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  Great Washington Getaways Home  |  Washington’s Southern Coast
Ocean fishing
A deckhand on a Westport charter boat attempts to gaff a albacore tuna after a long battle. The Pacific Ocean off Washington’s southern coast teems with sportfish in the summer. Salmon, tuna, bottomfish, surf perch, and crab draw anglers’ interest. Photo by Jeff Holmes
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Local Attractions
  Port of Ilwaco
  Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
  Cape Disappointment St. Park
  Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau
  Westport Charter Fishing
  Twin Harbors State Park
  Grays Harbor Tourism
  Westport-Grayland Chamber of Commerce
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  Southern coast: Sand, salmon and sunsets
The southern Washington coast is a popular destination during cooler months for razor clammers, beach combers and storm watchers, but ocean beaches really come alive in summer when the salmon are running. From Ilwaco at the mouth of the Columbia River, north to Long Beach, Willapa Bay and Westport, southern coastal communities offer easy access to great fishing, crabbing and miles of surf and sand.

No disappointments at Columbia River mouth

Ocean salmon
Willapa Bay, Westport, and Ilwaco are popular intercept points for Chinook salmon, like this bruiser of a fish. Photo by Larry Phillips

The Port of Ilwaco is set in one of the most dramatic and historic places in Washington. Situated inside rugged, wooded Cape Disappointment where Lewis and Clark arrived in November 1804, Ilwaco stands sentinel to the Columbia River Bar, a notoriously rough crossing to the open ocean that settles down in time for the summer fishing season. The beauty of this rocky headland looming above Ilwaco’s harbor leaves few disappointed.

Several charter operators offer trips out of Ilwaco, chasing Dungeness crab, bottomfish, salmon, sturgeon, halibut and tuna. Albacore typically run from 15 to 30 pounds and are one of the fastest fish in all the oceans. They can hit 50 mph at top speed, and routinely smack anglers’ baits at 20 mph.

Ilwaco and the nearby town of Chinook are also the closest Washington access points to the popular Buoy 10 salmon fishery at the Columbia’s mouth in August. Each year, anglers catch thousands of Chinook and hatchery coho salmon over the course of a few weeks from the mouth of the big river to a point 16 miles upstream. Anglers unfamiliar with these waters should, however, consider enlisting the services of a guide to navigate the changing tides, unpredictable weather and heavy boating traffic associated with this fishery.

Marlin
Ilwaco is one of Washington’s premier tuna ports and has a dedicated following of charter captains and anglers with private boats. Photo by Jeff Holmes

Cape Disappointment State Park offers scores of campsites as well as yurts for rent; reservations are suggested in advance, especially when the salmon are running. Anglers who camp at the state park or stay at local accommodations or private campgrounds, might want to consider dropping a line off the North Jetty at Cape Disappointment. Rockfish, kelp greenling, lingcod and sometimes salmon are caught off of the jetty by anglers with long fishing rods and long-handled nets. However, the jetty can be dangerous due to surge waves, and anglers should proceed cautiously – the structure was not made as a fishing platform. Wearing a personal floatation device is a good safety precaution.

The beaches in front of Cape Disappointment on the ocean side teem with schools of redtail surf perch, which can be caught by casting a 4- to 6-ounce pyramid sinker below two size 4 baitholder hooks, baited with clam necks, cut bait or nightcrawlers. Rods of at least 8 1/2 feet with backbone and sensitive tips are a must for casting these heavy rigs over the breaking surf. Beware of undertows and shifting sands, and be sure to wear a PFD.

Sandy beaches and seafood abound on Long Beach and in Willapa Bay

Redtail surf perch are a popular summer species because they taste great and are relatively easy to catch from shore or by wading carefully in the surf. The Long Beach Peninsula and other areas with sandy beaches are prime places to hook perch. Photo by Jeff Holmes

Just 10 minutes north of Ilwaco, the adjoining towns of Seaview and Long Beach form the gateway to the Long Beach Peninsula. This long, thin headland is so straight and narrow that, on a map, it might appear manmade. It’s not, nor are any of the very best attractions the peninsula has to offer, unless you count oysters produced at area oyster farms. Willapa Bay, off the eastern shore of the peninsula, produces about a fourth of the nation’s supply of oysters.

Outside the bay off the west side of the Long Beach Peninsula, the Pacific Ocean is the big draw. Twenty-eight miles of public beaches offer some of the best surfperch fishing on the coast. Look to fish where streams enter the ocean or near upraised humps of sand in the surf. Surf perch can be caught any time of the day, but many anglers choose to fish the incoming tide when perch come in closer to shore.

Surfers, dog walkers, kite flyers, shoppers, gourmet diners, birdwatchers and hikers all flock to Long Beach during summer. Lodging and dining options abound, as do private campgrounds and RV parks. At Willapa Bay, visitors can find more lodging and camping options, along with a spectacular shallow-water fishery for big king salmon that begins in mid-August. More information on the South Coast’s attractions is available from the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.

Salmon
A relaxing day on the ocean is always a pleasure that’s further enhanced by a cooler loaded with the legal bounty of the sea. Nice-sized, purple-backed Chinook salmon like this Westport-caught fish bring smiles to the faces of even the most experienced ocean salmon anglers. Photo by Travis Meyer

Westport, guardian to Grays Harbor

The next major bay north of Willapa is Grays Harbor. On the north side of the harbor, Ocean Shores is the coast’s most popular and developed beach community. On the south side of the harbor is Westport, the state’s most frequented fishing port and home to many charter fishing opportunities for black rockfish, lingcod, salmon, and tuna.

There are plenty of lodging and camping options near the Port of Westport, including Twin Harbors State Park, just south of town where camping reservations are strongly recommended. Popular activities include beachcombing, surfing, hiking, and dog walking, along with charterboat fishing and public crabbing off the town pier at the entrance to the harbor. Grays Harbor Tourism and the Westport-Grayland Chamber of Commerce are hubs of information.