Editor’s Note: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been enacting restrictions on coastal steelhead fishing due to very low returns. Watch for updates to regulations prior to fishing.
Like the county’s name, much of the excellent fishing in Grays Harbor County is defined by Washington’s largest coastal bay and the excellent fishing rivers that flow into it.
Grays Harbor County also has some excellent freshwater lakes and saltwater fishing and shellfishing close to home for residents of Aberdeen and other cities around the bay, rivers and coastline.
Some of the best fishing spots also are within fairly easy reach of larger population areas in the Puget Sound region, because Grays Harbor is just an hour and a half west of Olympia.
Other cities in this county include Hoquiam, Cosmopolis, Elma, McCleary, Montesano, Ocean Shores and Westport.
The county includes a slice of the Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest near Lake Quinault, as well as several state parks and other public lands.
Fishing here gets a big boost from active hatchery programs that produce fish that are available for recreational harvests for its rivers and lakes.
The Chehalis Basin Fisheries Task Force teams up with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to help improve fisheries, including the stocking of more large trout than in some parts of Washington.
The county’s beaches are very popular when razor clamming opens, and they’re also good but less often tapped for surf perch fishing.
This article provides information about some of the best river, lake and bay fishing and shellfishing found in Grays Harbor County, with links that will take you to more detailed information.
And while Grays Harbor County is thick with fishing options, we’d also recommend that you check out the “Fishing in Neighboring Counties” feature at the end of this article.
That feature will point you to even more great fishing spots, including some of the places to catch different types of fish or that peak in different seasons.
This smallish seasonal lake just east of Aberdeen is nicely stocked for its late April opener and likely to get more trout in May as well.
WDFW stocks quite a few thousand catchable-sized rainbows here, as well as about 1,000 significantly larger “jumbo” trout ranging from over a pound up to around 6 pounds.
There also are some resident coastal cutthroat trout here that might make an occasional appearance in your catch.
Other fish species include largemouth bass and northern pikeminnows. The bass will bite best in the warmer months and could provide action after the trout fishing fades in summer.
There is good public access including a couple of fishing docks in a large area at the southern end of the lake, off Aberdeen Lake Road, while finding a place to cast from other parts of the brushy shoreline is tough.
Anglers fishing from small boats will do well here, but leave the gas motors at home because you can’t use them here. There’s a gravel boat launch.
More: Lake Aberdeen Fishing
The Chehalis is a big river with some of Washington’s better river fishing for coho salmon.
Coho are available in the river in good numbers in September and October and often tagged by the thousands, so this is the time to hit the river. Sometimes the fishing holds into early November.
In strong run years, the river can produce more than 5,000 coho in October alone, with plenty more in September and late fall.
Unlike some of the nearby rivers, the Chehalis is not a go-to place Chinook salmon, even though some pass through. Chinook salmon must be released in the mainstem above Aberdeen. Read the regs for details.
Steelhead pass through on their way to a variety of tributaries but are caught in fairly modest numbers in the mainstem, counting in the dozens for summer-runs and several hundred winter steelhead.
Better steelheading is typically found in the Wynoochee, Humptulips, Skookumchuck and Satsop tributary rivers, where large numbers of hatchery smolts are planted.
Sea-run cutthroat trout return to the river in the late summer and early fall.
White sturgeon come into the lower river to feed and can be caught for sport, but these days sturgeon of all sizes must be released.
Among non-native fish, a smallish run of American shad enters in the spring and there are a few bass and panfish in lower-river backwater areas and streamside ponds.
This Elma-area tributary of the Chehalis River has a very small winter steelhead fishery but doesn’t get hatchery plants.
There also are cutthroat trout, with a 14-inch minimum size to keep them.
This little river that enters the Pacific Ocean at Copalis Beach north of Grays Harbor gets a pretty decent coho run for its size, especially in strong run years.
Those silvers are likely to be running best in October and perhaps early November, but release any Chinook you might catch.
The Copalis River also is home to cutthroat trout, with minimum sizes to keep cutts and rainbows.
A few fin-marked steelhead are kept here most winters, likely strays from other river systems.
Read the regulations about where you can fish and what you can keep.
This good-sized lake in Ocean Shores is nicely stocked with rainbow trout during the spring.
WDFW tends to plant several thousand pan-sized trout here from early to mid-spring, plus a few hundred larger “jumbo” trout that can be in the 4- to 6-pound range.
Trout fishing is best in the spring within the weeks following a fish planting, and will slow down in the summer.
The 250-acre Duck Lake sprawls up Point Brown Peninsula, the spit of land that separates Grays Harbor and the Pacific Ocean.
Besides the trout, the lake also has a varied warmwater fishery.
Bluegill and yellow perch often make up the bulk of the catch if you visit during the summer or early fall, although largemouth bass and crappie also are present. You can keep all the crappie you want.
There also is no limit on grass carp, which also may be taken with a bow and arrow.
While a good part of the lake is ringed with private homes, public access includes a couple of parks. A good bet is Chinook City Park on the eastern side, where there is bank access as well as a boat launch.
A small stream that flows into Grays Harbor’s South Bay near Bay City, the lower Elk has a modest coho salmon fishery (release Chinook), as well as some cutthroat trout (including sea-runs) and winter steelhead.
This 60-acre forested lake is nicely stocked with hatchery rainbow trout for its late April opener.
Failor Lake also usually gets additional trout planted in May, and both spring plants may contain some very large hatchery rainbow trout in addition to thousands of pan-sized fish.
Usually a week before the season opener, the Grays Harbor Poggie Club hosts a youth-only fishing derby at the lake.
There also are some resident fish, including coastal cutthroat trout and largemouth bass.
There is a public access including boat launch on the northwest end of the lake reachable from Failor Lake Road, and additional places to walk in and fish from the bank.
Failor Lake is in the forested hills north of Grays Harbor, about a 45-minute drive from either Hoquiam or Ocean Shores.
The Washington Coast’s biggest bay hosts a variety of fishing and shellfishing opportunities.
Of course, salmon get much of the attention and tend to bite best in the early fall, with both coho and Chinook often in the mix. Catches can number into the low thousands for salmon inside the bay during a fall season.
The lower bay and north bay around the mouth of the Humptulips River account for a lot of the Chinook catch, while coho fishing can be really good on the east side of the bay for fish staging a return up the Chehalis River.
Bay salmon fishing tends to be best for Chinook in August and September and for coho in September and October.
Far bigger catches are typically made offshore, by charters, guides and private boats well equipped enough to head out onto the Pacific Ocean, largely from Westport. Total salmon catches offshore can top 20,000 out of the Westport area, with the peak catches typically from mid-July to mid-August.
While boat anglers dominate the catch, the bay’s jetties provide some opportunities to catch salmon with your feet on solid ground, but always be careful with this type of fishing.
Jetties also offer pretty good fishing for a variety of species that live among the rocks, including rockfish, greenling and perch. You might get luck and land a big lingcod in the late winter and early spring, and flatfish such as flounder and sole are nearby on sandy bottoms.
Crabbing can be good from boats or from docks in Westport.
Besides salmon, the harbor also offers opportunities to get out onto the Pacific Ocean to fish for halibut and other offshore species.
This smaller stream with a good-sized tidal zone flows into Grays Harbor at the town of the same name and offers relatively small salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout fishing opportunities.
In recent years, anglers have tagged mostly coho salmon numbering in the dozens, while Chinook must be released.
Hatchery steelhead would be strays here, and harvest numbers are very low here.
The “Hump” isn’t always as good as the old days, but this is still one of the better fishing rivers in Grays Harbor County because it can be pretty good for both salmon and steelhead.
It’s not unusual for this river, which flows into the North Bay of Grays Harbor, to produce several thousand hatchery salmon for anglers in the fall.
In fact, in an area where Chinook salmon are off-limits in many rivers to protect weak runs of wild fish, the Humptulips River is a bright spot for its sometimes very good hatchery Chinook fishing.
Chinook numbers are typically heaviest in September and October, when a few thousand may be harvested.
Coho tend to make the best showing in October and might hold up until the holidays, and fishing for these silver salmon can be excellent in strong run years.
Note that regulations typically require coho and Chinook salmon to be hatchery-marked when they are open to harvest.
Besides the salmon, the river hosts both summer and winter steelhead.
Next to the Wynoochee River, the Humptulips often gets the second-largest plants of both winter and summer steelhead smolts.
The summer run starts up in June but your odds are usually better in July and August, with some fish tagged into the fall season as well.
The winter steelhead are often the larger run. These fish can make a pretty good showing in December and continue good a few weeks into January. A smaller number of fin-clipped fish will continue to be caught in February and March.
The mainstem fishes best for hatchery steelhead but the forks and Stevens Creek give up a few keepers as well. Stevens Creek is where smolts from both steelhead runs are planted.
Sea-run cutthroat trout return in late summer through early fall and fishing can be good in the mainstem and forks.
More: Humptulips River Fishing
This small stream flows directly into the Pacific Ocean at Pacific Beach State Park and offers a few noteworthy fishing options.
It’s a decent little coho salmon spot starting in October, when likely to be at least dozens and in better years hundreds of these salmon in the mid- to late fall. Chinook salmon must be released.
The creek also offers cutthroat trout fishing.
This tidally influenced stream is probably best known for the Chinook boat fishery off its mouth in the south side of Grays Harbor, rather than the few salmon and steelhead that run upriver and get caught.
There are a handful of coho harvested within the river (where Chinook must be released) during in a typical fall on the Johns River.
The small river flows into the bay at the Johns River State Wildlife Area, near an Ocean Spray cranberry plant along State Route 105.
The tidewater area around the refuge also can be productive for sea-run cutthroat trout.
There is a primitive boat launch on the south side just upstream from the highway.
This small river flows directly into the Pacific Ocean north of Grays Harbor.
It’s probably best fished for sea-run cutthroat trout in the late summer and early fall.
Keeping hatchery marked steelhead as well as some fall salmon (not Chinook) is allowed here, but this isn’t a big fishery.
Access can be a challenge.
See the entry in Pacific County.
This big, natural lake is a gem in the Olympic Mountains, offering some big wild trout and lots of kokanee.
The lake is within the Quinault Indian Nation reservation, right next to the Olympic National Park boundary.
It is one of the few places where you can harvest Dolly Varden, a native char, as well as fair-sized cutthroat trout and pan-sized kokanee. Some salmon steelhead migrate into the lake as well.
The fishing rules and requirements are quite a bit different here than in state-managed waters, so be sure to read the Quinault Indian Nation fishing regulations.
One thing to know up front are that Lake Quinault typically has a short fishing season with a late start, with the season opening on August 1 and continuing into late October at last check.
Also, you’ll need a tribal fishing permit that you can buy at business at the lake for a modest fee, but if you bring your own boat you’ll need to have it approved through an inspection process to make sure it’s not carrying invasive aquatic species to the lake.
Plan that out ahead if you want to bring your own watercraft, or you can rent a canoe at the Lake Quinault Lodge.
Besides the lodge, there also are public campgrounds at the lake.
This is a large river with steelhead, salmon and trout fishing, but you have to know what you’re doing.
For starters, the river’s upper sections are in the Olympic National Park and governed by park fishing rules.
It then flows into national forest land between the park and Lake Quinault, where fishing is state-regulated.
Finally, the lower river where the largest numbers of the salmon and steelhead return is in Quinault Indian Nation lands, and the tribe has its own rules and guests need a tribal fishing permit and often will hire a Quinault guide.
The latter might be the best option if you’re set on fishing the Quinault, as the numbers of salmon and steelhead caught in state- and federal-managed lands can be counted in the dozens in recent years.
This lake next to the Friends Landing Boat Launch on the Chehalis River near Montesano is open for hatchery coho salmon fishing and may have some opportunities because the fish have been raised in net pens at the location.
Sea-run cutthroat trout may also provide some action in the late summer into fall, and there may be a few warmwater fish species biting as well.
Release all other salmon and wild steelhead caught here.
This tributary starts in Mason County and enters the Chehalis River between Montesano and Elma and offers some decent catches of steelhead and salmon, particularly hatchery coho salmon and winter steelhead.
The coho stream in during the fall and catches can be spread out from October through December, with fishing allowed up to the bridge in Schafer State Park.
Next up are the winter steelhead, with the best catches of returning fin-clipped hatchery fish typically starting in January and continuing during the first three months of the year.
There also is a moderate chum salmon fishery here, which is mostly likely to be peaking in November.
This small lake is located on the east side of the Grays Harbor College campus in South Aberdeen.
The lake, a pond really at under 4 acres, is open year-round but will fish best from March to May, when it is stocked with a few hundred hatchery rainbow trout.
Some of those fish will be extra-large trout.
There is an access road at the north end with open bank on the shoulder, and a mile-long trail that loops around the rest of the densely tree-lined lake.
This smallish namesake lake in Lake Sylvia State Park near Montesano offers year-round fishing for stocked rainbow trout.
Sylvia Lake is stocked with lots of fish in the March to June time frame, and usually gets another batch in October when the water again cools to trout-favorable temperatures.
Besides the many catchable trout, Sylvia is another county lake also stocked with very nice numbers of larger trout, usually in the spring. These fish can tip the scales at 5 pounds, give or take a bit.
Besides the stocked trout, there are resident coastal cutthroat trout, largemouth bass and yellow perch to catch. The bass and perch are likely to bite best in the warmer weather after trout fishing has faded for summer.
There is quite a bit of bank fishing access at the day-use and camping areas within the park, as well as some boardwalks and bridges along a trail along the north shoreline.
The park has a small boat launch to get you out on the water, but no internal combustion motors are allowed here.
Lake Sylvia State Park offers a variety of activities including camping, picnicking, swimming, hiking, mountain biking and more.
The 30-acre lake is just 10 minutes north of Montesano on Lake Sylvia Road.
Van Winkle Creek
This little Chehalis River tributary, impounded to form Lake Aberdeen, has a fish hatchery below the dam that draws some stray anadromous fish.
The short lower stretch dishes out a small number of summer and winter steelhead and fall coho salmon. Chinook salmon must be released.
Vance Creek Ponds
These two small lakes next to Elma, in Vance Creek County Park, are quite nicely stocked with hatchery rainbow trout each spring, when trout fishing will be good.
The lakes, on either side of 15 acres apiece, are open to fishing all year, but trout fishing will really kick in once the first load of fish is delivered, probably in March. Additional trout will be stocked until May.
Each of the lakes gets close to 2,000 catchable trout and a few hundred larger “jumbo” trout.
Trout fishing will slow way down in the summer, but that’s a decent time to hook a largemouth bass or some yellow perch.
Both ponds have tons of bank fishing access.
The ponds are tucked north side of Wenzel Slough Road (where the vehicle access is) and south of U.S. Highway 12. Some people call them the Elma Ponds.
Pond No. 1, the slightly smaller and roughly triangular pond also known as Bowers Lake, is the lake on the east side of the two and is regulated for juvenile and senior anglers, as well as anglers with disabilities and a designated harvester cards. See the regulations for details.
This pond doesn’t have a boat launch but small watercraft can be carried to shore and launched.
Pond No. 2, the slightly larger and definitely longer pond also known Lake Inez, is west of Pond 1 and is open to anglers of all ages.
Inez has a small boat launch at the southwest end.
This small tributary flows into the Chehalis River at Aberdeen produces modest to good fall catches of salmon including coho (no Chinook harvest allowed), as well as a few dozen summer and winter steelhead.
If it’s a good run year for coho, this lesser-known spot is worth a good look in October and November.
There is a section near the fish rearing ponds that is closed to fishing except for anglers who must use a wheelchair and who have a state-issued designated harvester companion card.
Also known as Wynoochee Reservoir, this good-sized impoundment on the upper Wynoochee River in the Olympic National Forest isn’t stocked but offers decent opportunity for wild trout as well as whitefish.
Depending on the source, the trout you catch in this 1,000-acre plus reservoir will be coastal cutthroats or rainbows, or perhaps some of each.
While the fishing at Wynoochee Lake isn’t usually red hot, with the lack of fish stocking, it can be worthwhile for occasional nice-sized trout. Like many waters with primarily wild trout, there is a reduced daily limit for these fish.
Also, the reservoir offers a nice spot to stay overnight in a tent, RV or yurt at Coho Campground while fishing down on the Wynoochee, especially during the summer steelhead season when the weather is ideal for camping.
The Wynoochee River is often the best steelhead fishing stream among the Chehalis River’s tributaries, and often it’s one of the best rivers on the Washington coast if you’re looking for a hatchery steelhead to take home.
The “Nooch” is a reasonable steelhead fishing bet for much of the year, with strong hatchery runs of both summer and winter fish.
The summer run is often the best in this region and is generally good to excellent from June through August, often peaking in July.
The winter run is also among the top few winter bets around. It starts to build in December, but catches are typically quite good from January through March.
This river is less of a draw for salmon, although its fair returns of coho and chum salmon at times can offer good action during the fall. Chinook must be released.
The Wynoochee River flows into the Chehalis River just southwest of Montesano.
More: Wynoochee River Fishing
Fishing in Neighboring Counties
Clallam and Jefferson Counties: To the north, the Olympic Peninsula offers some of the state’s best steelhead and salmon fishing in rivers and saltwater, and mountain lakes have trout and more.
Mason County: To the northeast, lots of trout, bass and kokanee in lakes, plus access to the lower Puget Sound including Hood Canal.
Lewis County: To the southeast, the best salmon and steelhead fishing on the Cowlitz River plus excellent trout, bass and other fishing.
Pacific County: To the south, lower Columbia River and Willapa Bay salmon, sturgeon, crabbing and more on Washington’s southern coast.