Bottom fishing has been excellent out of Westport this spring. Ling cod and rockfish stocks are both healthy, and some recovering stocks have rebounded enough that some rules have been loosened. Anglers can look forward to good bottom fishing opportunities for the rest of the season.
The fishing opened this year on March 9 and runs to the third Saturday in October.
Bottom fishing is easy and fun, and the least difficult of all ocean fisheries. The fish tend to be eager biters, and while they do fight well, the battle is easy enough that anyone can handle it.
That makes bottom fishing an activity that the entire family can enjoy.
The abundance of good fishing reefs nearby makes Westport, at the entrance to Grays Harbor, one of the best ports for chasing bottomfish. The charter fishing fleet here offers trips during the entire season.
Heather Hall is the coastal marine policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She reports that some troubled stocks, especially yellow-eye rockfish, are rebuilding well.
â€śThe yellow eye has been one of the more restraining species for our recreational fisheries on the coast,â€ť said Hall. â€śItâ€™s still managed under a rebuilding plan, but the last stock assessment showed that it is rebuilding quicker than we previously thought.â€ť
She explains that while anglers still may not keep the yellow-eye, managers were able to allow for an increase in the incidental catch.
â€śWith the higher (incidental) limit we can provide access to more fish like ling cod,â€ť added Hall.
The incidental catch limit for yelloweye rockfish last year was 7,275 pounds. The new limit is 17,196 pounds.
The daily limit for canary rockfish was also increased as a result of the strong populations. Anglers can now retain up to seven a day, up from two in previous years.
Fishing has been excellent so far, whenever the ocean is calm enough to fish.
Rebecca Fitzpatrick of Deep Sea Charters in Westport reports that the opening weekend of bottom fishing season was a rousing success.
â€śIt was superb,â€ť said Fitzpatrick. â€śWe had three boats go out, and they all limited with rockfish and lings. There were some pretty nice sized fish, too.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s been outstanding,â€ť said Rhett Weber, the captain of the â€śSlammerâ€ť, one of the Deep Sea Charters fishing fleet. â€śThere were a few days where we struggled with ling cod because the swell came up. High swell can throw the ling cod completely off.â€ť
â€śThe rockfish are mostly blacks in the spring,â€ť he said. â€śThe catch shifts more into yellowtails in the summer and fall because we are targeting deep water ling cod.â€ť
The deep-water ling cod fishery was expanded this year, another result of the strong rockfish stocks. There will be an additional two weeks in the beginning of June, and two weeks in September that are all-depth fisheries.
Weber is excited about that prospect, because that is when they catch the really big lings.
Even though the length limit for ling cod has been abolished, Weber tries to use the 24 inch mark as a minimum for keeping them.
â€śA 24-inch female ling is four years old, and 40 percent of them have already spawned once,â€ť said Weber. â€śItâ€™s a matter of pride. We try to use 24 inches as a minimum.â€ť
When the deeper waters are open, Weber reports catches of 20 to 30-pound ling are not uncommon.
His favorite bait for the big lings is flounder. On their run out to where the big lings wait, Weber will stop and catch a mess of small flounder.
â€śWe bait up with flounder, drop it to the bottom, crank up five turns and just wait,â€ť said Weber. â€śThe bite is instantaneous when they are home.â€ť
When he is fishing the shallower reefs in the spring and targeting the black rockfish, he likes to keep it fun. He sets his customers up with light trout rods and spinning gear with 10-pound test line. These are rigs that even children can handle well.
In fact, bottomfishing is a great way to introduce kids to fishing salt water. Itâ€™s fun, itâ€™s easy, you tend to catch a lot of fish, and the run to the reefs is usually fairly short. The fish are big enough to have fun with, but not so big that they are difficult to land them.
Add to that the fact that these are all great fish on the table, and its hard to go wrong with spending a day on the salt for bottomfish.
Regulations: A salt water fishing license is required: $30.05 for residents, $59.75 for nonresidents. Anglers can catch up to nine bottomfish per day â€” including up to seven rockfish, two lingcod, and one cabezon, plus three additional flat fish. A descending device must be onboard vessels and rigged for immediate use when fishing for or possessing halibut or bottomfish.
Deep Sea Charters of Westport: 800-562-0151, https://deepseacharters.net/index.htm.