August 28, 2023
In 1993, I was a 29-year-old Ohioan who, while attending a writers’ conference in Portland, Ore., met a young lady. Julie was a Washington State native and, much to my delight, loved the outdoors. Hunting, fishing, camping, gardening, retrievers, firearms—it was a match made in heaven.
The conference quickly become priority No. 2, replaced by exploring the Pacific Northwest with my impromptu guide. During that week, I was introduced to the Columbia River, the Cascades and Mount St. Helens, to name just three adventures. But it was the coast, and Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, that captivated me the most. Never had I seen a place so full of outdoor opportunity.
Today, some 30 years later, my then-guide is now my wife, and has been since 1999. There’s been quite a bit of water under the proverbial bridges since those early days, but what hasn’t changed is my deep-seated love for the Long Beach Peninsula and everything it has to offer the outdoor enthusiast.
WHERE IS THE LBP?
The simplest way to find yourself on Long Beach Peninsula (LBP) is to follow the Washington side of the Columbia River, via State Route 4, west until you almost drive into the Pacific Ocean. That’s the LBP. Actually, depending on where you originate, accessing the LBP is pretty easy from any direction.
From Astoria, Ore., drive over the 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge, take a left at the light and drive straight on to Ilwaco. From there, head north on Highway 101 into Seaview and the heart of Long Beach. From Washington’s Interstate 5, take Allen Street (Exit 39) west from Kelso through Longview onto the Ocean Beach Highway and follow the signs. For those driving from Olympia and Seattle, it’s an easy drive south on I-5 to Highway 6, west to Raymond and South Bend on Willapa Bay, and south on Highway 101. At the stop sign, turn right and follow the bay to the LBP.
Long Beach Peninsula is a 28-mile-long sandy spit that runs north and south between the Pacific Ocean to the west and Willapa Bay to the east. Technically, the LBP goes from the town of Ilwaco on the south side to historic Oysterville at the northern end before terminating at Leadbetter Point State Park. Along the way, visitors will pass through the towns of Seaview, Long Beach, Klipsan and Ocean Park, all of which offer lodging, restaurants and everything one might need for a grand outdoor adventure.
A word to the wise: Driving on the beach, which is considered a state highway and has enforced rules, including a 25-mph speed limit, is permissible. However, it’s easy to get stuck, expensive to get pulled out and, most of all, flood tides aren’t choosey about the type of vehicle they submerge.
Anglers will find a plethora of saltwater-fishing opportunities awaiting on Long Beach Peninsula. The difficult part is deciding what to fish for on any given day.
Redtail surfperch are excellent on the dinner table, range from 10 to 15 inches in length, typically are not too picky about what they eat and are a popular species with anglers on the Peninsula.
Though abundant, redtail surfperch—or simply redtails—can be challenging to find along the 28 miles of beachfront, preferring deep-water slots and troughs as opposed to long, shallow flats. The best "perchers" will venture onto the beach at low tide, drive around to find these troughs, then fish them on the incoming (flood) tide. Wading is the preferred method of accessing these "saltwater crappies," but always keep safety in mind, as sneaker waves, unseen changes in water depth and rip currents can prove dangerous or even fatal.
Perch tackle can be elemental. A sensitive, medium-heavy- to heavy-power, 9- to 10-foot spinning rod matched with a reel spooled with 20-pound braid gets an angler started. Terminal tackle consists of a “high/low” rig or, better yet, a double-hook, pre-tied crappie rig, with two No. 6 Aberdeen hooks spaced about 12 to 16 inches apart and a 2-ounce sinker clipped to the bottom of the setup. Common baits include razor clam necks (available in freezers up and down the LBP), salad shrimp tossed with garlic powder, nightcrawlers and 2-inch Gulp! Sandworms in the camo color.
At the southernmost end of the LBP is Cape Disappointment State Park. Here, anglers will find the North Jetty, one of two jetties built at the mouth of the Columbia River (the South Jetty is on the Oregon side) to slow the deposit of sand and sediment into the all-important shipping channel. The jetty, while accessed through the state park, is the property of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Although wildly popular year-round, extreme caution is strongly advised when on the North Jetty. Any number of bad things—slips, falls, shifting boulders, weather, waves—can turn a good day into a not-so-good day rather quickly.
However, fishing opportunities abound on and around the North Jetty. Surfperch are caught on the ocean side, while the river side provides excellent angling for black sea bass, ling cod and, come August and September, fresh-from-the-Pacific silver salmon. Crabbing, too, is quite popular from the North Jetty, with Dungeness seekers plying the waters closer to Waikiki Beach with "crab snares" baited with oily fish, including smelt, anchovies, spawned-out salmon carcasses, and squid or chicken scraps.
CHARTERS FOR HIRE
The ports of Chinook and Ilwaco, both at the southern end of the Peninsula, are hotbeds of charter operations. Whether it’s salmon, sturgeon, black sea bass, ling cod or Dungeness crab, there’s someone in the ports who can lend a hand, plus everything else you’re going to need.
"As far as I’m concerned," says Butch Smith, owner/operator of CoHo Charters in Ilwaco (cohocharters.com), "we have the best salmon fishing on the West Coast right here in Washington."
While Smith’s fleet offers both halibut and catch-and-release sturgeon angling during the month of June, he’s quick to add, "The end of June through July and August is definitely prime time for salmon out of Ilwaco. The Peninsula has a lot to offer the entire family, along with some fantastic fishing. Entertainment, dining, shops. It’s all here."
Despite being surrounded on three sides by saltwater, the LBP has plenty to offer those looking to wet a line in freshwater.
If it’s trout you’re looking for, these come courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the form of hatchery-raised rainbows stocked throughout the spring, with periodic off-the-schedule stockings as facility production or surpluses allow. These are catchable trout, each measuring roughly 10 inches and weighing half a pound or so. They’re excellent on the table and as eager to hit a variety of baits and lures as any swarm of stunted farm-pond bluegills. On the LBP, both Black Lake, near Seaview, and Loomis Lake, 6 miles north of Long Beach proper, receive stockings and can provide great fishing opportunities for the entire family. Black and Loomis lakes have unimproved launch facilities for trailered skiffs, though many anglers find canoes, kayaks and even float tubes to be better options.
Black and Loomis lakes also support good populations of yellow perch, along with largemouth bass, which can weigh 3 to 5 pounds or more. Daybreak often sees an active topwater bite for largemouths (think weedless hollow-body frogs), giving way to mid-sized spinnerbaits and Beetle Spins fished just below the surface as the sun rises. There’s an almost infinite number of privately owned smaller ponds up and down the LBP, so if you’re the sociable sort, knock on a few doors and ask for permission. On the LBP, you never know what might be biting.
BEFORE YOU GO
- Start planning your Long Beach Peninsula adventure now.
At the south end of the Peninsula, the Port of Ilwaco (portofilwaco.com) offers boat moorage, quaint shops and sundry stores, an incredible Saturday open-air market and charter services.
Moving north on the Peninsula, the Pacific County Tourism Bureau (visitlongbeachpeninsula.com) office sits at the corner of Highway 101 and Pacific Avenue, the main drag through the city of Long Beach. Here, visitors will find a variety of planning assistance, such as calendars of events, lodging listings, eateries and entertainment.
Just north of the Pacific County Tourism Bureau, the folks at the City of Long Beach (longbeachwa.gov) office can point you in the right direction whether you seek information on fishing, boating, hiking, camping, or anything outdoors.
And finally, no visit to the Peninsula is complete without a stop at Jack’s Country Store (jackscountrystore.com) in Ocean Park. Founded in 1885 while Washington was still a largely uncharted territory, Jack’s has everything from a large selection of fishing tackle to fresh Willapa Bay oysters and excellent jalapeno brats—with steamed buns, of course.
Numerous lodging and dining options exist up and down the Peninsula.