Tuna Tenkara: Pacific Alabacore off the Washington Coast

At the time of the last census in 2010, the population of Ilwaco, WA, stood at 936, meaning the Port of Ilwaco has a boat slip for just about every man, woman and child in town. As with any port town, it’s the kind of place that’s always been used to either drop something off or pick something up. It’s a crossroads of sorts, nestled in a well-sheltered cove a mile from the Pacific Ocean just leeward of the Columbia River’s mouth of shifting sandbars. Over the years, timber, cranberries, explorers, vacationers and pioneers have all made their way through, often on their way to somewhere else. These days the hot commodity is fish. Ilwaco is a tuna town. 

Despite its central role in the history of the Columbia region, Ilwaco feels remote, as is the case in the corners of most states. To get to Ilwaco, the traveler passes variously through wild expanses of old-growth forest, somewhat more recent clear-cuts, the seemingly barren but secretly fecund mudflats and tidal drains of Willapa Bay or the wild, rocky shoreline of the Columbia—several miles across here in its lower reaches. Ilwaco is far-flung and at times forgotten, bloated with tourists each summer only to atrophy each winter when the knuckle-busting fish games of August and September are done.

My introduction to town comes courtesy of the kindly proprietor of a pizza joint who tries to dissuade me from leaving a tip on the tablet point-of-sale system…

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