No boat bottomfish: Jetty fishing on the Washington Coast
Cast from the rocks to bring home fresh fish tacos in this iconic spring and summer fishery.
Are you looking to go fishing and bring home delicious fillets for fresh fish tacos or fish & chips, but don’t have access to a boat? Maybe you just want to save on boat fuel or charter fees while sharing an iconic West Coast experience with friends and family?
In this post are suggestions for having a safe and fun day fishing off the rocks!
Fishing for lingcod, cabezon, and rockfish is open on the Washington Coast from March 12 through October 15 (Marine Areas 1, 2, and 3 and Marine Area 4 west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh Line; check the regulations for details). Jetties at Westport, Ocean Shores, and Cape Disappointment near Ilwaco offer opportunities to fish from shore that require minimal gear.
WDFW coastal region biologists and fishery managers have been working closely with federal and tribal partners to sustainably manage bottomfish (also known as groundfish) populations and fisheries, with several species off the coast of the Pacific Northwest rebounding in recent years. Healthy bottomfish stocks have allowed for expanded fishing opportunities, though work is ongoing to rebuild populations of slow-growing yelloweye rockfish.
Jetty fishing tips and tactics
Most jetty anglers use a stout 8- to 10-foot spinning rod to cast 1 to 2 oz leadhead jigs with plastic tails or swimbaits, letting them sink then quickly jigging them back to the rocks while trying to avoid snagging bottom (be sure to bring extra jigs, you will snag up at times). Green, white, silver, purple, and “motor oil brown” are popular jig or swimbait colors.
Another option is to fish herring, anchovies, sand shrimp or other bait rigged under a large sliding float with a stopper roughly 10 feet up the mainline, a 1 oz inline or sliding weight above a swivel, and two 2/0 or 3/0 hooks tied on a 4- to 5-foot leader.
Kelp greenling and striped seaperch are two other bottomfish species commonly caught from Washington jetties, and are tasty eating or excellent live bait for large lingcod.
30-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader works well for both casting jigs or fishing bait under a float as bottomfish are typically not leader shy and abrasion from sharp jetty rocks can quickly sever lighter lines. Anglers specifically targeting bigger lingcod with large swimbaits or live bait frequently use 50-pound test or even heavier leaders.
Unless you’re targeting surfperch, fishing is done on the calmer harbor side of the jetty, not into the breaking swell on the beach side. Be sure to review the local weather and swell forecast using sites like the National Weather Service’s weather.gov, or popular apps like MagicSeaweed or FishWeather. Fishing during smaller swell and lighter wind is highly recommended for safety and because inshore bottomfish hunker down when the waves are up.
Speaking of safety, jetties can be a dangerous environment with large, slippery rocks, sneaker waves, and other hazards. Anyone venturing onto the jetty should use extreme caution, wear proper footwear (hiking boots or felt-soled boots typically provide better traction than rubber boots), and not exceed their physical limit or experience level. Wearing a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is suggested, especially for children.
Carry a cellphone or handheld marine radio in case of emergencies, and make sure to tell friends or family where you’re going, how far out the jetty you plan to fish, and what time you expect to return. Each year the U.S. Coast Guard and local emergency responders deploy to incidents on our region’s coastal jetties; be prepared before heading out!
Regulations and additional resources
More information on jetty fishing, gear, and tips is widely available online or from local tackle shops. A Washington saltwater or combination license is required to fish from coastal jetties.
In Washington’s ocean marine areas the daily limit for lingcod is 2 per person, no minimum size. For cabezon the daily limit is 1 per person, no minimum size. And for rockfish 7 per person, no retention of yelloweye rockfish (a rockfish identification guide is available on this WDFW webpage). Note the personal daily limit of 9 total bottomfish not including surfperch and flatfish, and doublecheck the fishing regulations before heading out.
Be sure to follow all local rules and regulations, including jetty or State Park closures. More information can be found on the Cape Disappointment State Park (for access to the Columbia River North Jetty and Jetty A) and Westhaven State Park (for access to the Westport Jetty) webpages.
A trip to the Washington Coast makes a great family adventure with plenty to do in coastal communities for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages; from fishing and crabbing to surfing, beachcombing, and birdwatching.
Tourist tips and lodging details are available at sites such as experiencewestport.com and visitlongbeachpeninsula.com. The website positivelygroundfish.org also offers excellent recipes and tips for cooking your catch.