On a sunny, mild and calm August Thursday, the Westport Marina was buzzing.
A steady stream of cars crept up Westhaven Drive Aug. 13. By mid-afternoon, charter boats were returning with Chinook and coho salmon, a few halibut, and bags full of lingcod and bottomfish fillets. Diners were enjoying patio seating at the restaurants, and families with young kids were eating ice cream, watching the boats come back in.
Obviously, Westport is open for business, pandemic or not.
“Many people are out using our facilities every day,” said Westport Marina Director Molly Bold at a recent Port of Grays Harbor meeting. “With so many closures of public facilities, everything the Port has to offer has been very much appreciated and our staff is doing a top notch job of keeping everything clean and sanitized during this interesting time.”
Bold told the Port Commission last week, “It’s been a record year in sales for several businesses, and we’ve seen three new businesses open. Tons of people from out of town are walking the marina district and patronizing businesses.”
Thursday, a steady stream of customers got cones from Surfer Girl Waffle Cones. A Star Wars storm trooper figure stood guard at the front door, directing customers to the take out window on the south end of the building.
Janene Dixon, co-owner of Granny Hazel’s Candy and Gifts, said business has been good, as she rang up bag full of saltwater taffy. “I think everyone’s happy to have a place to get out to,” she said, from behind a full face shield.
Most of the people walking the marina district wore masks. Those who weren’t were either eating their ice cream or were socially distanced. Masks are required on the charter boats and all customers were wearing them as the boats unloaded at the marina.
The outside seating areas at Aloha Alabama Barbecue and Blue Buoy restaurants were seeing steady business throughout the afternoon. Coming into and going out of town, the motels and RV parks were full. Bold said most are operating at capacity.
A popular spot this day, and most days since it opened in June, was Green Monster Coffee. Located directly across from the marina, and owned by the same people who own Blackbeard’s restaurant in town, Bold said it’s quickly become very popular among visitors and, especially, the charter boat captains and crews – it opens very early each morning to accommodate them.
Fishing and the area’s state parks remain the top draws to Westport this time of year.
“In speaking with Fish and Wildlife we are on par for activity in terms of anglers fishing out of (Marine) Area 2,” said Bold. “We’re at just under 10,000 to date, pretty typical.”
According to Fish and Wildlife fish checks, the season so far peaked the week of July 27-Aug. 2, with 2,552 anglers bringing in 782 Chinook and 702 coho. Through Aug. 9, about 11,390 anglers had caught 3,441 Chinook and 3,731 coho, 28% and 38% of the quota respectively.
For a weekly comparison, the week of Aug. 3-9 this year had Fish and Wildlife reporting 1,490 anglers catching 312 Chinook and 1,015 coho. The week of Aug. 5-11 last year had 2,568 anglers catching 158 Chinook and 3,672 coho. At that time last year, 12% of the Chinook quota and 23% of the coho quota had been taken.
Fishing was shut down completely for part of March and April, but charters are operating “at full swing again, also under strict guidelines of what to expect of customers and crew,” said Bold. “From everything I’ve heard they’re operating to the capacity they have available.”
Bold said, as well as charter boats have been doing, especially in light of the pandemic, “State Parks is where the significant increase in activity is found.”
Bold said she talked to the area State Parks director and was told there were 10,000 more cars using South Beach facilities in July 2020 than there were the same month in 2019.
The Westport Marina public boat launch, much improved through a mix of Port and state investment last year, is also getting a lot of use.
“The boat launch itself is up in use about 30% from 2018,” said Bold, explaining that the numbers from 2019 aren’t as reliable because of all the construction – repaving the lot, improving the staging area, construction of a bathroom and fish and boat cleaning facilities.
“We we had just over 1,000 boat launches in July, and close to 500 in August,” said Bold. “We anticipate quite a bit of activity for salmon and albacore fishing, and (Fish and Wildlife) opened halibut fishing in the month of August, so it’s very busy in the marina again.”
Some big-draw Westport festivals, major tourism and economic drivers for the community, have been canceled this year, but some events are continuing. Gone in 2020 were the very popular Rusty Scuppers Pirate Daze, Corvette show and the town-packing Seafood Festival, among others.
The big-money Westport Charter Boat Association fishing derby continues to operate and draw the attention of the crowd as the derby shack weighmaster weighs in the day’s largest fish. Lingcod larger than 30 pounds, halibut to 60 pounds and more, and Chinook salmon in the 25-pound range have been weighed so far this season.
Thursday, the Predator pulled into the marina, and Capt. Derek Gochanour singled out one client and pulled a large Chinook out of the well. After posing for a few pictures with the client, Delaney Kramer of Spokane, Gochanour dragged the fish and Kramer right up to the weigh shack, where the dressed fish weighed in at 24.65 pounds, overtaking the lead for and eventually winning the daily derby. Kramer’s fish stands fourth largest of the season so far — Kit John of Shoshone, Idaho, holds the top spot for the $10,000 annual biggest salmon prize with a 27.5-pounder taken aboard the Monte Carlo a few weeks ago.
This past weekend, the Mission Outdoors Washington Tuna Classic went on as scheduled. While there weren’t the banquets and other group activities usually associated with the event, tournament director Shannen Hansen was at the docks Thursday, saying between the veterans fishing in the tournament and their families, 62 people had signed up for the event.
She said the charter captains were particularly generous this year — they always are with the tournament celebrating military veterans — and even provided for something new this year, a halibut tournament, Thursday.
Hansen said it was important to keep the tournament alive for veterans, many of whom tend to feel isolated and alone on a daily basis: being required to remain isolated and lonely “is the last thing they need,” she said.