As daylight begins to dwindle and the gray slowly starts replacing the blue skies, an excitement builds among residents of Grays Harbor. With each raindrop that falls, we inch closer to a time of the year that defines who we are and a seasonal event giving many locals a sense of pride.
Life comes alive in the fall. Early in the morning, standing on the shorelines or waist deep in the rivers of the region, anglers connect to a historical salmon run that has provided culture and survival for millennia. Our home and our backyard is one of the best salmon habitats in America, giving those of us who head out to the waters a chance to witness and experience a timeless tradition.
Salmon runs around Grays Harbor have been a cornerstone of life in the region since the first humans called this place home. For thousands of years, salmon returned upriver in staggering numbers, so thick that it is said you could walk across the river on their backs. The healthy salmon population, as well as numerous other resources, led settlers to relocate to the area at the end of the 1800s.
Eventually logging and fishing the region, growing at an unprecedented pace, caused the salmon numbers to dwindle. But with the creation of hatcheries and conservationism, the region’s salmon runs were, and still are, mostly protected. The salmon runs of fall 2016 are less than stellar, so ensure you check open fishing days before heading out.
Salmon fishing doesn’t get much better than in Grays Harbor. Along our heavily forested rivers, thousands of salmon return each year, giving us a chance to catch large fish easily weighing over 15 pounds. While most locals know numerous secret fishing holes, many who are interested in fishing around Grays Harbor have difficulty getting started.
Fishing in Grays Harbor is a rite of passage, with only those who put in the time and work getting to learn and discover the greatest spots to cast and catch. Part of the salmon culture is secrecy, so without giving away too many favorite hidden destinations, we have compiled a handful of places around Grays Harbor for beginners and those hoping to catch their limit. These spots offer great angling and a chance to catch record-sized salmon. Whether you want to fish from the coast or go high upriver, the salmon-filled waters of Grays Harbor will have you experiencing some of the best fishing in the world.
For most, the first salmon fishing experiences comes along the Wynoochee River. During the fall months of October and November, large Coho and Chinook return to the waters, with many weighing more than 18 pounds. The salmon that return to spawn along this river are mostly headed to Carter, Shafer and Helm Creeks, but nearly anywhere on the river has multiple locations fantastic for anglers of all skill sets. For a complete and detailed list of excellent locations along the Wynoochee, visit the website of Water’s West Guide Services. Providing guided salmon fishing trips around Western Washington, this company will help transform you into an expert angler and share local areas where the fishing is incredible.
Jessica Weigel at Fishwater’s enjoys the off the beaten path of fishing in Grays Harbor, “We’ve been offering trips in Grays Harbor for over a decade, know the area well and are local. We have knowledge of the rivers and share that experience with our customers thanks to a team of guides that work to make every fishing party happy and successful.”
While the Wynoochee is awesome, the Humptulips is one of the best rivers for salmon in the Pacific Northwest. With the upcoming rain in the forecast, the rivers will once again become swollen, inviting the returning salmon to swim upstream into three freshwater birthplaces. Home to the longest Chinook salmon run in Washington State, the Humptulips River is a mecca for gigantic salmon and amazing fishing. Starting in September and continuing through November, salmon fishing along the Hump, as it is called locally, is rumored to have 40-pound beasts lurking in its waters. Along the Hump, the first salmon to return are the King Salmon, which arrive in early to mid-September. After that, when rains engorge the river to the banks, Coho salmon return for a solid run all the way to December.
Yet another amazing river in Grays Harbor for salmon fishing is the Satsop River. While not as world-renowned as the Humptulips, the Satsop is a great place to catch Coho salmon that can weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. The Satsop is quite popular in October, becoming what many anglers call “a madhouse” by the end of the month. Crowds shouldn’t deter you though, as they are there for a reason. The best place to catch your limit is on the East Fork along a few drifts, but keep in mind that these can get quite crowded when the fish are running full.
Salmon fishing is hit and miss, but going out with experts really helps first-time anglers. If you do decide to take part in this Grays Harbor outdoors tradition, make sure you have the right permits, gear and are fishing on the correct rivers. The best place to gather this information is through the Washington State Fish and Wildlife website, which provides up-to-the-minute conditions and closures.