Ominous dark clouds and pelting rain greeted us as we left the Westport boat basin for a day of salmon fishing in Grays Harbor last week...
Ominous dark clouds and pelting rain greeted us as we left the Westport boat basin for a day of salmon fishing in Grays Harbor last week.
Although virtually all the migrating king salmon runs have ended in Washington’s saltwater areas, the Grays Harbor fishery comes to life in October and offers a last chance to catch brawny kings known to exceed 50 pounds.
Our fishing trip started with some low expectations; the first few days since the king season began Oct. 1 were somewhat slow.
We arrived in the south channel of Grays Harbor off Stearns Bluff around 7 a.m., and my fellow fisher, Tony Floor of Olympia, remarked there were some big fish being tracked on the fishfinder.
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Floor, along with Greg Kluh and Clyde McBrayer of Olympia, went with the popular gear: a 6-ounce banana-shaped lead weight with a Kone Zone fish flasher in green and silver or red and silver, plus six feet of leader to a cut-plug herring.
I, on the other hand, stood with the old-school favorite of a simple 6-ounce lead attached to an 8-foot leader with a cut-plug herring.
Once the gear was all set in the water, which is no deeper than 26 feet, we began a slow trolling pattern heading east in the channel toward Aberdeen and Hoquiam.
To the west, the dark clouds were starting to clear, and the rain finally came to an end. It was time to lean back and enjoy the warmth of a sunny early fall morning.
But that soon came to an abrupt end as Floor said, “Fish on!”
My rod tip was bouncing straight into the water, and then my line started to peel off across the surface about 75 yards out.
I pulled the rod out of the holder and set the hook as the fish took off away from the boat, ripping line from the reel.
I managed to turn its head and slowly gained back some line as the large fish began swimming toward the boat. It didn’t fight too hard, and it wasn’t long before we had the fish in the net.
The 25-pound king went berserk as we hauled it aboard.
We could see a fair number of other boats fighting fish.
We managed to add two more coho — weighing between 8 and 10 pounds — in the cooler.
Not bad for a half day of fishing.
But the real beauty of this fishery is that it doesn’t take a lot of these chinook and coho to make your day.
Washington’s sprawling Grays Harbor is a late-season king fishery that has been gaining in popularity since the 1980s because it has something to offer just about any angler.
Whether they’re wetting a line from a boat or charter, or from the docks and piers in Westport, the harbor can provide opportunities into November.
The Grays Harbor fishery is the last chapter on coastal saltwater returns for chinook and coho, and there is no marine fishery like it in the state.
This is a shallow-water fishery with anglers fishing no deeper than 15 to 25 feet.
“Being on top of the fish and hanging the bait right on the end of their nose is the key to catching them,” said Floor, who has been fishing Grays Harbor since 1995. “Whether at mid-depth or just off the bottom, you can catch them at both places, but most anglers prefer to fish a foot off the deck.”
The best fishing occurs during a flood tide, but bites do happen at low tide as well.
The first of three areas in the harbor to fish is from the SC Buoy (a green and red buoy) to the estuary of the Johns River channel.
Another area is the south channel around Stearns Bluff, heading east for about two miles. The most underfished is the north channel to the mouth of the Little Hoquiam River.
The fall chinook forecast for Grays Harbor is 15,695 for the Chehalis system, and 8,654 for the Humptulips River. The entire coho return is more than 133,000 (74,000 are of hatchery origin).
The peak of the chinook fishery is late September through early October, and the early run of coho is October to November. There also is a late-timed coho run that arrives in mid-November and offers river anglers in the Chehalis system good fishing into January when the season ends.
Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or email@example.com