Fishing in Pacific County on the South Washington Coast

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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.

Pacific County is the farthest place from the Seattle area in Washington that you can cast into saltwater, but the state’s southern coast offers a wealth of fishing in its bays, streams and lakes.

This county might be out of the way, but it’s right in the heart of some of Washington’s best salmon fishing, with the massive Columbia River at its doorstep and Willapa Bay filling its middle.

In reality, Pacific County is far closer to more populated areas in Southwest Washington (including Vancouver and Longview), and is worth fishing for anglers coming across the river from Oregon, whether from nearby Astoria or more distant Portland.

Of course, a fair number of the 20,000 or so locals would probably rather the outsiders fished closer to home, but there are too many fish to ignore!

Pacific County’s residents live in Raymond and South Bend on the north side of the county, the beach towns on the Long Beach Peninsula, the port towns of Ilwaco and Chinook on the lower Columbia River, and several other communities.

The county also is home to Cape Disappointment, the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks and Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

This article offers an overview of fishing options throughout Pacific County.

Before we get there, we’d also like to recommend that after you’ve learned about all the great fishing in Pacific County that you also take a quick look at the “Fishing in Neighboring Counties” feature down below.

While there’s lots of fish in Pacific County, bordering counties offer a wealth of places to wet your line for even more types of game fish within reasonable reach of the southern Washington coast.

Bear River

A small Willapa Bay tributary with limited fishing opportunities, including some cutthroat trout and occasional steelhead (mostly wild).

Black Lake

This very visible lake on the north end of Ilwaco is one of the most intensely stocked trout fishing lakes in the entire region.

At last check, Black Lake was being stocked with about 14,000 catchable rainbow trout, which is a ton for a 30-acre lake.

Black Lake is open all year but is most heavily stocked in the spring from March into about June, and fishing should be easy during that time. Additionally, small number of the fish planted each spring are likely to be jumbo-sized rainbows.

While fishing is definitely going to slow down in the heat of summer, don’t forget about Black Lake for trout because WDFW often brings the stocking truck back in October for a nice fall fishery.

Summer may be tough for trout, but there are warmwater fish including largemouth bass and yellow perch that will most eagerly bite in warm weather.

There are places to fish from the bank and a couple of piers, or you can launch a small boat.

Black Lake is shallow and tends to get weedy into the summer and early fall, which limits bank fishing opportunity.

Note that the city of Ilwaco typically hosts an annual fishing derby for young anglers in late April, so either bring the kids to fish or lay off the lake that day.

More: Fishing at Black Lake in Ilwaco

Cases Pond

This tiny pond in Raymond is a great place to catch a trout if you’re a kid, a senior or an angler with a disability and a state-issued designated harvester companion card.

Fishing is closed to other anglers but can be super good for its target audiences, because this 2-acre pond is loaded with more than 3,000 hatchery rainbow trout during the spring and fall seasons.

The heaviest stocking occurs around April and May, when fishing will be excellent at Cases Pond.

The stocking truck returns in October and November with more trout, and both spring and fall plantings may include much-larger “jumbo” trout.

Shoreline access is very good near the parking area, including a fishing dock. You also can get to the bank in less-developed areas from a trail.

Note that restrooms are not available on site, also known as Case Pond.

The pond and its primary access are located right along State Route 6 on the east side of Raymond.

Columbia River Estuary

Pacific County borders some of the best salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest, as all of the salmon arriving from the Pacific Ocean must pass by, and many Chinook and coho mill around and feed in the area for weeks before heading upstream.

On the Washington side, much of the action is out of ports at Ilwaco and Chinook, where private and chartered boats head out to reach the best salmon grounds.

Some boats also head into the ocean, particularly before the popular “Buoy 10” area opens sometime in August. Besides salmon, there are halibut, tuna and other fish well off-shore.

Just note that the Columbia River bar can turn really ugly and dangerous, so know what you’re doing or go with someone who does.

By contrast, the river section is quite a bit safer, although currents from tides and the river, along with wind-whipped waves, can still make for challenging conditions at times, especially for smaller boats.

In our experience, an early morning incoming tide usually makes for some of the calmest conditions for smaller boats eager to meet salmon sweeping in with the tide.

Of course, this being salmon fishing, success rates vary widely from year to year.

Some years, both Chinook and coho are running strong, other years just the Chinook or the coho return in high numbers, and some years are just tough … although anglers who know this fishery always seem to come home with something.

Chinook fishing can be limited largely to a period in August in the Buoy 10 area but might stay open longer just upstream, reachable from Pacific County ports and launches. Chinook fishing can be a bit slow at the opener but is usually good by about mid-August until it closes.

Coho take a little longer to build in but can be excellent in late August and into September, often well after Chinook fishing closes.

For more on this, read our Buzz Ramsey’s Buoy 10 Fishing Tips and Trolling for Buoy 10 Salmon articles.

Sturgeon fishing can be really great down here, especially in the late spring and early summer, because these massive fish gorge on clams and shrimp in the estuary’s shallow flats.

Know that sturgeon fishing has become largely catch-and-release, except for a few days when the states determine there are enough fish to open limited harvest windows.

For more on this, read Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing.

Steelhead aren’t great biters in saltwater and tidal areas but a very few are landed, often near shore and sometimes by bank anglers.

Other saltwater fishing is often overlooked here, but there are good numbers of starry flounder on the flats and perch can be caught around docks and the jetty. The jetty also holds some black rockfish, greenling and other fish.

Crabbing is really good in the lower estuary around Ilwaco, especially in the fall and sometimes on into winter. It slows when commercial crabbing gets going in the winter and really falls off when the Columbia is running high with spring runoff.

More: Columbia River Fishing

Loomis Lake

This nice-sized lake near the center of the Long Beach Peninsula is usually stocked with a couple thousand hatchery rainbow trout by opening day in late April.

Fishing will be fair to good for the trout in the early weeks of spring season, but the relatively low numbers of fish planted in this shallow water will mean catch rates taper off well before the full heat of summer arrives.

Loomis Lake also has fair fishing for warmwater species such as largemouth bass and yellow perch.

Access isn’t the easiest here, as weeds create an issue and previous attempts at providing fishing and boat docks have been thwarted by storm damage.

The boat launch also is very shallow, making launching a trailered boat difficult.

The WDFW access is on the west side off Pacific Way, between Oceanside and Ocean Park. Loomis Lake State Park is across the narrow lake on the east side.

Naselle River

A small river that flows into the southern end of Willapa Bay and offers fair and sometimes good fishing for fall salmon and winter steelhead.

For salmon, the Naselle is fair to good for hatchery Chinook and coho.

The Chinook appear in modest numbers in August but September and early October will usually produce more catches.

Coho fishing tends to run a little later, often peaking in October.

Coho can really be feast of famine, which is true almost everywhere but maybe especially so here. Catches can be in the low hundreds or multiple thousands.

Wild coho and Chinook salmon must be released here.

The Naselle and Willapa rivers are the primary hatchery winter steelhead fisheries in Pacific County, getting about 50,000 hatchery winter steelhead smolts each year to boost these fisheries.

Alas, the Naselle hasn’t had that many 1,000-plus steelhead seasons lately, like it used to, but in a decent years it can still put out quite a few hundred.

The Naselle River’s fishing regulations are broken down into many river sections, so be sure to study up before fishing.

Nemah River

This stream’s forks enters the southeast side of Willapa Bay and can be quite a good spot to catch salmon, especially Chinook, during a limited season.

There are years when this small stream pumps out 1,000 to 2,000 or more kings.

Coho and chum salmon catches are often light, as are steelhead catches.

Only hatchery marked Chinook and coho may be retained.

Like the Naselle, the Nemah is carved into multiple sections for its fishing regulations, so get to the know the rules including the open seasons before heading to the river.

Niawiakum River

This small stream near Bay Center is tightly regulated and closed during the winter steelhead season.

North River

True to its name, North River flows into the north side of Willapa Bay and is fished mostly for sea-run cutthroat and modest to fair runs of coho salmon and winter steelhead.

The coho run is probably going to be going good in October and should continue into November.

The river headwaters in Pacific County, loops up into Grays Harbor County and then swings back into Pacific County to spill into Willapa Bay.

The river gets about 10,000 hatchery winter steelhead planted each year, about a fifth the number planted in the Naselle and Willapa rivers, and catches can sometimes be down in the dozens in slow years, but well into the hundreds when the runs are looking brighter.

Palix River

This stream enters Willapa Bay near Bay Center and gets a few salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout, although for its size there’s not much in the way of harvesting of the bigger fish, which are wild strains with the occasional hatchery steelhead stray.

Radar Hill Ponds

These two small ponds, also known as Snag Lake and Western Lake, are in the hills north of Naselle and provide excellent spring and fall trout fishing.

The ponds, both of which have state campgrounds, are regularly stocked with hatchery rainbows from roughly March to May and again in October.

WDFW is likely to plant about 5,000 fish at the two ponds, spread out over the course of the year. A few giant brood trout may be added in the spring.

Some cutthroat trout may also inhabit the lakes, and WDFW notes that a few anglers have reported catching brook trout in years past at the ponds, which are only about 3 to 4 acres in size.

Both lakes have good bank access and Snag Lake also has a small boat ramp.

The lakes are about 15 minutes outside of Naselle, reached via the C Line Road.

Smith Creek

This creek enters northern Willapa Bay at the mouth of North River, and like that river offers a fair shot at coho salmon (including jacks) in the fall.

There also are steelhead, but it’s not planted with hatchery smolts and annual catches might amount to a handful many years.

South Bend Mill Pond

This tiny pond is open to young anglers, with the worthwhile fishing happening in spring when several hundred hatchery rainbow trout are typically stocked in the April and May time frame.

Seniors and anglers with disabilities and WDFW’s designated harvester companion card also are allowed to fish here.

Shoreline access is very good here.

The pond is located off D Street, less than a mile west down U.S. 101 from downtown South Bend. 

Willapa Bay

This is a giant coastal bay (second to Grays Harbor), with much of it quite shallow.

Salmon fishing is a major draw the rod and reel crowd, especially for Chinook that arrive in fishable numbers in July and often peak in August. Early September can still be good.

Most anglers fish out of Tokeland on the north bay and fish between there and the bar to intercept these big salmon, which can go to 30 pounds and sometimes a bit more. Chinook catches run into the multiple thousands at Willapa Bay.

Don’t cross the bar, which is wide, unprotected by jetties, and very often unsafe.

Coho can be caught in modest numbers in the bay during August and September, often by the anglers after Chinook, but those and other salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout that also run through the bay are more often specifically targeted in the tributary streams that feed into the bay.

There are good numbers of sturgeon in the bay, which come in from the Columbia to feed on Willapa’s impressive sand shrimp and clam beds.

Sturgeon fishing draws less attention these days now that regulations require their release.

Flounder and perch are fairly common in the bay.

Willapa Bay is great for crabbing, especially around Tokeland.

The bay is famous for commercial oyster growing, although you’d best stay out of the private oyster beds.

If you want to “pick” your own oysters, check out Nahcotta Tidelands on the bay side of the Long Beach Peninsula.

Willapa River

This is the major tributary on the north side of Willapa Bay, most often fished for fall salmon and winter steelhead.

Salmon catches can be quite good here, often numbering over 1,000 Chinooks harvested in September and October.

Some years the Chinook dominate the catches, but if coho are running strong, several thousand can be tagged in the Willapa River, especially in October and November.

This is a hatchery salmon fishery, and wild coho and Chinook must be released. Read the hefty set of regulations for other details.

In recent years, the Willapa has often been the better of the Pacific County winter steelhead rivers, often out-fishing the Naselle by giving up hundreds of keeper fish from December into February or March.

The stream is planted with roughly 50,000 winter steelhead smolts. Most of those are released right at the Fork Creek Hatchery on State Route 6, placed at Fork Creek, while a smaller number go in at Stringer Creek downstream.

Fishing in Neighboring Counties

Grays Harbor County: To the north, excellent coastal salmon and steelhead fishing, popular ocean port, and crabbing and clamming.

Lewis County: To the east, the best salmon and steelhead fishing on the Cowlitz River plus excellent trout, bass and other fishing.

Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties: To the southeast, excellent salmon and steelhead rivers, a few spectacular trout and kokanee spots and one of the state’s best bass lakes.

Washington Resources

WDFW Fishing and Stocking Reports
WDFW Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service forecasts