Harbor jetties create bottomfishing heaven

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The man-made rock constructions at Grays Harbor are among the best fish-attraction structures anywhere in the Pacific.

The year-round bottomfishing potential of the harbor is probably the most overlooked major sport fishery on the West Coast. Those who've discovered the terrific sport value out there would just as soon keep it that way!

The most obvious of the features that attract great schools of bottomfish are the two big jetties. The South Jetty projects from Westhaven State Park several hundred yards into the mouth of the harbor. The North Jetty is at Point Brown near Ocean Shores and sticks out into the ocean for a shorter distance.

The South Jetty is "rock-hopper" country. It's a challenge to work one's way out any appreciable distance over the huge granite boulders, and the outer side of the jetty is subject to pounding by big waves. It's a young person's fishery, and isn't suited for any but the sturdiest and level-headed among us.

The North Jetty is a much easier place to fish. Most of the action isn't on the extended jetty itself, but rather on the long rock wall that protects the whole south side of Point Brown.

A third major feature is the seawall and the groins at Westport. The wall is a long, high boulder structure that protects the town from the largest of the fierce westerly storms that rake the inner harbor.

To this enormous breakwater are attached a half-dozen "finger" jetties that extend out just a short way and break up storm currents that might otherwise destroy the major seawall.

The groins are tall, wooden piling structures that guard the boat basins and keep the inside water calm and flat. They are a little hard to fish without a boat, but are a rich habitat for pile perch and other species that have adapted to the inner harbor's calm spots.

Add to these structures a sunken jetty out near the Ocean Shores boat basin, a dozen or more natural rock ledges, and a series of shifting shallows that support huge kelp and seaweed forests and you have all the elements necessary for a world-class fishery.

That's Grays Harbor in a nutshell!

With the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Neah Bay and the Columbia estuary at Ilwaco, Washington boasts three of the top inside bottomfish habitats on the Pacific coast. Grays Harbor can be almost as productive for shore-bound anglers as those in boats. The same is definitely not true of Ilwaco or Neah Bay.

Westport anglers have a chance to catch all six seaperches, almost all the nine sole species indigenous to the state, starry flounder, a variety of rockfishes (including the popular black seabass and copper rockfish), cabezon, kelp greenling, lingcod, painted greenling and a bunch of others that are colorful if something less than desirable. Among the latter are ratfish and spiny dogfish.

The shore angler on the harbor can also expect to catch chinook or coho salmon during upriver runs, and there are even a few halibut caught inside from time to time.

A more likely, but no less desirable catch would be a large starry flounder, common in estuaries and river mouths. A big starry flounder may go 36 inches in length and weigh 20 pounds or more. Both copper and black rockfishes ("sea bass" to most anglers) in Grays Harbor can reach 10 pounds or more and provide some wonderful fillets.

Catching such treasures from shore is a sport unto itself, and as you may have expected, terminal gear and rigging has evolved to make harbor fishing more productive.

Beginning next week, we will present a four-part series on fishing Grays Harbor, although the techniques can easily be adapted to the other prime shallow-water fisheries at Ilwaco and Neah Bay.

Next week, we will outline the year-round fisheries for various rockfish, using tackle setups for both natural baits and lures. It's a chance to add another dimension to your own fishing adventures and a genuine treat at the dinner table.

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