Oregon Coast Salmon Fishing Trip

A friend of ours became well acquainted with an Oregon fishing guide, Bob Rees, and invited us to go on a salmon fishing trip out of Tillamook Bay. We of course accepted the invitation with the high hopes of returning home with a cooler full of fresh, frozen Chinook salmon. We planned a Wednesday through Monday mini-vacation, with all-day fishing trips scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Normally, we do the DIY thing, but this was by invitation from an old friend we hadn’t seen in several years, and it was a good chance to see where and how salmon are caught.

Guided Salmon Fishing in Tillamook Bay

garibaldi marina tillamook bay

Garibaldi Marina, Tillamook Bay

Our Oregon fishing guide, Bob, tows his 22-foot jet sled to whatever bay or river is having the best fishing at the time and for this weekend it was Tillamook Bay. We met him at 6:30am at the Garibaldi Marina on a foggy, rainy, cold morning. If there is one tip we can give you as far as preparing for a fishing trip in Oregon, it’s make sure you have really good rain gear. We’re talking Deadliest Catch type of rain gear. Three of us had Gortex rain gear and we all were soaked through after an hour. Luckily, Bob had some extra gear, but not enough to completely outfit all of us with jackets and pants. I used one of his heavy duty, thick, insulated jackets but had to use my own rain pants which I thought were heavy duty Gortex. I was soaked through after an hour. Same with two others that were on the boat who started off wearing their own gear.

Sonia’s Viewpoint of Salmon Fishing on the Oregon Coast

“The sea was angry that day my friends” (Costanza, 1994). Swells were 5-8 feet in the bay and 12-15 feet just beyond the bay breakwater. Fortunately disregarding everyone’s advice the previous day, I took my Bonine seasick pill several hours before the trip. Some took theirs on the boat while departing the dock – not enough time for it to kick in because they were barking at the buoys within the first hour. We started out in the open ocean because Bob had a halibut honey hole where 40+ lb halibut was caught the two previous days. We made several loops in these 15-foot swells, going uuupppp and dowwnnnn for at least an hour. That is what made three of of sick, but at least one of the sick guys caught a 20.5 lb Chinook Salmon during one of the loops. Bob also was going to put out his crab traps here, but decided not to because it was pretty rough and he wasn’t sure he could get back to them later in the day. So note, you need to buy a separate shellfish license in addition to the regular Oregon fishing license if you want to keep any crabs that Bob catches in his traps.

seasick in tillamook bay salmon fishing tripOur weather conditions for that day were apparently unusual. September is one of the best times to go Salmon fishing. The weather on the previous days was much nicer, sunny at times, no big swells and everyone limited out by mid-morning. So we don’t want to scare you into thinking this is the norm. Just want you to be prepared. Take warm clothes, proper rain gear and if the forecast is calling for big swells and you are prone to seasickness, take something at least 1-2 hours before departing. You can even take it when you go to sleep the night before because one pill will last all day. By the way, this is why we do not have any fishing photos or video on the boat. Beside our cameras not being waterproof and not wanting to get them wet because it was pouring rain, it took all my strength not to get sick by focusing on the horizon or land. If I had tried to get the camera out from the compartment under my seat, I would have lost it.

We eventually motored back to the calmer bay waters and did several loops, but no joy. We then returned back to the dock for a bathroom break and our friend (who caught the only fish so far) and I decided to call it a day. We both were seasick, wet and cold and had enough. I came to the conclusion that although I enjoy eating fresh salmon, I don’t like it enough to be tortured in order to catch it. Now Dan will tell you about the rest of the fishing trip since I was sitting warm and cozy at the beach rental while he preferred to still fish, no matter what the conditions were. Glad he did, otherwise our freezer would not be filled with salmon fillets :).

Dan’s Viewpoint of the Fishing Trip

Just lucky to never have been seasick, I know my time’s coming, but not this day.  I didn’t think the swells were all that bad and I was stoked when Bob mentioned that the day before, they caught a 49 inch, 49 lb halibut at the spot we were fishing that morning.  I thought we were only fishing for salmon.  This was my first salmon/halibut fishing trip, heck it was my first time wetting a line in the Pacific.

I was even more stoked when our friend hooked a big salmon.  I didn’t get to watch the first part of the fight, because I was racing to pull my gear out of the water, then secure it so the 16 oz. lead weights would,’t crack somebody’s skull.  John appeared to have a hard time working his way from the front of the boat and holding the rod with the big fish on at the same time.  He finally made it to the stern so Bob could net the fish.  I guess the swells were rocking us pretty good.

I wasn’t sure what the laws were about which fish were keeper’s or not.  Heck, that was the guide’s job.  If I was fishing own my on, I would have taken the time to know.  I figured I could learn all the rules and how to tell the different species from Bob.  I knew some species (in some places) could only be kept if their adipose fins had been clipped, marking them as hatchery raised fish.

When John’s fish was finally netted and brought on board, I assumed that already meant it was a keeper, since fish that have to be released should not be pulled out of the water.  When Bob pulled out his club and thumped the Chinook salmon in the head a couple of times, I even remarked “I guess that means it’s a keeper”.  That salmon was the largest fish I had ever seen caught.

Part II of Fishing Tillamook Bay – Catching More Salmon

After our mid-day break to let all the small bladders and land lubbers off the boat.  I was surprised that John wasn’t going back out.  He had even worked on a lobster boat when he was younger.  I guess that shows me how bad being seasick can be.  We headed straight back out after Bob weighed and filleted John’s fish for him.  I can’t believe we didn’t get a picture, but Sonia had the camera and she was already gone.

It rained almost the entire second half of the day, but it wasn’t very rough because we stayed in the bay.  I was a little disappointed we didn’t go back out in the ocean to the “halibut hole”, but it may have been a wise decision.  I was also hoping that we were going to set some crab traps too, but we did not.

Fishing Opportunities for Both Chinook Salmon and Halibut

chinook salmon

Chinook Salmon ( Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

halibut fishing

Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis)

There were four lines in the water and we trolled back and forth along the main channel in the bay up to the inlet to the ocean.  After about 30 minutes, I had one hard strike, but the fish was not hooked. When I checked the bait, there was a serious bite mark in the bait fish.  We replaced it and kept trolling.

The One That Got Away – Dang!

After about an hour, I had another hard strike and Bob reminded me to not pick the rod up too early.  When I did pick it up, it was obvious that another big fish was on.  The fish took out line whenever he wanted and I cranked it back in when it let me.  The salmon came to the surface and raced across the back of the boat.  I had to hold the line  as high as possible to avoid the other lines that were not reeled back in yet.   I worked my way to the back of the boat and had to hold the rod down in the water to avoid the prop when the fish ran under the boat.  Bob was ready with the net and I had retrieved all the line up to where the gear was almost in the first eyelet on the rod.  All I had to do was pull the rod tip straight up and bring the fish to the net.  As I did, the line went slack and the fish was gone.

Dang! (PG version) The biggest fish I had ever hooked in my entire life and I let him get off!  How? Why?  What happened?  No answers.  We were fishing with barb-less hooks, which were required to fish in the ocean, but not in the bay.  But there was always tension on the line.  Arrrggghhhh!!! shoulda… coulda… woulda… O.K… I’m done with my tantrum.  Where there is one, there is another.

The One That Didn’t Get Away: Salmon Fishing Success – 23 lbs!

I forgot it was raining while trying to reel in that fish.  I was fishing and facing to the starboard side of the boat and half the time, the wind would be blowing rain in my face.  If Bob noticed our gear bouncing on the bottom, he would let us know and since he was watching the fish finder/depth meter, he would also let us know when to  lower our rigs.  I kept looking into the rain because I wanted to watch the rod tip, so I could always keep the weight off the bottom.  I imagine that the heavy weight would kick up a big sand or silt storm as it bounced on the bottom and that probably would not entice fish to bite.  So the more time the rig and bait were in the a good position, the more chance of getting another bite.

I was driving with an old friend years ago when we passed a golf course where guys were playing golf in the rain.  He obviously didn’t appreciate golf.  “Can you believe that?” he asked “Look at those idiots playing golf in the rain”.  But even before I could respond, he added “I would fish in the rain”.  Thinking about what he had just said, I looked at him and smiled.  He immediately broke out laughing.  I said “I guess we all have something we like enough to do in the rain”.  He agreed, then quickly added, “But the fish bite good in the rain”.

Well it was still raining, so I was hoping the fish would bite good in the rain her in Tillamook Bay, though I knew my old friend was talking about freshwater fish on a lake.  But maybe it works here too.. Wham! I just got another strike.  This fish felt just like the first one that got off.  It took line whenever he wanted and I reeled line back when I could.  He zipped back and forth across the water behind the boat and I could tell it was another silver colored salmon, and just like the last fish, it went under the boat.  After the other guys got their lines out of the water, I worked my way to the back of the boat.  I was going to be more careful this time.  No unnecessary pressure.  I only raised the rod up and cranked line when the fish was giving me slack.  Just like the last fish, this one went back under the boat and I had the rod straight down in the water to make sure he cleared the prop.

Several times, I had the gear reeled all the way up to the rod tip.  Bob was waiting with the net, and said “Come straight up with him whenever you are ready”.  I thought to myself “Whenever he is ready”.  Several times when I thought he was ready, he would strip off 10 to 20 more yards of line and I slowly retrieved the line back in.  Then the last time I raised the rod, the salmon came to the surface and eased right into the net.  Yes! Fish in the boat!

I asked Bob and the other guys “How long did that take”?  It felt like I fought the fish for about 10 minutes, but guessed that it was only about 3 minutes or so.  They told me it did take about 10 minutes.  Awesome experience.  Biggest fish of my life. My only question… Was it bigger than John’s fish?  Everyone assured me that it was.  Ok. Let’s catch another.

That was the last fish we caught that day.  I was lucky to have had 3 bites, two fights and one fish in the cooler.  The other two guys fished all day also, and had only one strike to show for it.  Well that’s why they call if fishing.  Bob reminded us that the previous few days, everyone was limiting out on salmon (2 fish each) by 10:00 a.m. and they had caught halibut.

When we got back to the dock, Bob immediately weighed my fish at 23 lbs, and started to fillet it.  There was no sign of Sonia or the camera and nobody else had a camera.  After Bob had fillet the fish, Sonia and John came down to the dock.  I guess I could have gotten a picture of  the fish skeleton.  Naaa… don’t worry about it, it’s still raining.  I’ll take pictures later when we eat it.

Salmon Fishing in Tillamook Bay

As explained earlier, we didn’t get any video on the boat because of the rain & then the seasick person who had the video recorder didn’t return.  But the video below of salmon fishing in the Tillamook Bay is pretty similar to our experience (similar boat, weather and the size of the fish caught). One exception is they tagged out by 10am that morning with two fish each.

Preparing Salmon for Transport Home

We fished on Saturday and ate a nice meal of grilled Salmon Saturday night.  John took the remaining half of one side, leaving us with three whole salmon fillets.  I cut them into portions, put them in freezer bags and put them in the freezer on Sunday morning and they were frozen solid by Sunday night.  If we didn’t have access to a freezer, I would have used dry ice to freeze the fish in a cooler.  The three fish fillets weighed about 24 lbs total and at $15 per lb (price for fresh salmon in Oregon while we were there), that’s worth over $350, definitely worth doing.

Our Whole Chinook Salmon Fillets Before Being
Portioned for Transport in Cooler

chinook salmon oregon fishing

One side of 23lb Chinook

chinook salmon fishing

Top & Bottom Pieces Cut into Single Size Servings

chinook salmon fishing fillet

Cross Section ~1.25″ Thick

The salmon were already cut into fillets (not true fillets, since the rib bones and the skin was still attached).  I cut the tail portions off each side to be smoked.  Then separated the top half of the sides, which are the thickest portions and are the most consistent portions in thickness, from the bottom halves at the horizontal septum that separates the muscle groups. The bottom halves are thicker where the cuts were made at the septum, but are very thin in the rib area.

salmon fishing oregon coast

Cooler full of salmon fillets, frozen with dry ice for the airplane ride home.

A note for anyone looking for dry ice to transport their fish along the North Oregon Coast.  We found dry ice at the Fred Meyer Stores in Tillamook and in Warrenton.  We were told The Safeway in Seaside had dry ice, but they no longer sell it.  The Safeway employees sent us to another place, but they also didn’t have dry ice.   An online search also indicates that dry ice can also be found in Astoria at the Astoria Ice Co.

Coolers with frozen fish or meat and dry ice can be shipped by the airlines.  The amount of dry ice needs to be five lbs or less.  The dry ice container needs to be clearly labeled and must display the weight of the dry ice.  We arrived at the ticket counter with our cooler with the dry ice and a roll of duct tape.  After they inspected and weighed the dry ice, labeled the cooler and charged me $25, I taped the cooler shut.  Homeland Security must have also wanted to see inside, because the tape was cut and the cooler was marked as inspected, but at least they did re-tape the cooler.  We arrive home later that day and there was still plenty of dry ice.  I think there still would have been enough dry ice even if the cooler didn’t arrive until the next day.

We’ll be Back for DIY or Guided Salmon Fishing

We will do this again, though Sonia says she may never get in a boat again, I am hoping that she will change her mind and we get her back out fishing again on a calm sunny day.  I can see making an annual pilgrimage to Oregon to see old friends, fish for salmon, halibut and crab and bring lots of great fish back home in a cooler.  Our friend assured us that if he is still in the area, he will have a boat next year, so we could DIY fish.  We saw many people fishing the river banks and from the shore at the inlet in the bay, but I definitely think a boat is the way to go, especially if you want to fish for halibut, which we do.  If we can’t get access to a boat, I will definitely go fishing again with our guide Bob Rees.

I am not 100% sure yet of all the limits on Salmon, and the seasons and quotas may change for 2012, but for 2011 wild Fall Chinook Salmon in Tillamook Bay (Aug. 1-Dec. 31), each person is limited to two fish per day, with a total of four salmon in a seven day period.  The Chinook Salmon season in the ocean in the Geribaldi area (Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain) in 2011 was Mar 15 – Sept. 30.  The limit for halibut is one fish per day with an “on land” possession limit of three halibut, so you will have to eat halibut if you want to catch more than three.  The “near shore” halibut season for 2011 is May 1 to Oct. 31 or until 13,800 total lbs harvested in the Geribaldi area. The Tillamook Bay is also open to fin-clipped Steelhead year round.  Current Fishing Regulations from Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

I think the perfect trip for me would be to drive instead of fly.  I don’t get excited about flying anymore and to tell the truth, I was skeptical that the airline employees and Homeland Security could keep their paws off my fish.  It would be one long day of driving, but we would have our own vehicle and not need a rental car and we could transport more fish back home in coolers and not worry about it getting lost and spoiling.

July, Aug. and Sept are the three driest months along the North West Oregon Coast, but wet weather begins to return in October, so as we found out, it can be rainy by mid to late September.  I would plan on staying four or five days to be able to fish for two or three days in descent weather, but you had better be prepared for fishing in the rain.  It looks like the best chance to catch good fish is late September, but the best chance for good weather might be early September.  If you wanted to catch more than four Chinook salmon, you will have to stay at least eight days.  In addition to fishing, red rock crab and Dungeness Crab are also available to catch in crab pots, which were available for rent at the marinas.  Our guide also had crab pots for us to use, but it was just too rough to set them out and retrieve them.

Oregon Coast Vacation – Part II of the salmon fishing trip which covers more about getting a vacation rental, restaurant reviews, Oregon coast beaches and other activities to do while not fishing.

Bob Rees, Oregon Fishing Guide – We were impressed with our fishing guide who seemed to have a lot of knowledge not only about catching fish, but also about Oregon fisheries in general.

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