Even after spending most of my life fishing, boating, and enjoying the outdoors around the Pacific Northwest, come June, I spring into summer mode like a kid on a first-time-ever Disneyland vacation. It’s a time when a variety of gear emerges from the garage as I begin to map out the places I intend to fish (and find some fun, too). Knowing the next few months will come and go in the blink of an eye, I’ve gathered up an extensive “to-fish” list of destinations to help make your summer fishing dreams a reality.
SOUTH-CENTRAL PUGET SOUND
King & Pink Salmon
The Catch: Summer hatchery-marked king fishing gets underway June 16 through September 30 in the Tacoma-Vashon Island area or until a catch quota of 3,087 is achieved. Millions of pink salmon arrive in late July through early September to boost prospects, then fishing reverts to Chinook, non-retention, if and when the quota targeting pinks and coho is reached.
Nibbles & Bites: The best fishing spots are the Clay Banks and Owen Beach off Point Defiance Park; the “flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Point Dalco on Vashon Island; and the slag pile off Tacoma Yacht Club. Since pesky dogfish can be a problem in summer, avoid using bait like herring and switch to metal-style jigs and spoons, plugs, or plastic squids. As ironic as it sounds, pinks are attracted to small pink-colored lures, plastic squids, or jigs. Boat rentals are available at the Point Defiance Park Boathouse, should you be in need of a vessel.
Eat, Stay, Play: Over the past decade, the Point Ruston area has evolved into a modern 97-acre mixed use area that is more than worth a visit. The thriving Point Ruston Urban Village (pointruston.com) consists of condominiums, apartments, office space, and a movie theatre with amenities for shoppers and diners. The Grand Plaza on the water’s edge has an amphitheater, children’s playground, and kayak and SUP rentals. An attractive flat, mile-long walkway hugs the shoreline linking Point Defiance Park to Point Ruston and offers a majestic view of Mount Rainier. The new Silver Cloud Hotel (silvercloud.com) is set to open on June 3, 2021. Lastly, head to the Ruston Public Market that features more than 20 tenants and stall vendors. Nearby Point Defiance Park (metroparkstacoma.org/place/point-defiance-park/) has an extensive 5-mile loop drive and trail system; scenic gardens surrounded by old-growth trees; a zoo and aquarium; off-leash dog park; picnic facilities; Fort Nisqually History Museum; boathouse and marina; and Anthony’s Homeport Restaurant (anthonys.com).
Of the many eateries at Point Ruston, my top choice is Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar (stack571.com), known for gourmet burgers (like the Banh Mi, Poutine, and spicy 3 Pepper Bomb), salads, sandwiches, and extensive offerings of local and imported beer, wine, and liquor. Much of the fare is made with locally sourced ingredients, including Washington’s Double R Ranch beef. Grab some tasty sides like parmesan truffle fries, Buffalo calamari, crispy Brussels sprout, beer-battered onion rings, and tempura cauliflower. Other fun spots include: Mio Sushi (miosushi.com/mio-tacoma); KING 5 Evening Magazine’s “Best Pizza” award winner Farrelli’s Pizza (farrellispizza.com); and Ice Cream Social (icecreamsocialtacoma.com), which is known for long lines on sunny days, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
UPPER COLUMBIA RIVER AT CHELAN FALLS
The Catch: The fishing adrenaline rush hits me in early summer as I begin tracking the Chinook run into the Upper Columbia from Wells Dam to the Chelan Falls-Beebe Bridge area. The 2021 forecast is 77,600, up from the original 38,300 forecasted and higher than the actual return of 65,494 in 2020. Last year’s run was the 12th largest since 1980 and if this summer’s return comes to fruition, it would be the 7th largest ever, so it’s time to hitch up the boat trailer and head east.
Nibbles & Bites: These kings (aka Chinook) migrate to hatchery net pens located at the outfall from the Chelan powerhouse plant where cold water gushes out of the gorge into the warmer Columbia. Best action occurs at daybreak so being on the water by 4 a.m. is the goal. Boats mainly troll the west side of the river parallel to Chelan Falls Road near Powerhouse Park to Beebe Bridge. Use a medium-weight salmon rod and a level-wind reel to an 8- and 10-ounce sliding cannon ball sinker on a chain swivel (for better rotation) with a ProTroll ProFlash and a leader to a 3.5 spinner or a Brad’s Superbait Mini. Those unfamiliar with the fishery can book a guided trip; two highly regarded guides are Aaron Peterson, owner of Peterson’s Northwest Guide Service (petersonsnorthwest.com), and Wenatchee-based guide Austin Moser, owner of Austin’s Northwest Adventures (austinsnorthwestadventures.com).
Eat, Stay, Play: Known for sunny weather (300 days annually!), Lake Chelan is a popular destination and sits just 4.2 miles from the Chelan Falls fishing grounds. There, visit a variety of wineries, breweries, farms and orchards, and enjoy a myriad of outdoor activities including boating, camping, hiking, and golfing. Numerous campgrounds dot the area, but those looking to stay near Chelan Falls should set up camp at Chelan County PUD’s Beebe Bridge Park (chelanpud.org/parks-and-recreation/our-parks/parks-with-camping/beebe-bridge-park), located mere yards to the fishing holes. Now offering online reservations, the 56-acre campground offers tent and RV sites with electricity and water, day-use facility and picnic shelters, swimming area, a nice two-lane boat launch, short-term boat moorage (campers only; first come, first serve), tennis courts, playground, horseshoe pits and a shoreline trail.
In downtown Chelan, the smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls wafting out of the family-owned Riverwalk Inn & Café (riverwalkinnlakechelan.com) is sure to entice you inside for breakfast. Overlooking the lake and tucked into the hillside amongst the blueberry plants, The Blueberry Hills Farm & Restaurant (wildaboutblueberries.com) in Manson is open breakfast or lunch. The chicken fried steak or coconut cream waffles are tasty choices, and be sure to get a slice of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream! Wine production began in the Lake Chelan area in late 1990s, and evolved into one of the state’s most popular destinations with more 30 vineyards and tasting rooms (details available at lakechelanwinevalley.com); plus, every Thursday now through October 28, visitors can enjoy a stroll through the Chelan Farmers Market (chelanfarmersmarket.org) to pick up some fresh fixings to cook up alongside that morning’s catch.
PORT TOWNSEND IN NORTHERN PUGET SOUND
The Catch: The fishing grounds around Port Townsend are the main intersection where king, coho, and pink salmon decide whether to migrate north or south to natal streams. The summer hatchery-marked king fishery opens July 16 through August 15 and has a catch quota of 4,700, down from 5,600 in 2020, but it’s still a palatable number of kings. The wildcard is knowing how long the quota will last, so going sooner rather than later is recommended. Fishing reverts to Chinook non-retention, if and when the quota is caught.
Nibbles & Bites: Midchannel Bank, a huge underwater sandy plateau stretching from Point Wilson to the Marrowstone Island Lighthouse, is where the anglers congregate for salmon. Others like the westside of Whidbey Island from Fort Casey south to Bush Point, Oak Bay, and Mats Mats Bay. Anglers troll with downriggers or use lead-head style jigs like a Point Wilson Dart or mooch a herring bait up and down the water column. Launch or moor your boat at the Port Townsend Boat Haven Marina (portofpt.com/boat-haven-marina); Fort Worden State Park (parks.state.wa.us/511/Fort-Worden); Fort Flagler State Park (parks.state.wa.us/508/Fort-Flagler); or, Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey (parks.state.wa.us/505/Fort-Casey).
Eat, Stay, Play: Enjoy the Port Townsend Historic District (enjoypt.com), lined with quaint shops and restaurants. Worth stopping at are the refurbished Palace Hotel (palacept.com), believed to be haunted, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (ptmsc.org), and the Victorian-era Manresa Castle Hotel (manresacastle.com), plus the area beachfront offers spectacular views of Admiralty Inlet. Fort Worden State Park (website listed above)—with its hidden gun emplacements, restored late 18th century officers’ quarters and homes, and the Point Wilson Lighthouse—is also a wonderful place to while away a day or two.
Port Townsend has scores of places to eat, but my go-to spot is the family-owned Hillbottom Pie (hillbottompie.com) on the corner of Tyler Street. Service is slow paced due to a small work staff, but it’s well worth the wait for made from scratch soup (the clam chowder is delightful) and the pizza, which comes hot from the brick oven with slightly charred edges. Leave room for a slice of homemade marionberry pie and vanilla ice cream, which often sells out, so go early or place your pie order ahead. Other notable eateries include the Fountain Café (nwfountaincafe.com) and Spruce Goose Café (sprucegoosecafe.com) located south of Port Townsend near the airport.
“BUOY 10” IN ASTORIA/ILWACO AREA
King & Coho Salmon
The Catch: The Lower Columbia River mouth near Buoy 10 is rated as one of the hottest late-summer salmon fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. This season is no exception to the rule with a robust forecast of more than 1.5-million coho expected (181,000 was forecast in 2020 and an actual return of 363,600), the largest dating back to 2009 and 2015. The season for Buoy 10—the red navigational buoy marking the western boundary of this nearly 20-mile fishing area upstream to the Tongue Point/Rocky Point boundary above the Astoria-Megler Bridge—opens August 1-10 for hatchery-marked Chinook and coho only, and then from August 11 through September 6 for all Chinook and hatchery-marked coho.
Nibbles & Bites: If you haven’t already booked moorage, a slip could be hard to find in late summer at the Port of Ilwaco or Port of Astoria. Anglers can access the lower river at numerous launch ramps on Washington and Oregon sides, but be patient and bank on long waiting times.
Prime fishing spots aren’t actually at Buoy 10, but just outside of Ilwaco at the Wing Walls, a row of rotting wooden pilings; the Desdemona Sands area, a long, flat submerged sand bar; the buoy line off the town of Astoria above the Astoria-Megler Bridge; outside the Port of Astoria Marina to Fort Stevens State Park; and off the Hammond area. Also, above the bridge on the Washington side are three underwater channels where migratory salmon stage in cooler, brackish water, and just downstream from there is the Church Hole off Fort Columbia State Park. Gear can consist of a weighted diver or 8- to 10-ounce cannon ball sinker to a KoneZone or Fish-Flash-type flasher tied on a tandem hook leader on a whole or cut-plug herring. Spinners like a Toman’s Thumper Flex, with a blade in red/white or chartreuse attached to a plastic squid, or a Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug lure will get their share of fish, too.
Eat, Stay, Play: While fishing is the main summer activity, there are quite a few places to see and eat in Astoria, Ilwaco, Long Beach, and other nearby areas. At Ilwaco, soak in the views within the iconic Cape Disappointment State Park with access to the majestic North Head Lighthouse, plus the informative Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center (parks.state.wa.us/187/Cape-Disappointment) that sits high above the cliffs.
Located 3½ miles north of Ilwaco, Long Beach (visitlongbeachpeninsula.com) famously boasts the “Longest Beach in the World.” The Pickled Fish Restaurant (pickledfishrestaurant.com) located on the Adrift Hotel’s top floor there has sweeping views of the ocean, and the creative, unique menu items and craft cocktails won’t disappoint. One of my favorites is the “Dirty Fries,” consisting of fresh-cut fries topped with pork belly, fresh garlic, goat cheese, pickled peppers and truffle ketchup for dipping. After your meal, take a walk at the popular Long Beach Boardwalk that stretches on the beachfront for nearly half a mile and offers panoramic views of the coast.
Walk back in time at the historic town of Astoria (travelastoria.com), where the salmon cannery industry boomed in the late 1800s. This sweet waterfront town has many breweries, restaurants, small shops; be sure to take a stroll along the Riverwalk or hop a ride on the Riverfront Trolley (old300.org; not running at press time due to Covid restrictions, but check back). Soak up some history at the Columbia River Maritime Museum (crmm.org), where you can explore the Lightship Columbia that functioned as a floating lighthouse to mark the mouth of the river from 1951-1979, and then rent a radio-controlled vessel for the kiddos to take for a spin on the model boat pond. Grab a bite or enjoy some local beers on tap at the Fort George Brewery + Public House (fortgeorgebrewery.com) downtown. The brewery is split into three spaces: the original Public House downstairs, the wood-fired pizzeria upstairs, and the Lovell Taproom across the courtyard in the Lovell Building. The pizzas have a not-too-thick, not-too-thin charred crust, the chop and Caesar salads were delightful, and you can’t beat the dessert: A warm chocolate chip cookie baked in a small skillet that comes topped with vanilla ice cream.