For the novice angler, the young or the old, the family group, the inexperienced, it's tough to beat the Pacific Ocean experience aboard a charter fishing boat out of Westport.
Forget the salmon charters. They're fine for the experienced, hard-core fisherman looking for a 20-pound chinook. Opt instead for one of the popular bottomfish trips, where 10-fish limits of black rockfish -- "sea bass" -- are pretty much the rule and an additional limit of two lingcod a distinct possibility.
Lots of easy-to-catch fish, lots of action, and a lot of fine eating carried off the boat in plastic bags at the end of an exhilirating day.
The Westport charter industry has changed since its heyday in the 1950s, when it billed itself as "The Salmon Capitol of the World" and was almost exclusively an adult male milieu of beer, cigars and profanity. And spitting. And hungover party boys, draped across the rail, talking to Ralph.
By necessity the fleet has become family friendly, particularly the boats that carry a high percentage of inexperienced anglers out for bottomfish.
"Our skippers and deck hands are tuned in to the beginners," said Merle Lundell at Westport Charters."They take extra time and offer extra service, from the front office down to the boats. We all want those folks to come back."
"The rough old fishery of the '50s has become civilized," said Kelly Westrick, whose husband, Steve, is president of the Westport Charter Association. "We still like to have fun, but drunken or rowdy behavior is not tolerated."
The boats are big -- 50 feet, give or take -- safe, and Coast Guard licensed, and will be fishing black rocks and lings through September. The rockfish run 2 to 4 pounds or so, and lings average 7 or 8 pounds. Unlike a lot of other rockfish species, blacks do not hug bottom, choosing to school higher in the water column. So instead of dredging fish up from 300 or 350 feet -- a hard day's labor -- anglers often hit the sporty little blacks at 60 to 120 feet, and sometimes find schools as shallow as 20 or 30 feet. Flip a live anchovy out into a milling pod of fish that close to the surface and have a ball.
Some experienced anglers, in fact, bring their own tackle -- it's lighter than the boat provides -- simply to more fully enjoy the scrappy little fighters. Westrick said customers are welcome to bring their own gear, except that no braided line is allowed aboard.
Boats leave the dock at 6:30 a.m., zero in on rockfish schools until limits are pretty much in hand, then change bait from anchovies to herring and plug lingcod habitat into the GPS on the way back. When the skipper finally fires up the diesels and heads for home, the deckhand gets busy filleting rockfish ($7 for a 10-fish limit) and lings ($2 or $3 each), and it's an amazing process to watch. These kids are wizards with a fillet knife.
The boat is back at the pier by 3 or 4 p.m., your fish are bagged, and you're on your way.
Bottomfish trips cost $120 per person for a weekday, $135 for a weekend day, the same as salmon trips, and $185 ($195 weekend) for a combination salmon/bottomfish trip. Charters provide tackle and bait, but no lunch or license. Every angler 15 and older must have a state fishing license, the most popular of which is the one-day ticket at $11. Charters recommend a minimum age of 8 years, Westrick said.
Because salmon fishing out of Westport is closed Fridays and Saturdays, people driving a considerable distance to get there often combine a day of bottomfishing on one of those days with a day of salmon fishing on Thursday or Sunday, respectively.
While weather is often better in summer than other times of year, and the ocean often flatter, seasickness is still a concern for many people, and with reason. If you've never been through a bout of mal de mer, believe all of us who have: it's a really, REALLY unpleasant experience. There are a number of prescription and over-the-counter motion sickness medications, but Westrick says that in her experience, the best bet is a prescription from your physician for the scopolamine patches. Then get plenty of rest the night before and eat only a light breakfast the day of the trip.
Wear rubber boots, preferably, or rubber-soled gym-type shoes, dress in layers, and bring rain gear and a cooler for your fish.
One of the things I particularly like about Westport is that it hasn't gone upscale like Ocean Shores, on the other side of Grays Harbor, and a family can get in a couple of days of quality vacation time on a tight budget. Most of the motels in and around town were built in the 1950s and while many have been refurbished and are perfectly clean and presentable, they rent for a pittance by today's standards. Get on the web and check it out; you'll be amazed.
"Compared to Ocean Shores we live a lot cheaper here," Lundell said. "We're still just a little, working fishing village. Except for Westport by the Sea (condos) and Chateau Westport (the only indoor pool in town), most of our accommodation is composed of refurbished '50s fishermen's motels."
• Fishing seasons, species, limits and other regulations at www.charterwestport.com/seasons.html.
• Current conditions, catches at http://charterwestport.com/fishingreport.php.
• To contact your favorite charter service or access a complete listing of charters in Westport: www.charterwestport.com.
• Other things to do in Westport: www.experiencewestport.com.
• Accommodations, motels, B&Bs, RV parks, camping, cabins, condos, house rentals: www.westportgrayland-chamber.org.
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