Willapa & Other Rivers Above the Actual "Bay"

Known as Freshwater



Here we will be discussing more of a boat fishery than bank fishing, (that article to come later).


Now, it may be best to consider in fishing any stream/river that you consider that the vast majority of the land it passes through will be privately owned.  Therefore I strongly recommend that fishermen get permission from land owners to access the rivers for their own safety, security and peace of mind.  There are more than one landowner in this watershed that do charge a fee for access.

The normal fishing calendar for these tributaries will be from about mid September thru mid November.  One major contributing factor is weather.  This equates to water conditions, like water temperature, flow, and of course when the fish arrive in the bay.  With a warmer water, the fish that MAY be there, tend to be non-biters.  Tidal influence also seems to be important, in that high run offs (exchanges from low to high) the fish tend to not bite as well.  Most fishermen agree that a high tide or low tide bite (plus or minus an hour or so) are usually the best.  This does not mean that you can not catch a fish in between, but it can happen IF you happen to drag a lure in the fish's face.


When the first rains of the fall come, look for the fish to push from the bay to upper tidewater.  The non-biting fish that have been around for the last few months may well be on the bite.  Many times the fishing during first rains of the year and right after will be excellent.  However you will encounter leaves and stick type floating debris right after these first rains.  It may be best if you are trying a shot at fishing at high tide, to run upstream above the muddy bay water before you throw a lure in as the fish seem to tend to like this fresh water more than the murky water they just left, especially if it is a fairly high tide.


Dragging herring or spinners should entice the fish that are moving.  Water clarity, fishing tactics and the location you choose to fish AND fish behavior will play a major role in fishing success at this time.

The best is if we get just enough rain to cool the water and slightly raise the river.  If it rains enough to change the temperature even a few degrees, the fish seem to head upstream in a hurry and are not ready biters. That is the time for large spinners or Kwikfish in their face getting them aggressive as they get closer to spawning their grounds.


For salmon the 2015 and also 2016 regulations above the designated mouth of the Willapa River (city of South Bend boat launch), minimum size 12".  Daily limit 6.   Up to 4 adults may be retained.  Release Wild Chinook, Wild Coho, and Chum.    Most of the other tributaries may be the same, but this can change yearly and you may even be able to retain wild Coho at times, so read the current fishing regulations.


For this article, I am starting on the uppermost area of the north Willapa system, working downstream and then moving into the southern part of the bay.  We will be mostly covering boat style fishing simply because there is not a lot of bank fishing opportunity in most of these rivers.


A cold foggy October morning How's this for solitude? Husband & wife fishing team on a decent late October day


In the picture below the launches are at the blue arrows, with the bridges in purple, number 1, 2 and 3 with the #1 the lowest on the river crossing Highway 101 at the north side of the town of Raymond.  There is another bridge upriver that crosses just east of the Tombstone Willie tavern out of sight on the RH lower corner of the photo below.   This Highway heads north to Aberdeen, heading south to South Bend.   Highway 6 leads east to PeEll and on to Chehalis.   The snake shaped river heading down (south) from the town of Raymond is the South Fork of the Willapa.


Willapa River from Raymond to the upper tidewater

Gear : Rods for trolling seem to be a standard 8' to 9' salmon rod in the line weight of up to 20#, even 25# is not overkill.  Reels need not be large, as they don't run far, so a Ambassador size reel will be adequate.  Just be sure it has a good operational drag.   For line, you have two choices, old school mono in size range of 20# plus, Or braid, and here lots of folks go to 65# direct to the rudder, then mono leader.  This way if they get tangled you sometimes can get them out.  These fish are not leader shy and know where the underwater brush there, so if you hook one, don't play it for the fight on your end.  Get it in by horsing in at least until it is close.


Rods and reels for plunking will usually be spinning outfits.


AS said before, there can be a LOT of brushy snags or dead limbs underwater that like to reach out and grab your lure.  If this happens and when you decide that it is not a fish.  Stop immediately and back up.  You will retrieve most of this barbless hooked gear IF you do not set the hook deeply into the snag.  However it may be best to run a slightly lighter leader than your mainline, just so you will only loose all your gear and some mainline but just the spinner if you do become really snagged and have to break it off.   I usually carry an extendable boat hook in the boat, which can help at times.


It is suggested that you run it as an exploration trip at a minus tide and document where the underwater debris will be.   This may scare you away but it can pay off later in retained tackle.


The most used lures are a large hammered brass Golf Tee spinner, or 1/2 oz. weighted brass Flash Glo and troll the river.   In use, they are usually attached to a 40" leader behind a trout trolling rudder with no weight.   Some will even go shorter, while others tend to prefer a longer leader, say of 48" so that they have a "heads up" when when they feel the keel bump a snag as explained below.  With the keel ahead of the lure, most if the time you can feel the keel encounter a stick and if you are fast, raise your rod tip or reel in enough to get the lure above it


One thing to consider is that since these lures are not bait as in herring or eggs and that the troll is slow, when the fish does hit they may well spit the lure back out rather quickly.  You want to be nearer the bottom and with all the underwater debris this causes the hang-ups, so setting the rod in a rod-holder may not be practical here.  So it is advisable to hold onto the rod and be ready to set the hook at any indication that it could be a fish.   Sure it may be a snag fish, but that is the name of the game.


I experimented with running a 4" to 6" dropper and 4" of 1/4" pencil lead for a sinker as the way to go to get me deeper and not snag up.   What this dropper and sinker does is to run interference and if you do encounter an underwater limb, it usually does not get snagged as the dropper lead will allow you to feel the limb and lift the rod up over it.  Or if it does snag, you can pull off the lead or the dropper will break, allowing you to recover your lure.   You might consider taking extra droppers and pencil lead however just in case.

This above experimentation led to a better way.  That is to purchase the "Bottom Walker" weighted wire unit designed for Walleye fishing as shown in the photo, bottom below.  This seems to function quite well for fishing of this type, however you will get many odd looks if they see you put it over the side, until they realize what it does.   When this walker wire hits something, the walker rides up and over and at the same time the shorter upper end of the Ell pivots and also raises the lure.  With this you can actually drag the bottom, placing the lure in the fish's face. 


On a recent trip were I was using the walker, I had 2 snag ups in 4 hours of fishing while my partner not using one, had 10+.  We however did manage to recover all of these by stopping soon, backing up and got them all back.


  Recently, I found another version of this walker that is a combination of both, that works quite well, and that is to cut off the rear Ell of this walker, then attach the upper eye into a sinker slider on your mainline.


Typical tackle set-ups with lengths in inches
The bottom walker


I am thinking a large Spin-N-Glo with a gob of eggs rigged as in the bottom illustration above, using either of the 2 style droppers should work great.  The Spin-N-Glo color would not be critical except it be bright enough to be seen if the water was murky.  Again this dropper and sinker or bottom walker runs interference and if you do encounter an underwater limb, it usually does not get snagged as the dropper lead will allow you to feel the limb and lift the rod up over it.  And the buoyant lure lends to raise behind the dropper making it less susceptible to snagging the hooks even if the sinker does ride over it.


Method : Try varying your trolling speed from SLOW upwards to a MEDIUM.  If you are after Coho, they seem to hit a faster troll than if you were after Chinook.  You normally want the line out at a low angle (not being directly under the boat) as in the confined water of a river channel, these fish tend to be a bit noise shy of a outboard motor.  Some fishermen will use electric trolling motors which alleviates this issue.  Battery life will usually be about 3 hours for these, depending on the tidal flow.  However a small kicker motor is what is usually used.  For those having only a larger motor, then the use of a bucket or drift sock may be needed, but if you do much of this style fishing here, a "Happy Troller" plate attached to your motor works really well.   Many only troll with the tide, and of course you can go both directions when it is slack.


Some fishermen only fish a slack tide either high or low.  Many prefer the low slack as it tends to concentrate the fish into lesser water for you to cover.


I have one friend who fishes these waters a lot for Coho.  He has found that you need to troll your gear WAY back, as the noise of outboard motros spoon the Coho.  So he usually just drifts with the tide and cast from the boat.  If another boar trolls by, he pulls over to the shore and waits 15 minutes.


Smaller boats seen here can be 10'-14' aluminum or fiberglass, car toppers, aluminum Jon boats, small river jetsleds, and kayaks may be observed.  But anything over a 16' or even an 18', or has a top can be harder to operate, or fish out of than say a 12' open boat in situations likely to occur here.


Fishing here is usually timed after the fish have left the bay, and in between the commercial gill netting dates when targeting Chinook.  If you are targeting Coho later on, there is usually enough of them swimming by the commercial gill nets in shallow water during high tide that the netting is of little consequence to numbers that survive and in the rivers.   Catching can be effected by any slight amount of rain that may push the fish that are holding bay upriver.   This upper area is not effected that much by floating debris as downriver in the bay except later in the fall when the leaves start falling from the alders and maples.  If any debris is in the water, it is not like the multitude of weeds of the lower river, but more small sticks, leaves, heavy weed shanks and usually shows more after the tide has turned and incoming than on the outgoing. 


Later when the Coho are in, casting spinners toward the shore or into the holes at low tide can also prove productive.   If there are fish jumping and splatting their tails on the water, these will usually will be Coho.  But just because they are jumping does not mean they are holding near the surface.  And many years ago someone said "A jumping fish is not a biting fish".   I have seen Coho stacked up in a area during a dry year (with no rain to allow them to move upstream) about mid October that will jump, turn sideways and fall back in the water.  It was explained to me that these fish were probably females that their eggs were matured to the point their bellies were in pain and they were trying to break the eggs to give them some relief. ??


Upriver Willapa :    Later in the salmon season after the fish move upstream into more freshwater, most fishing from a boat will occur near the upper limits of tidewater, at least about mid September and later, you may then consider moving upstream with the fish.   Boating water gets rather skinny at low tide above bridge #3 in the previous illustrated photo.  Above this, there is some bank fishing from about Menlo upstream to the Highway 6 bridge boundary, IF you can get landowner permission.


Wilson Creek Launch :  The farthest upriver launch is this one, it is reached  by turning off Highway 6 just east of the old WDOT weigh station about a mile before you get to the hill east of Raymond.  Heading west on Highway 6, take a right just before this unmanned weigh station, cross thru the next intersection, which Camp One Rd.  This intersection is a lazy X.  Cross it and take the Armstrong Rd. a short distance to where it tees into the Willapa Rd. , take a right there.  This will take you up the river, across the Willapa River bridge (#2 on the map above), thru the small community of Old Willapa and then across the low concrete bridge at Wilson Creek.  An immediate left turn just past the Wilson Creek bridge will put you into the launch parking lot.  The launch is on the main Willapa River with Wilson creek bordering the upstream side of the parking area.


Wilson Creek launch at near a medium tide.   These guys are just leaving for a afternoon try. Wilson Creek launch  again, but at a -1.70 tide (08-19-09)  These fishermen shown here had a motor with water pump failure & drifted back downstream to the launch.  So they were proceeding to bank fish before pulling the boat out because of the exposed ramp.


The Wilson Creek launch at the -1.70' tide as shown below at dead low water would be a formidable obstacle if you tried to launch and the trailer dropped of the end of the slabs.  The drop-off appears to be rather steep here.


Wilson Creek launch, with a -1.70 tide


This area is also called the Old Willapa, or Camp One area by the locals.  Fishing from this area you will be in the final tidewater area of the river. 


 Fishing for Chinook seems to be concentrated from about 1/2 a mile below the launch to just above the Camp One bridge.  Coho, when they are in seen to be spread out a little more & you will jst have to search them out.  Lures for them will usually be Blue Fox spinners in size 4 or 5, and brighter colors, however don't overlook a purple or black.  You might even want to have a few 3/8 to 1/2 oz to lead-head jigs in your tackle box.


The low tide difference here will be 2 hours after the ocean tide.  Most fishermen who consistently catch a number of fish here, confide that they like the low slack tide best, (about 2 1/2 hours before and a couple of hours after depending of the run-off) but not a minus tide.   The higher the low tide the better.  If the tide gets to being anything into the minus this gets the water flowing faster in the shallow water that creates excessively muddy and debris infected water.   Other fishermen tend to favor the high tide and troll the brush shore-line.   Also there are a few bank fishermen in this area that plunk or cast using eggs.  So take your pick.


South Fork of the Willapa :    This is a very short river, entering the main Willapa just west of the Weyerhaeuser mill in Raymond, with headwaters to the south in timber company lands.  The lower river is a windy tidewater slough type water that has no real bank access until you get upstream to near the golf course.  Access is from private property until you pass the golf course and then it gets into timber landholders property, but the river is getting rather small by this time.   Most of the lower part being tidewater.  It is not much of a floatable river and not really a lot of accessible bank fishing water. 


There is not a lot of salmon fishing going on in the river because the regulations prohibits retention other than Steelhead.  As of 2011 the WDFW opened this river for salmon fishing, however for hatchery fish only.  Now there is no hatchery here, so the only fish you can legally retain would be strays. 


The closest launch for the south fork would be the Raymond City Park launch if a high tide and run downstream, or the South Bend launch as described in the "Bay" article, and then run upriver to the mouth of the South Fork past the Port Dock and near the Weyerhaeuser mill.


Raymond City Park Launch :  This launch is not used much as shown from this picture for obvious reasons.  The rumor is that it was supposed to be dredged, but nothing has transpired for at least 15 years.   So it is basically a mid to high tide launch unless you plan on staying out for a while.  This launch is reached off  Highway 105 just as you exit Raymond, heading north toward Aberdeen.  Take the last street to the right just before the bridge, go past the Weyerhaeuser scale yard and the Pacific Pride refueling station.  Straight ahead is the city park, with baseball diamonds etc.   To the left there is a gravel parking lot and a skateboard ramp area.  At the far end of the parking lot are restrooms & the launch/docks.


Raymond City Park launch at about a -1.0 tide

North River :   This river is a decent sized river that enters on the north side of the bay.  At just over the 10 mile marker on Highway 105 going west from Raymond you will cross a new low concrete bridge that is over Smith Creek.  Traveling the highway close beyond this bridge, you will enter a long sweeping left hand corner and cross a new concrete high bridge going over North River.  The access for this area is actually the WDFW boat launch at the end and east of the Smith Creek bridge.  Launch here and head downstream (right) and about 100 yards after you clear the Smith Creek bridge, you will enter North River.   Heading up river above the bridge, stay to the left of the row of piling, crossing over below the first houseboat.  Do not get near the RH shore until you get near the houseboats.  Most of the late fall fishing will be upriver from here.


However in this system, be on the outlook for dead-heads in the water. 


Since there is no Chinook hatchery on this river because of low wild fish escapement, you can pretty well bet that about all the fish found here will NOT be fin clipped.  And no salmon season until October 1 to protect these wild Chinook, as this river is primarily open for Coho and Steelhead.  However there is still a private Coho and Steelhead enhancement going on there.  Current regulations (2015) the only fish you can retain will be Steelhead and Coho.


Most of the fishing for Coho will be after the first of October and into November before or into when the rains start.  Most of the fishermen will troll spinners, until they find a school, and then they may break out the spinning rods and cast Blue Fox #5 spinners to them.


Here are some of the home-made & store bought spinners used  

This river system has lots of old piling in the river left over as remnants of old time logging days where log booms were tied up before rafting downriver to the sawmills.


Float-house row.  This is the first of many of these houses you will see on this river


This is a pretty laid back trolling fishery, with a smattering of casting spinners thrown in.  Fishing here there is not a lot of underwater debris until you get upriver to near the last houseboat.  Coho tend to stack up there at low tide in water that is about 4' deep  


There is a slightly deeper area above the first row of houseboats that seem to be a hangout for Coho if they are in.


Here is a comfortable non luxurious unit

Smith Creek :   This creek is where you launched for going to North River, but instead of heading downstream from the launch to go to the bay, turn right and troll upstream.   Boat-able water may only be a little over a couple of miles depending on the tide.  The method of fishing here is the same as described above.


Southern Part of the Bay :  


Palix River :   Here is where the Palix WDFW or Bay Center launches can be utilized.  This is a smaller shorter river, but does have a run of wild fish in it.  However the WDFW regs catch and release except 2 hatchery Steelhead may be retained.   For salmon, minimum size 12".  Daily limit 6 up to 2 adults may be retained.  Release Wild Chinook, Wild Coho, and Chum.   There is no hatchery here so only wild fish are returning to this river unless they are strays so not much effort is expended for salmon on this river.  The upper section of this river will be only fishable from the bank which has limited access.


Palix River boat launch


Nemaha River : This smaller river has no boat launch anywhere near it and is best fished from the bank, however public bank access is limited.  There is a salmon hatchery on this river. 

However the WDFW regulations below the Highway 101 bridge, catch and release except 2 hatchery Steelhead may be retained.   For salmon, minimum size 12".  Daily limit 6 up to 2 adults may be retained.  Release Wild Chinook, Wild Coho, and Chum.   Above Highway 101 bridge,  for salmon from Aug. 1 thru Jan. 31, minimum size 12".  Daily limit 6 up to 3 adults may be retained.  Release Wild Chinook, Wild Coho, & Chum.   Single point barbless hooks required


There is some bank access under the north side and immediately upstream of the Highway 101 bridge.


WDFW also owns property at the North Nemaha bridge, that has a small amount of bank access.


Naselle River :  The Naselle can produce salmon also, the closest launch in LOWER tidewater is the Long Island Wildlife Refuge boat launch.   There is another launch upriver describe below.

There is a lot of bank fishing along this river south and east of Naselle.  But restrictions can be placed here because of a lot of snagging going on if the water is low because of no rain when the Chinook stack up.


Long Island Launch :   This launch is at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge headquarters and was actually set up for equipment and logging trucks to be ferried across from the mainland to the island.


This is a no charge concrete launch wide enough for 2 boats, with a dock on the south side and parking is across the road by the office. 


Long Island,  National Wildlife Refuge boat launch  & dock Long Island,  National Wildlife Refuge boat launch


Most boats fishing the LOWER Naselle River tidewater would launch here.  Launch here and head north, staying close to the piling markers on the east side of the channel most of the way out, as this channel is also narrow, shallow and is covered with oyster beds.  However I have navigated it with a 20' fiberglass deep Vee at a 0' tide.   You can make it if you go slow and are willing to back up and try another spot until you learn the channel.  You may only have 3' of water under you at times at a low tide. When the piling markers on the right side of the channel cease and you get to where the channel opens up, you will see a clay bank bluff on the western shore of Long Island ahead of you, head angling across the channel toward this bluff, then follow this shore until you come out into the mouth of Long Island and Stanley Peninsula where you take a right at the piling marker to the east and head up the main Naselle River. 


The lower Naselle River with the edges of the bay on the upper left corner


Naselle : Farther upriver there is also a small WDFW launch on the East side of Highway 401, Southeast of the town of Naselle that is good for only smaller sleds or drift boats.  Heading south from the town of Naselle on 401, one mile, turn left on the first road after the Naselle River bridge (South Valley Rd) and then almost immediately (100') another left on the Knapton Rd that appears to lead to a private parking lot.  On the far north end of this gravel lot and on the river's edge is a deep slot cut down the river bank is a concrete slab ramp.  However there is not a lot of current here so there will be some mud on these launch pads. 

Also in this section of the river, it can be fished much like the upriver Willapa from a boat.

WDFW Naselle boat launch near the town of Naselle


For salmon above the Highway 101 bridge the usual regulations are, minimum size 12" (HOWEVER THESE REGS CAN CHANGE YEARLY).  Daily limit 6 up to 3 adults may be retained.  Up to 2 may be wild Chinook.  Up to 2 may be wild Coho.  Release Chum.   Above Highway 101 bridge, catch and release except 2 hatchery Steelhead may be retained.   For salmon, minimum size 12".  Daily limit 6 up to 3 adults may be retained.  Release Wild Chinook, Wild Coho, and Chum.   As of 2013 other restrictions apply near the hatchery.


Copyright 2004 - 2018  LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated 8-21-04, Last updated 8-11-2018   *
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