Salmon Fishing: Head For Tillamook Bay, Oregon!

Want to hook into torpedo-shaped salmon that blasts off like an NFL wide receiver? How about fishing an area, only a quarter mile wide, that on a bad year funnels 10,000 fall chinook into a bay? Or, on a good year–like 2015–up to 30,000?

Wilson's Head For Tillamook Bay 12-15 Bob and Eric
Bob George (right ) and son Eric with limits landed in shallow water.

It all begins at the Tillamook Bar, entrance to Tillamook Bay, west of the busy port of Garibaldi, which is about 80 miles west of Portland on the Pacific Ocean.

Tillamook Bay is the second largest bay in Oregon, fed by five salmon-producing rivers. We’re talking some of the best salmon fishing in the West.

Fall chinook, having spent 2- to 4 years carbo-loading in the ocean, nose into the Tillamook Bar, preparing to head up one of the rivers to spawn. They cruise in with the incoming tide, hang around for a while, then move back with the outgoing tide.

Savvy anglers know this is the time to head for the bar.

Donald Koskela, of Pastime Fishing Adventures out of Silverton, Ore., has clients from as far away as Germany coming to do battle with heavy fall chinook at the Tillamook Bar.

“I want to be on the bar at low slack tide and fish the incoming,” Koskela explains. “At low slack you have more options. You can use less lead, fish both directions, even cross current. Salmon become more active at low tide.”

Salmon feed on herring and anchovies in the ocean. Consequently, plug-cut herring becomes the bait of choice for most anglers fishing the bar.

Chinook salmon travel near the bottom. Currents on the bar can be strong. Heavy sinkers — up to 16 ounces — may be needed to get bait down to them.

Some Techniques to Fish The Area
Fish The Incoming Tide
Bar conditions permitting, run out to the jaws, drop gear down and follow the tide in. After a good run, reel in, run back out and do it again. Mark where fish are being hooked.

Fish The Outgoing Tide
Simply reverse the above procedure.

Your objective is to nose the boat into the current and adjust your speed to keep the boat in one place and let fish on the move come to you. Or, adjust speed to allow the current to slowly push you back, covering more water.

Fish Deep
The key is to keep your bait near the bottom.

“With a big tidal swing you will need 16 ounces to reach the zone,” Koskela adds. Most anglers use either a spreader, or slider, with 12- to 16-inch dropper line for the cannon ball sinker, and 5- to 6-foot leader with two hook mooching rigs.

Gear Guide
For strong currents, use heavy sinkers and heavy gear.

Koskela prefers the following gear:

  • 10-foot Lamiglas rod with sensitive tips that will handle loads
  • Shimano Tekota line-counter reels
  • 65-pound-test braided line
  • Six-foot, 40-pound-test, mono mooching rigs with 5/0 barbed hooks
  • 18- to 20-inch dropper line with slider
  • Assorted cannon ball sinkers 8- to 16 ounces
Plug cut herring and mooching rig.
Plug cut herring and mooching rig.

More Areas to Fish
When chinook move in closer to their “mother” river, they have a six-mile, sock-shaped bay to explore. This is a whole new fishery!

Anglers have a variety of options to fish here. There are areas to fish with intriguing names such as Ghost Hole, Oyster House, West Side, Oyster House, and Memaloose.

Tillamook Bay is notorious for sandbars that change with storms. Many a careless boater has found out the hard way and wound up stuck in sand until a tide change floats them free. Good electronics are crucial.

How to Catch Them
Two primary methods of trolling are used in the bay. Deeper holes, use plug-cut herring fished near the bottom.

Later in the fall, salmon tend to concentrate in the upper reaches closer to the rivers. Water in this area is shallow. This is perfect for spinners…spinner water. Anglers troll trenches and small pockets 3- to 7 feet deep. Big chinook go ballistic when hooked in shallow water.

“What a thrill to hook 20- to 25 chinook trollin’ waters three- to seven feet deep,” Bob George of Salem, Ore., said, with a big grin. “They really hammer those #7 spinners.”

Use Caution
The Tillamook Bar can be one of the most dangerous bars on the Oregon Coast. Outgoing currents are strong, between four and six knots on the average. Its channel depth changes constantly.

Productive chinook spinners.
Productive chinook spinners.

Before you head out, get up-to-date information on conditions. Look at the bar cam before leaving home. Check the NOAA predictions, and be aware of Coast Guard restrictions.

Chinook begin to nose into the Tillamook Bar late in August/early September. The run usually peaks mid-October, but good numbers are still present well into December. Dedicated anglers have a shot at thousands of fresh fish passing through a constricted area.

So, when “The Bar” is closed, head up the bay! A bay that kicks out a few 35- to 40-pounders–and limits of 18-25 pounders—awaits!

Shop Sportsman’s Guide NOW for a great selection of Fishing Gear!


Top Photo: Tillamook October 2015: Terry Moore (left) and author with two Tillamook Bar 20-pounders!





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