The Humptulips River is one of Western Washington’s most popular fall salmon rivers, and for good reason. Even before the first fall rains cause salmon to flood upstream in the rising coastal rivers, Chinook (King), Coho (Silver) and Chum (Dog) salmon begin to stage in the tidewater stretch near the mouth of the Humptulips River.
It will be game on once we get a good soaker rain storm. Bring your favorite fall salmon tactics for Washington’s best coastal salmon fishing.
Humptulips River Fishing Season
Before the Humptulips River officially opens for fishing, all of us anglers are planning, scheming and eagerly awaiting some of the best small river salmon fishing anywhere in the great state of Washington.
The river usually opens in September, and the first rainstorm of the year is usually a few weeks away, the mighty Humptulips is but a puny trickle. When the river is below 500 cfs, floating the river in a drift boat can be a struggle. Eager boaters find themselves dragging heavy boats over long stretches of gravel and around any woody hazards that were left from last spring’s highwater.
Fish will still nose up into the lower river, but fishing action above Ocean Beach Road Bridge will really get going once we see the river rise substantially, bringing in big pushes of Chinook and Coho. Until then, anglers will have to seek out their favorite deep pool just above the Ocean Beach Road bridge in hopes of hooking those big brute Chinook that notoriously fill the Humptulips each year.
The last season was a good one. Many guides had consistent fishing for Chinook everyday. Coho were a little more difficult to come by early on. Wild coho began to show up in decent numbers by the third week of October, but even those anglers that easily caught their limits of Chinook had difficulty findy any keepable hatchery Coho.
Every year the seasons and the regulations change, so be prepared for anything!
One of the major factors that will determine just how good fishing gets on the Humptulips is water level. And while many guides have different opinions on what techniques work well at specific water levels, here’s a quick glimpse of river levels and what to do…
200 cfs – 400 cfs: pray for rain. Unless you seek out the river’s deepest pools and float fish eggs, there is little you can do to trigger a bite when there just aren’t many fish in the river. At this stage the river gets extremely difficult to navigate in a drift boat. Focus on the extreme lower end of the river and target waves of moving fish.
400 cfs – 600 cfs: Fish will move up into the deeper pools, so focus on those areas. Float fishing cured salmon eggs clusters can be effective when the water is low and the fish are pressured. At this water level there is a limited amount of fishable water, so the well known holes can become quite crowded.
600 cfs – 900 cfs: While still considered low water conditions, slightly higher water levels will flush fish upriver daily and offer a greater variety of pockets and pools where fish can be caught. Float fishing and backbouncing remain the most effective methods.
900 cfs – 1300 cfs: This water level opens up the gates for a variety of techniques. Twitching jigs, backtrolling small Kwikfish, float fishing and backbouncing produce fish. When the masses see the river at this stage on a weekend, beware, the river will be packed with boats and bankies.
1300 cfs – 2000 cfs: Consistent rains can push the river to this level. With higher flows, the deeper pools can become slightly difficult to float fish, but backbouncing cured salmon egg clusters will work well. Cast #4-#5 spinners or twitch jigs for aggressive Coho. Backtroll K14 and K15 sardine wrapped Kwikfish for a mixed bag of Coho, Chinook and Chums.
2000 cfs – 3000 cfs: High water, yet totally fishable. Anchor on the inside corners of the main current and deploy the sardine-wrapped K15 Kwikfish. At this stage, salmon will be travelling fast, so anchoring in those travelling lanes will be important to success. Cast #5 spinners in any slow water on the edges.
Humptulips River Bank Fishing Spots
The Humptulips River offers miles and miles of great fishing spots, but the majority of them are boat access only. Local anglers have access to great fishing from private property, but there are some great spots to catch salmon off the bank.
1. Stevens Creek Hatchery
Parking at the WDFW hatchery. Trail follows Stevens Creek to the Humptulips, where fishing can be good at the mouth of Stevens downriver to the next gravel bar.
2. Hansen Road Boat Launch
The gravel bar upstream from the concrete ramp is popular with bank anglers. This slow, deep run holds fish at all water levels. An extremely rough dirt road leads from the boat launch parking lot to the gravel bar opposite Stevens Creek.
3. Reynvaan’s Gravel Bar
A popular place to put-in or take-out drift boats, also a great place to bank fish. Plunkers catch plenty of salmon at the tailout of the Reynvaan’s run and float/drift anglers catch salmon at the top and middle of the run.
4. Bluff Hole
Extremely deep pool downriver from the hatchery. Accessed off Kirkpatrick Road. Extremely crowded at times, but full of fish.
5. Camp Bethel
There is usually someone fishing the high bank just downstream from the rough drift boat take-out at Camp Bethel.
The gravel bars at the dike are popular with bank anglers, especially when the water is low. Incoming schools of salmon push past here to get up to the holding areas above the dike.
Humptulips Drift Boat Floats
1. Hansen to Reynvaans
Plenty of woody areas, deep pools and long runs. An extremely popular drift during the heat of the salmon run. Hansen launch is paved, but when the launch gets busy most guys 4-wheel it down to the gravel bar and launch there.
2. Reynvaans to Dike
Another long drift with plenty of great looking water. Deep pools and long runs are the dominant features here. This lower drift is a lot “cleaner” than the upper drift with less woody debris.
3. Reynvaans to Bethel
A short float by comparison to the Hansens-Reynvaans or Reynvaans-Dike drifts. Focus your efforts on the deeper pools that hold plenty of salmon. Bethel is an extremely challenging place to retrieve a boat. You have to rope your boat up a steep incline before you can put it on the trailer.
4. Dike to Highway 109
This is the tidewater drift. The entire lower river is affected by the tides and even though the upper portion of the drift doesn’t really “back up” on a strong incoming, the current definitely slows down to nothing. There are a few productive holes in the upper half of this float and it gets really competitive to get your spot. So be an early bird and plan on drifting down in the dark.