Tillamook Bay has for years been one of the most consistent producers of king salmon on the entire west coast. It’s tributaries, the Miami, Kilchis, Wilson, Trask, and Tillamook Rivers (listed north to south) receive a yearly spawning escapement that averages around 30,000 kings. Stuff that many fish in an area the size of Tillamook Bay and you’ve got yourself a serious king salmon destination.
Not only is the bay famous for it’s numbers of fish, it also resounds as one of the best spots on the west coast to tussle with a trophy class king over 50 pounds. From mid-September to as late as Christmas hordes of anglers descend upon the bay and it’s tributaries looking for a crack at a tackle-busting king. Like most salmon fisheries, however, 10% of the fisherman catch 90% of the fish, and Tillamook Bay is no different. Guide Tim Marshall of Fishing Oregon Guide Service has lived in Tillamook and made a living guiding customers into king salmon on the bay for nearly 20 years.
Like most successful Tillamook guides Tim takes a technical approach when hitting the bay in search of kings. He watches the tides and the movement of fish with a keen eye and stays with the fish as much as possible. It’s no surprise that early in the season most of the fishing will occur lower in the bay, with fish moving in and out with each tide and their feeding patterns still tuned primarily into herring. As the fish acclimate to the bay and begin to move upstream, however, hardware like spinners and Kwikfish begin to dominate the scene and will see most of the action in the upper reaches of the bay.
Area 1-This area fishes well from just south of Painted Rock all the way to the tip of the north jetty. Trolling herring on an 18″ to 24″ dropper is the gig here and most people will use blues and purples fished whole, cut plug, or in a nose clip. Green label herring also works well in this area, as with the rest of the bay, and many of the Tillamook guides will have a package or two of green label on board in case the fish prefer a smaller bait.
Weights range from 6 oz. to as much as 20 ounces and it’s important to match your weight to the current speed, always trying to maintain no more than a 45 degree angle on the lines. Use a sliding rig for the dropper to allow the weight to slide up the line should you be unfortunate enough to hang the weight in the net when reaching for a fish. With a slider rig the fish is still free to peel off line and make a run.
Grass, grass, and more grass! Tillamook Bay is loaded with grass and any big tidal fluctuation is going to mobilize the float-sam and make your job of trolling much more difficult. Either try to pick a trolling lane that has clean water or plan on checking your baits frequently to free them of weeds. A simple trick that most Tillamook guides will use to keep their swivels from fowling is to slide the tube from a ball point pen or from a small syringe over their swivels to keep them from fowling. Running two bead chains instead of one is also recommended. A second bead chain placed about two feet below the first one can save the headache of having a twisted up birds nest every time you send your herring down.
The key to success in the mouth of the bay seems to be finding the fish and then sticking with them. On large tides it may be necessary to back troll against the current and cover a small area until the tides backs off. When the tide backs off, however, is when you want to cover some ground and look for biting fish. A note of caution to anglers fishing in smaller boats. The mouth of Tillamook, also known as the “Jaws”, can see tremendous currents during big tides. Small skiffs and boats not built to handle this kind of tidal movement can find themselves in big trouble once the tide starts pushing here.
Both the north and south jetty’s have both been broken down by winter storms over the years and actually extend under the surface a ways beyond the end of the jetty. Though it looks clear to troll across the end of the jetty, doing so will find you re-tying all of your gear. Waves also break over these underwater jetty’s with regularity, making it a somewhat unsafe area to fish.
Crabbing-In addition to great fishing there are also some great spots to catch dungeness crab in the bay. The area on either side of the main channel between Painted Rock and Barview in 15 to 30 feet of water is excellent crabbing, as is the shore along Kincheloe Point. Remember that the deeper water in the main channel is usually full of boats trolling, so plan on placing pots well out of the trolling lanes. On big tides it’s best to set pots on either side of the tide change and don’t plan on leaving them out thru the tide, as they’re likely to get pulled under with the current.
Crab pots can be rented or purchased at Garibaldi Marina (800-383-3828/503-322-3312). Tillamook Bay Boathouse (503-322-3600), located within the Garibaldi basin, has a fuel dock and they carry fresh crab, salmon, and bottomfish, as well as oysters and clams when in season. If that isn’t enough, you can even bring your own crab in and they’ll cook them for you right in the boathouse for a nominal fee.
Area 2-This area fishes best from just west of the Coast Guard station clear past Garibaldi and south to the famous Ghost Hole. Herring trolled on a dropper is still the gig here. A 40 to 50 foot deep area just off the Coast Guard station holds fish well during big tides. The entire area fishes well, however, and anglers do best here by covering water to find the fish. Weeds and floating debris are a major problem here and success usually comes from finding water free of debris. Watch for nets flying, as bites can be very localized and short.
Garibaldi Marina is located in the boat basin right next to the launch and is a great source for fishing information and general local knowledge. They have rental boats, tackle, maps, bait, and rent and sell crab pots and rings. Garibaldi Marina (800-383-3828/503-322-3312)
Area 3-This is the famous Ghost Hole and like the rest of the north bay is fished best with either whole or cut plug herring. Herring will dominate the catch here, but don’t be afraid to toss out a spinner like the Bob Toman Thumper or a sardine-wrapped silver/chartreuse Kwikfish in K-15 or K-16 here, as finicky fish will sometimes turn to gear in the Ghost Hole as they become more acclimated to the bay and freshwater. This is where the bay really begins to shallow up and it’s best to stick to the deep water, as a journey across the shallows will usually find you high and dry until the tide comes back in.
For the spinner rig most guides will use a three way swivel and will attach from 1 to 3 oz. of lead to keep it near the bottom. Unlike the north areas of the bay which can require a healthy chunk of lead to get down, the Ghost Hole is relatively shallow and requires less lead to find the bottom.
Area 4- This is the “Bay City Hole”. Herring, Kwikfish, and spinners all find equal action here and don’t be surprised to run into more silvers here, as the silvers generally seem to bite better as they get further up into the bay. This area fishes best at the top of the tide as water brings the fish in. Like the Ghost Hole the water is also skinny, skinny, skinny here and keeping to the deep water will keep you out of trouble.
Jet boats and shallow draft skiffs get the job done here, as larger boats with outdrives aren’t going to go far due to the shallow water. The “Bay City Hole” is shallow enough to start flat-lining the Kwikfish instead of running them off of a dropper. The “Bay City Hole” can also be a good producer during the winter months for sturgeon. Sand shrimp and mud shrimp work well for these prehistoric creatures.
A special note about handling lures and baits. Humans have an amino acid in our skin called Serine that repels fish, especially scent-sensitive fish like salmon. Successful Tillamook guides like Tim either wear latex gloves to keep from leaving this scent on their baits or they wash their hands religiously. If gloves aren’t your thing, a product called Smell Repel made by Smelly Jelly thoroughly washes most oils out of your hands. Tim will wash his hands thoroughly and will usually follow that up by applying bait oils directly to his hands. Another trick is to wash your hands thoroughly with Joy soap and then apply a liberal amount of Pepsident to your hands to eliminate any scent. Whether you wear gloves or wash your hands, be aware of the scent trail your emitting behind your baits.
Area 5-The Coral, also know locally as “Rays Place”. This area located between the Bay City Hole and the north end of the Dick Pt. Dike. Troll the deep water along the wing dike with spinners or sardine-wrapped Kwikfish. This area fishes best on either side of the high tide. Another deep trench exists just south of the wing dike by the dolphin pilings. Both areas are great for trolling and winter sturgeon can also be found here. Sand shrimp and mud shrimp are the ticket for the sturgeon.
Area 6-This is where the bay starts to get extremely shallow and sticking to the main channel is a must. Spinners and Kwikfish dominate in the upper reaches of the bay and this area is no different. This is mostly a high tide fishery with most of the action occurring in the deeper water along the Dick Pt. Wing Dike and the piling dikes along the Bay Ocean Rd. This area is best reached by the Memaloose Boat Launch located on the Bay Ocean Rd, as running to this area from the north can be extremely tricky due to the shallow water.
Bank fisherman can also score in here by parking along the Bay Ocean Rd and float fishing eggs along the wing dikes. The deep water outside the wing dikes is a major trolling lane, however, and etiquette and courtesy definitely go a long ways here.
Spinner fishing really begins to shine in the upper reaches of the bay. While some fish will paste a spinner and leave no doubt as to what’s going on, a good percentage of the fish that hit a spinner will be slack line bites. Instead of keeping the rods in the holders anglers fishing spinners need to be hanging onto their rods and ready to strike at all times. Keep a 45 degree angle on the rod and have the tip slightly canted toward the water so that a hook set can be delivered immediately should a slack line bite occur.
A slack line bite is just that, the line will go limp and the tip will come up, as the fish pick up the spinner going the same direction as the boat. The second the line goes slack the hook needs to be set immediately before the fish has a chance to release the spinner. Most first-time spinner fisherman will go home empty not even knowing that they were getting bit.
Area 7-Enter the South Channel from the north, as shallow water makes entering it from the south extremely tricky. The South Channel is a sleeper fishery, meaning it’s either sporadic or simply “asleep”. Fish can move in here on occasion, however, and if the bay is slow this is an area than can produce fish. Like the rest of the lower bay this is also a herring gig and fishes best from Kincheloe Pt. to south of Crab Harbor, again sticking to the deep channel. Sturgeon can also be found during the winter months here, typically after the first heavy rains of winter have brought a fresh shot of water to the bay.
Tips from Tillamook Guide Tim Marshall:
-If fishing is slow while trolling with herring try mixing up the rigging style (whole, cut plug, nose clip, etc.) to see if the fish want a different action to the bait.
-Run a double bead chain setup at all times when trolling herring in the bay to keep from fowling up
-Use a syringe tube or ball point pen tube to protect bead chains from fowling. Bead chain protectors can also be purchased at local sporting goods stores.
-Keep the rod in the holder when fishing for herring and wait for the rod to bury and stay there before grabbing the rod.
-When spinner fishing hold the rod and set the hook immediately if a slack line bite occurs
-Keep hands clean or wear gloves when handling tackle and bait
-When weeds are prevelant on the bay try to fish the edges where clean water can be found
-Be observant and watch for nets flying
-Keeps hooks razor sharp and check leaders after landing fish
-Use extreme caution when fishing around the entrance to Tillamook Bay (The Jaws) or outside in the ocean. Ocean swells and extreme tidal movements can make this area very dangerous for even the most experienced boater.
-Wash spinners and plugs in Joy soap after each fish is landed
-Work hard and be persistent.