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Lower Chehalis / Johns river fall Chinook: How to catch Chinook Salmon on the John's River and Chehalis River


This fishery is located in the Grays Harbor (Chehalis River) estuary, & is accessible from at least 3 launches, listed are, starting at the downriver one first.
            (1) Westport launch  --Port of Grays Harbor 
            (2) Johns River launch WDFW
            (3) 28th  Street Boat Launch -- Port of Grays Harbor 

fishing for salmon can be lots of fun for everyone

photo by Bud's Fishing Guide Service

Westport launch  It would probably be best for the larger boats to launch at Westport, as at Johns River, the ramp is slightly steep & runs out at a low tide. The launch at Westport is next to the  Coast Guard Station, go south on N Montesano Street, (the main street leading to the dock area) then at the Hungry Whale gas station/bait shop at the intersection of Wilson Ave., take a right to its end. The parking lot will be on the right, with the launch straight ahead.
This is a good 2 lane blacktop ramp with docks, and another ramp on the north of the north dock that is not paved as far down, but still very usable. The launch fee is $5.00.  There is plenty of paved parking available.

Johns River launch is on south side of the river, on the old road just east of the concrete bridge at Markham.  Coming from Aberdeen, you cross this bridge & then take the next road to the left, which is a short tie-in road to the old hiway which parallels the newer road you just left, this will take you back to the river & the WDFW launch.  After going under the bridge & entering the bay you will have to hang a right near where a few boats are docked to stay in the channel. And you need to run about a mile out a narrow shallow (5 ft) channel to reach the fishing area. There are hemlock poles pushed into the bottom to mark the channel out to the south channel of the Chehalis.  A car-topper boat could be fished here if you launched from this launch, as you are coming into the upriver fishing area from the East & with a shorter run & less exposure. 

28th Street Boat Launch, this launch is in East Hoquiam, and will be on the upper-  most section of the fishing area.  It is operated by the Port of Grays Harbor.  Go West on Simpson Ave, take a left at 28th Street; follow 1/2 mile to end at parking area & boat ramp.

When you fish  Under most estuary fishing you normally will be fishing the upper half of the incoming tide, which should flush the fish into the estuary.  However as with many fisheries, the fish sometimes write their our timetables & they can be caught on any time of the tide.  It has been observed by veteran fishermen here that the best bite sometimes comes after the high slack & up to about 2 hours after that. 

It also makes a difference if the weather is dry for some time, or if it has been raining.  If it has been dry, then the fish tend to stack up in the bay.  If it starts to rain, they will move thru & upriver rather rapidly.  

Some large Chinook (40# +) are occasionally pulled from these areas when the season permits an opener.  The Chinook here would probably  be either the Chehalis, Satsop or the Humptulips fish.

There are 2 different fishing areas to choose from   To get to either, from Westport, you go out of the boat basin, head left (north) to "A" buoy.  

Buoy 13   Here the heading toward the 2 areas split, straight on out & slightly west is buoy #13.  This time of the year the season's western boundary is at this buoy.  There is considerable fishing that takes place immediately east (upriver) from this location, as usually noticed by the concentration of boats.  This area can be either mooching or trolling.  Water depth here will be  in the 40' range .

Johns River  The other area is upriver near the mouth of the "south channel" which Johns River empties into. For this area you head out as before, but instead of heading left toward the ocean at "A" buoy, you hang a right & start up the river.  At low tide there will be Whitcomb Flats (sand) on your right, so you will have to follow the main shipping channel buoys up the river.  From buoy "14" all the others upriver are in a straight line to the bend at buoy "21".  There are large range marker piling on both sides of South Channel / Johns River entrance.

The fishing is normally done either near the main shipping channel of the Chehalis near the South Channel (SC) buoy, or in the south channel itself to near & above the actual mouth of Johns River.   Johns River empties into the south channel at piling marker "8" about 1/2 mile east (upstream) from where the south channel empties into the main channel.  The south channel is smaller & shallower & it condenses at low tide as it gets farther upriver toward Aberdeen. The main channel bends at the range marker piling & runs upriver.  Fishing in the main river usually will be from buoy #17 to #27. 

Ocean Shores Side  During this fishery many of the  salmon are heading for the Humptulips River.  These fish will tend to take a left & head toward the Humptulips, which takes them past the Ocean Shores marina area.  There is a somewhat wide deep area (from 40-60') from here up to the Ocean Shores entrance that is fishable.  The buoys here will be #1 & #3 right off the marina entrance. The channel to the Humptulips  heads for Goose Island & is about 15' deep  with a slot about 30' at Goose Island.  Here, it may be best to fish on the incoming tide, which flushes the new fish into the river system.

The method of fishing seems to be trolling, one thought is to keeping your bait NEAR the bottom.  Other fishermen seem to prefer about mid-depth & deeper.  So take your pick.  This is shallow enough that downriggers will be to much of a  hassle & normally are not used.

The preferred gear usually is a standard mooching slider rig, or a 3 way swivel or a sinker slider on the mainline to which a lighter leader of about 12-18" is attached to a round sinker, with a  large purple or black label cut plug herring pulled behind a medium or large Fishflash.  Some fishermen use a Les Davis crippled herring bonnet and use smaller bait that can equal the length of a large cut plug. You usually do not need a long leader here as the water is not clear, a  36" or 48" leader has proven itself.  Also a 40-50# leader is used many times, as you are fishing shallow (15-30')  & they have no place to go but run, and those big Chinook can cut a 20# leader with their teeth quite easily.  You may want to inject those herring with scent, since the water is slightly murky.

Many times you will not detect the dramatic hit when these chinook pick up the bait, so be watchful of your rod.

You will also pick up some Coho here.  There is a hatchery on the Satsop River, but also there are many wild fish from the other rivers that have no hatchery in the rest of the Chehalis system.  So check the regs. carefully each year as to what you are allowed to keep.  It changes year to year, from no season at all, to 1 Chinook & 1 clipped Coho, or even 1 wild Coho for the  year 2000, depending on the estimated returns.

You will be inside the estuary enough that even a normal afternoon wind will not really effect you in the fishing area.  You might however encounter more wind chop heading back to the dock.  

The one thing here, is that if the salmon have lockjaw, a  well prepared fisherman could try for sturgeon. You have your choice of fishing the sand flats, or the deeper holes. The usual bait  for these is either smelt or sandshrimp, however your salmon bait  (herring or anchovies) can be also used

GPS Locations.  This time of the year you can run into fog in the morning, for those of you with GPS the locations are listed below.  The following numbers should be good for all but the last 2, as they were taken physically after Selective Availability was  removed from the system.  Readings for buoy 27 & 32 were taken off a chart.

Buoy “A” 46-55-02 124-06-93
Buoy “14” 46-55-27 124-06-43
Buoy "17" 46-55-29 124-04-27
Buoy “21” 46-55-29 124-03-46
Buoy “SC” 46-55-33 124-02-85
John’s River #8 46-55-50 124-00-50
Buoy “24” 46-55-59 124-01-97
Buoy “25” 46-55-70 124-01-17
Buoy "27" 46-56-50 124-00-06
Buoy “32” 46-57-50 123-58-60

Grass can be a problem at times & get enough on the line to foul the swivels, therefore creating twisted gear.  It is advisable to pull your gear every 15 min. or so to check it.  If troubled with seaweed  or grass on your line, adding a golf tee on the mainline as your uppermost gear, will help divert many weeds off.  The tapered small portion of this golf tee seems to allow the weeds to be passed off, where a knot at a swivel seems to stop & hold the weeds.

Crabbing,  If you drop off a crab pot, remember that you usually will be going out at low tide & need to allow for plenty of line to compensate for the incoming tide plus any current that accompanies it.  Otherwise you may have to go back later & pick it up on another low tide.  There are commercial crab pots in the area north of buoys "15" to "21".  This water is about 20' deep for a quite large flat area here. Another area to crab would be hang a right coming out of the boat basin & run up Elk River a short ways.

Ships,  There is not much commercial shipping traffic in this river & the large ships that do use it tend to lay & wait for the high tide before heading up or downriver.  However you may encounter a barge being towed at any time. If there happens to be a commercial traffic coming thru, give them enough room, as the channel is not overly wide.

The above information was used with the permission LeeRoy Wisner of
LeeRoy Wisner had posted several EXTREMELY informative articles on the Puget Sound Anglers website and we strongly recommend visiting that website or
click here to email him directly. As an editor's note I must say that in my lifetime of searching every available resource I have never come across so many helpful and informative articles as those written by LeeRoy Wisner. Thanks again and hats to LeeRoy for giving us permission to post these articles so that you can learn more about fishing and hopefully you catch more fish!