WESTPORT, Wash. — Westport is the winner of Best Fishing in 2022's Best Northwest Escapes viewer’s poll.
Visit Westport and it quickly becomes clear why this place is the fishing capital of Washington state. The folks coming off the charter boats in the harbor carry armloads of fresh-caught fish.
But you don't have to go out on a boat to haul in a catch. To bag a limit without touching a pole, step into Merino’s Seafood Market. At this longtime local institution, you don’t need a license to catch a fish.
“This is a one stop shop for anybody who wants fish,” said owner Mike Cornman.
Here they filet locally caught fish with care then pack it by hand. Chinook salmon and smoked sturgeon were getting canned when we visited.
“Anyone who's had home canned stuff, they love our products because of the flavor,” explained GM John Galvich.
After getting packed, cans go into a contraption that’s been doing the same thing for more than 100 years — a seaming machine. It puts tops on cans of fish, and seals them up at the rate of 80 cans per minute.
"We could go faster if we wanted to but it is 120 years old so we try and take our time and not overwork it,” Galvich smiled.
Merino's also handles sport fisher's catches — some locals brought in freshly harvested razor clams and halibut for vacuum packing when we were there.
There's a seafood market here also that sells fresh fish, frozen fish, and the on-site canned seafood.
Despite all this fish — there was a problem.
"One of the main questions in Westport from the tourists is, 'Where can you get fresh seafood for lunch or dinner?' and everyone was speechless because there wasn't a place,” Cornman explained.
So a couple of years ago, this old place tried something new, turning an unused apartment above the cannery into a seafood restaurant — complete with a long-distance view of the catch coming in.
"We've got great access to seafood, we've got the seafood market downstairs and it was just a natural for us to put together some fish and chips,” Cornman said.
And these are fish and chips for the true aficionado — there are five different types: Rock cod, lingcod, salmon, halibut, or tuna. All as fresh as it can get.
There’s also award-winning chowder, whole Dungeness crab for 19 dollars as of this writing (find that in Seattle) and local brews. All of it keeps fish fans happy, and Cornman happy too, as he chats up guests about how he researched batter type and sampled fries for his menu.
“I just love to share seafood with people,” he said.
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This kind of 'fishing' might be too easy for some folks, but there's one thing that's certain at Merino's.
"You're guaranteed a limit every time you come here,” Cornman laughed.
Whether you’re traveling to Westport to catch fish or buy fish, look for a sign at the marina that explains what the fresh catch is and where to find it. Port of Westport’s marina manager Molly Bold explained.
"People want to know what's in season so the sign explains that clearly, what's going on in any month out of the year, then highlights all of the places you can get fresh seafood in Westport,” she said.
The sign (and corresponding website) points to what’s in season, and lists all the boats, with phone numbers, that are hauling those fish in. Whether you’re buying, or fishing, it’s a useful tool when you visit Washington’s fishing capital.