Willapa Bay Feeding Frenzy

I have been fishing in the Northwest for over 30 years and until a last month I never thought I would ever find an experience like this in Western Washington. I thought I would have to travel to some faraway place or exotic location to catch a dangerous fish like the Seven Gill Sharks that Captain Kelly Barnum of 7 Gill Outfitters has put me on. I first learned of these amazing predators from a mutual friend of Kelly and mine. He told me that his good friend Kelly was going to open a shark guiding business in Willapa Bay. I was pretty skeptical at first, with the little information that I had, I just assumed he was going to be fishing the common Dog Sharks. Boy was I wrong! Once Kelly got all of his licenses and everything in place I contacted him after seeing a few of the awesome pictures on his website Kelly and I talked briefly and he told me that he would get a hold of me when the action was hot.

A couple weeks later Kelly called me and said that the fishing was great and they had been catching TEN or more SEVEN to TEN foot fish per day and that all of his clients were going in early because their arms were wore out from fighting monster sharks. This got me all worked up and we set up a trip for the next weekend. I got to thinking about it and decided that I needed to get this on video so I contacted my buddy Chris Meyer of Titan Outdoors and asked him if he wanted to come video with us for the day. Chris told me that he is not much of a fisherman but would do me a favor and come along to video and couldn’t believe what I was telling him about what we were in for.

The big day finally came and I picked up Chris and we headed to meet Kelly in Raymond at 6:00 A.M. we loaded up in Kelly’s pickup along with his wife Stefaine and headed to the launch. We arrived at the launch and climbed in Kelly’s boat a 19’ jet boat that he has lovingly named “Shark Bait”. We raced out through the extremely shallow and narrow channel with oyster beds on both sides and a few Roosevelt elk feeding on the banks. Obviously Kelly has been out through this way many times before because any one who hasn’t been would have ran aground on the mud flats around the first turn of the channel jet sled or not! As a matter of fact on a later trip that I took with Kelly we saw how the state operates big fan boats in the area so they don’t have to worry about running aground on the tidal mud flats.

Once we got out of the mud flats and into the open bay Kelly found his sweet spot, anchored up the boat, and began preparing the fishing gear for the frenzy that was about to occur. Kelly told us that once we got our bait in the water it would take 15 – 30 minutes before the scent from our bait would get out and begin to attract the seven gill sharks we were after. He told us that we would begin to see a bunch of fish marking on the fish finder as small fish all grouped together but in reality these were the large sharks we were after but his fish finder didn’t read these large predators as single fish.

Just like Kelly said about 20 minutes later the fish appeared on the fish finder and about five minutes after that we got our first bite that reminded me of a sturgeon or trout bite, not the bite of a giant predator. We raced to grab the pole and I set the hook into what felt like powerful speed boat ripping 200 lb braided line off of the reel like the drag was not even set. This fish was definitely not going to come in without a fight. I would work the powerful fish in close and he would turn the tables on me and strip line like crazy, even jumping out of the water once and tail walking like a Marlin. This back and forth battle went on for quite a while until after about 20 minutes I was able to outlast the giant predator and get him alongside the boat. Kelly immediately grabbed the steel leader with his gloved hand and tried to control the monster so we could get a few pictures and a closer look at this amazing predator and his extremely dangerous teeth. After we got a few pictures and some awesome video Kelly released the big shark that we estimated at eight feet without harm.

We quickly got the hooks re-baited with the salmon and sturgeon scraps and the lines back in the water and were relishing in the awesome experience when not five minutes later we were once again hooked up with another huge seven gill shark. This is how the rest of the day went one monster predator after another. I lost exact count on how many of these amazing fish I landed that day but I think I alone landed seven or eight with everyone else including Kelly’s wife Stephanie landing a couple apiece for a grand total of thirteen six to nine foot sharp teeth filled predators. Thirteen giant predator fish of this size in one day is unheard of anywhere in the Northwest and Kelly is the only licensed Seven Gill Shark guide in the Northwest.

I have been back fishing with Kelly two days since that first trip and they were both phenomenal fishing days as well. We filmed an episode of Hawg Quest with Glenn Hall and Taj Gombart that just aired on Root Sports T.V. so you catch that show you can see the action for yourself.

Kelly has made a decision to practice catch and release fishing for the Seven Gill Sharks because so little is known about them and their population numbers. He has also begun working with the Northwest Shark Preservation Society in order to further study these giant predators. They are looking to gain a better understanding of the Seven Gill Shark by tagging them, establishing an estimated population, and trying to understand their migration patterns and why they are in the Willapa Bay. (See adjacent article by Greg Harris of NWSPS)

If you are looking for a world class predator fishing experience in the Northwest for an extremely fair price get a hold of Kelly on his website or give him a call at 360 942-5475 and book your trip. You can even add Sturgeon to your daily catch if you pick the right dates. I know I will be back with him soon for some more adrenaline filled shark fishing action!

*** Just days before this magazine was sent to the printer Kelly was notified by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that they are going to attempt to close all shark fishing in Washington. They say that they are going to close all shark fishing because the catch and release mortality rate is too high but to Kelly’s or my knowledge they have not done any research to back up their claims. They want to go from a 12 per angler per day limit on Seven Gill Sharks to not even allowing catch and release fishing for these awesome fish. Kelly has been making some great contacts within the scientific community that plan to help fight this and hopefully allow catch and release fishing for Seven Gill Sharks to continue. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has stated that public comment will begin in September with a ruling in January so make sure you get in touch with them and give them your opinion on the topic. The best way to show your support for continued catch and release Seven Gill Shark fishing and research is to go to and learn how you can help.

3 years ago
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