport near the Coast Guard Station, it’s a short run back east to the John’s River.

Pay attention to shipping traffic transiting to Aberdeen and back to the ocean. Stay in the channel especially when running east from Westport. Use the channel markers; there are many sandbars that can ground your boat in this area.

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Top locations are along the edge of Grays Canyon

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Top Locations for targeting halibut out of the Columbia River are near the edges of Astoria Canyon.

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The US side of Swiftsure Bank is located about 10 to 14 miles west of Cape Flattery. You need to be aware that most of the bank is located on the Canadian side of the boundary, and has many halibut closures associated with it.

A Canadian license is required to fish the Canadian side. On the US side, fish the gradual edges where the bank drops off.

Location: 48°32.930 x 125°00.961

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