The waters off the southern coast of Washington is the main migration highway for a massive king and coho salmon return, providing an array of fishing options.
It is here that a Columbia fall chinook forecast of more than 1.6 million — the largest figure dating back to at least 1938 — along with a coho forecast of 1.2 million that rival a robust run in 2009 when 1.05 million, returned.
This is the main reason why each day since Aug. 1 thousands of anglers have been pounding the fishing grounds just west in the ocean off Cape Disappointment, and from Buoy 10 the western-most boundary line clear upstream past the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
“We saw more than 1,000 boats out fishing between the ocean and river (from Aug. 16-17), and I don’t remember seeing something like this since at least 15 years ago,” said Wendy Beeghly, a longtime coastal state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
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“Even on weekdays we’re seeing a lot of boats (more than 700 counted this past Tuesday), and tons of fishing pressure.”
I ventured down to Ilwaco on Aug. 16 with high expectations as the schools of salmon and baitfish were as thick as fleas in a shag carpet.
As I entered this small fishing town, it was amazing to see the Port of Ilwaco Marina parking lot filled to the gills with vehicles, motor homes and boat trailers.
While many motored their boats toward Buoy 10, we veered right out of the harbor and gently made our way over the ocean swells that clash with the tidal currents at the river’s mouth off the north jetty. This area is known by seafarers as the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” which has been the site of numerous shipwrecks.
My fishing partner Tony Floor, the director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association in Seattle, knows these fishing grounds well, and he opted for the ocean to avoid the large weekend crowds in the lower river.
Our destination was the 30-foot depth line just outside the surf off Long Beach, a 15 minute boat ride from the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse on the southwestern tip of Washington.
“There are more coho and kings hanging around here than cars on I-5 in Seattle during the afternoon rush hour,” Floor said. “You have so many options on where to go fishing, and it’s what makes this area one of the best late summer salmon fisheries.”
We got a late start arriving off the southern-most cell tower on the Long Beach hillside at 8 a.m.
We let out 15 to 18 pulls of line on four rods attached to weighted divers, and KoneZone flashers tied to a leader with a whole herring. The baitfish were so thick that you could see the tips of our poles vibrating as our line passed through the thick schools of fish.
The action was non-stop, and by 9:15 a.m. we had hooked plenty of coho, and landed three hatchery coho and one king that weighed about 15 pounds. By 10:30 a.m. we had a limit of eight kings up to 20 pounds, and four hatchery coho up to 14 pounds in the boat.
It’s not too late to go, and this scene will continue through the end of this month as the chinook return peaks, followed by a coho fishery that will carry into October. State fishery managers expect nearly 45,700 chinook and 56,500 coho will be caught at Buoy 10 this season.
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