By Randy Castello
A September-October Family Adventure?
Why not crab and or coho off a dock? It turns out that there is a solid coho fishery available to the shore based angling family in and around the Westport boat basin. With a little common sense and eye for safety it is even wheelchair accessible. If the thought of hooking a 4-20 pound salmon off of a dock doesn’t give you goosebumps, add an opportunity to bring home some fresh dungeness crab and you’ll be booking a trip to the coast. Both Westport and Tokeland, about 20 minutes south of Westport offer a dock based fishery for Dungeness crabs.
Although though I suspect that locally it is a well-known fishery, not many people consider a trip to Westport in the fall to catch coho off a dock. Guess what? A productive coho fishery is available around the Westport boat basin riprap and off the marina floats mid-September through late October.
A little history may be in order but first in researching this article I interviewed numerous people and most people were pretty tight lipped. Shoot, one guy standing there with a rod/reel combo that had a blue and black twitching jig tied on the business end of things wasn’t sure if there even was a coho fishery in the boat basin. I talked with numerous business owners and received information from the Westport/Grayland Chamber of Commerce. I can assure you that there is a Coho fishery in the Westport boat basin.
As I understand it for the last 45 years or so, each spring the Kiwanis Club raises and releases 200,000-350,000 coho smolt into the basin. The smolt or fry are provided by the WDFW and are raised in net pens located in the Westport boat basin. 2-4 years later the adult coho return to the boat basin beginning around the second week of September. The run holds up until the end of October with the last week in September through the first week in October being red hot fishing.
The Westport/Grayland Chamber of Commerce holds a Boat Basin Fishing Derby that runs (2021) Wednesday 9/15-Sunday 10/21. Additionally, October 1st and 2nd the chamber is hosting derby within a derby, the “Boat Basin Generational Salmon Derby” this year. The derby is a family derby and intended to showcase the coho opportunity in the Westport Boat Basin. Details and the derby rules can be found at https://www.experiencewestport.com/westport-events/westport-wa-fishing-derby-2021
During my scouting trip I fished less than an hour and hooked 2 coho that were around 3-4 pounds each. I did not put either on the dock, I hooked them from the top of a dock ramp and had almost no chance of landing them. 2 fish in an hour doesn’t sound like a hot fishery but remember it is a couple weeks early and I had spent most of the time talking to people about the fishery and checking out the different locations in the boat basin to fish for them.
This is a unique fishery. While many people throw big spinners and twitching jigs, I believe that it is more of a finesse fishery. Smaller profile twitching jigs, a weighted mini squid or spinners may have an edge. I also think that an anchovy, a small glob of cured eggs or salted herring strip under a steelhead float would be a killer for this fishery. If you go with twitching jigs or a weighted mini squid try to fish the top 5’ of water with short twitches. Basically cast, let your lure sink for a second or so and then lift your rod tip less than a foot and sharply lower the rod tip a bit, wind the crank a couple turns and repeat until the lure has run out of water. Don’t be afraid to work your gear right to your feet, the first fish I hooked hit my mini squid right at the rocks.
If fishing bait and a float, rig a drift fishing float as a sliding rig with a stopper knot or rubber bumper. Rig as follows; main line through a stopper, small bead, bobber, small bead, 1/8th ounce egg sinker, small bead and then tie on a small swivel. Make a 3-4’ drift fishing leader using a # 2 or 4 Octopus hook and 15# mono or fluorocarbon and tie it to the other side of the swivel. Add your bait of choice, cast and pick up the slack line. Carefully watch your bobber for any movement mending the slack as it drifts. If the bobber goes down don’t swing but lift until you feel pressure and then use the reel to set the hook.
You probably don’t need to run out and buy a new setup. Your steelhead gear or any 7 ½-9’ setup that you can cast will work. Because your finned friend could be 20 pounds a rod with a backbone would be helpful. Your reel should be spooled with 30-40 pound braid and either a 20 pound mono or fluorocarbon top shot or direct to your terminal tackle. Your fish could and probably will swim around pilings, under the docks or around other fisherman’s line and something with a little abrasion resistance makes sense.
A few thoughts on this fishery; wear polarized glasses as these fish cruise around the basin swimming just under the surface. Polarized glasses will help you target your casts. Bring some form of drop net or possibly a long handle net. If you bring the little ones make sure they are wearing properly fitting PFDs and keep a close eye on them. There could be a crowd on the dock and accidents happen in the blink of an eye.
The 2021 regulations are as follows: Minimum size is 12” with a daily limit of 6 fish. No more than 4 adults may be retained. Release chinook. There is a night closure and the anti-snagging rules apply. Only single point barbless hooks may be used. The Catch Record Card Code is 2-2W.
Ok, the ice chest is plugged with fresh coho so now what? Try your hand at catching a few dungeness crabs! But first a tidbit of wisdom may be in order; when the coho fishing is hot in the Westport basin there could be hooked fish going everywhere. If you’re trying to run crab traps while you are fishing it could spell disaster and rub your fellow angler the wrong direction. Although there are many places in the Westport boat basin to crab, during the basin coho season I suggest making the short drive to Tokeland/Willapa Bay and crab off their public pier. You can’t miss it; take SR 105 south to Tokeland Road. Turn right and the pier is at the end of the road. The pier may also be a better place to crab with little ones, it has good railings the entire perimeter of the pier.
Although you can use crab pots, I suggest using one of the snap-trap type crab catchers or crab rings. The snap traps can be rigged on heavy rod or just a cord tied to the dock. The regulations are a bit different than Puget Sound. Generally, the fishery is open 7 days a week year-round. You can use 2 gear units per person. If you are planning to haul pots to the coast, check the regulations before you go. Pots are only allowed during a limited season where it is open year-round for other gear. The daily limit is 6 hard shell male dungeness crabs with a 6” minimum size limit. Check the regulations for red rock crab rules. Chicken quarters or fresh coho carcasses are always good crab bait but if there are a lot of pinnipeds (fur-bags) in the area use just the chicken.
With the possibility of loading your ice chest with fresh coho and crab, don’t waste any time! Clear your calendar and make a reservation for a couple days in the Twin Harbors area. Good luck and if you’re successful Merino’s Seafood sells shaved ice by the bucket full.