High Hunt Report!

A weekend in the backcountry for the High Hunt

by Jason Brooks

Washington’s High Hunt is in full swing after last Friday’s opener. This past weekend myself and my son Ryan were accompanied by Chris Schaller and Troy Saharic with Rob Endsley joining us Saturday afternoon, as we attempted to find a nice buck in the alpine. We pulled into the trailhead on Friday evening, barely finding a place to park. It seems that due to the recent fire’s in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that the few trailheads open to the High Hunt became crowded with overflow. Donning headlamps and starting up the trail we caught up to Troy just before camp. Robbo was set to come in after the radio show on Saturday.

A nice alpine buck that Chad Hurst took a few years ago on the High Hunt in the same area-Jason Brooks

We pitched our tents near a peak that overlooked a meadow where I knew there would be water. At first light I spotted four bucks feeding out from the timber below. Just before we could get into position to take the largest of the bucks, a mature four-point, another hunter stepped out from a small grove of fir trees and attempted an off-hand shot that resulted in the deer heading for cover.

Troy Saharic looking for a buck in an alpine basin-Jason Brooks

We ran into several people while out hunting. Most of them were frustrated with the lack of deer they were seeing and the amount of hunters. Water was scarce and it was very warm out. When hunters kept telling us they weren’t seeing any deer I noted that they were mostly set up on a point overlooking an open face slope. I concentrated on looking into the shadows of trees and in basins with water. The few successful hunters told us they did the same thing to find their buck.

A successful high hunt for a hunter and his companion-Jason Brooks

Spending the rest of the day ridge running and looking into basins that normally held deer, Ryan instead found a few grouse for dinner. No other deer were located on Saturday but a nice bear was spotted about a half-mile away. The stalk was back on for another hunt and just as we cleared the ridge to view the small patch of mountain ash where the bruin was feeding, the bear decided lunchtime was over and he meandered into the far timber. We climbed back up the thousand feet of elevation to the ridge and headed for camp.

Ryan with one of the grouse he found in the backcountry-Jason Brooks

Once back at camp Ryan cooked up the grouse he took earlier in the day. I always carry a small tube of coconut oil and some seasoning salt for the Camp Chef cook set that is made for the Stryker stove. Endsley made it back from his evening hunt just in time to help Ryan finish off the grouse.

Ryan Brooks cooks up a grouse dinner he harvested earlier in the day-Jason Brooks

On Sunday morning we snuck back out to the overlook into the basin and once again found the bucks from the day before. This time they stayed closer to cover and fed in a patch of blueberries and mountain ash that was surrounded by fir trees. We noticed a ridge that would put us into shooting position but just as we started our stalk another group of hunters decided to try a cross-canyon shot that busted the deer again.

Rob Endsley looking for a route so Ryan could stalk a buck below us-Jason Brooks

Frustrated is hardly what I would use to describe my High Hunt this year but it is a very popular hunt. Here are a few quick tips on how to finish out the early season for those getting ready to head back out later this week.

#1. Expect crowds.

With the fires and area closures our normal high hunt area was over-run with people. Almost everyone we talked to were very discouraged and had not seen a lot of deer, if any at all. We did see a few successful hunters and those that found success were ones that have hunted the area before and knew the canyons, basins, and ridgelines better than those who were trying a new area.

#2. Be patient.

If you spot a deer, watch it for a few minutes and see if you can make a stalk. We witnessed some “volley-shooting” because the hunters didn’t know how to stalk closer to the bucks. They easily could have closed the distance to half of what they were shooting as the deer couldn’t feed at night with no moon and a very dark, smoke filled night sky. They were out feeding longer and making themselves vulnerable.

#3. Look for cover.

This past weekend it was very dry and all of the deer were in basins that held water. I found that out of the six basin’s and draws that are in my high hunt area only two of them held water this year. One of the basins was where I located the four bucks and even after being chased and shot at they stayed nearby. Now that it has been raining water isn’t as important as last weekend but with all of the people using the backcountry the big, mature bucks will head for cover. Instead of glassing open slopes you might instead try a still hunt through the timber.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Time to start making plans to pursue fall kings in Hanford Reach area of Columbia River

Mark Yuasa (right) with guide Austin Moser of Austin’s Northwest Adventures holds up an upriver bright king caught in Hanford Reach area in mid-October of 2016.

By Mark Yuasa

For those like me who missed out on the Buoy 10 chinook fishery at the Lower Columbia River mouth last month, you can still score a second chance to catch those exact same fish about 375 miles upstream.

“The fish counts for chinook have really shot up at Bonneville and McNary dams this past week, and I’ve got a good feeling we should see fishing really improve up near Vernita very soon,” said Dave Graybill, a longtime outdoor radio host in central Washington.

“I fished the Columbia off the mouth of the Deschutes and Klickitat rivers, and we got into a pretty good bite,” Graybill said. “These fish are on the move and were fresh and very active to take our baits.”

While it is known that some of these king – better known as upriver brights – were picked off along the way, it is likely that many slipped by offering anglers another chance at encountering this decent return of 260,000 upriver bright chinook.

Boats troll up and down just off the Vernita boat launch.

Last year’s forecast was a bountiful figure of 589,000 although the actual return ended up being 406,600 headed to the Hanford Reach area in south-central Washington. Many anglers got spoiled after the 2015 return of 1.3 million, and runs between 250,000 and 500,000 are still very good.

The delightful news is 193,250 chinook had already passed Bonneville Dam through Sept. 14, and the tail-end of the king train is likely still somewhere down near  the mouth of the Cowlitz and extends way up to McNary Dam at Umatilla, Oregon where 25,274 were tallied to date.

Keep a close on eye on the fish counts at McNary and once the single-day counts hit around 5,000 to 9,000 it’s time to go! On Sept. 13, the count was 1,575 and by Sept. 14 it jumped to 3,861. It usually takes about five days for these fish to migrate to lower sections and around 10 days or so to reach the upper stretches.

The Hanford Reach area offers anglers one of the biggest late-autumn returns of kings along the entire West Coast, and also offers a chance to hook and release a boat-size sturgeon.

What gets in the way of migrating salmon to this neck of the woods (well more like farmland mixed in with arid, high bluffs, desert-like sagebrush lands) are four dams.

After clearing the fourth dam is a spectacular 51 miles of free-flowing river located between the Yakima River near Richland and Priest Rapids Dam located at River Mile 390.

The kings here are also known to be big bruisers averaging 15 to 25 pounds with some pushing 40 pounds.

I had a chance to fish in the middle of last October which is near the end of a run that peaks in late-September to early-October with friend Graybill of Leavenworth, Eric Granstrom of Wenatchee and Austin Moser of Austin’s Northwest Adventures in Wenatchee.

We launched from a rough gravel ramp just above Highway 24/Vernita Bridge on Columbia, and the fishing grounds are easy on the gas bill since the best fishing occurs right in front at a place known as the “King Hole,” which was a deep slot about 50 to 60 feet deep.

There are other fishing holes like the Hog Hole, and the Midway Drift and China Bar Drift located above King Hole.

Our tactics was to slow troll and back-bounce our Spin-N-Glos (a brightly orange-colored winged bobber) and a gob of salmon cluster eggs the size of a tennis ball plus Kwikfish lures wrapped with sardines and smeared in a sardine scent jelly against the current.

Look for this fishery to continue to blossom in the years to come as a big upriver bright chinook production program at Priest Rapids and Ringold, and the wild chinook runs to this area remain robust.

The Hanford Reach area still has strong numbers of fish coming back when you look at historical data. The spawning escapement of 60,000 at McNary has been easily attainable year in and out, and they’ve been able to meet their goals for more than a decade.

A report last week from Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist, indicated fishing was very slow, but did show some slight improvement.  State fisheries staff interviewed 126 boats with 262 anglers and 16 bank anglers (Ringold access area) and sampled 13 adult chinook and two jack chinook.

Through Sept. 10, 105 adult fall chinook and 10 chinook jacks have been caught in the Hanford Reach from 2,105 angler trips. Effort and harvest has been much lower this year compared to 2016.

The fishery from the I-182 Bridge to Rock Island Dam is open through Oct. 22, and from Rock Island to Wells Dam is open until Oct. 15. Be sure to check the regulation pamphlet for specifics.

Mark Yuasa
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Filson Hosts Sportsman’s Expo in Seattle September 30th

C. Filson’s 2017 Sportsman’s Expo

Join the Seattle outdoor outfitter and other local vendors in an all-day event to prepare for the upcoming fishing and hunting seasons

WHAT: Filson will partner with local outdoor merchants for an all-day expo to prepare sportsmen and women for the upcoming fishing and hunting season. 

WHY: Filson is dedicated to ensuring outdoor enthusiasts are smart, tough and prepared for all their endeavors coming up, and the outfitter is hosting other partners in the industry to make sure all your bases are covered for the fall and winter seasons.

WHO:

Participants include – 

Danner x Filson Grouse Boot Launch: Representatives from Danner will be instore to introduce the new collaboration, the Danner x Filson Grouse Boot.

Fly Fishing Pro Tips
: Emerald Water Anglers will be putting on fly-casting clinics (11 am, 12:30 pm, 2 pm, 3:30 pm) and all-day fly-tying demos.

Complimentary Knife Sharpening:
Bring your hunting/outdoor knife and Seattle Edge will sharpen it for free. First come, first serve. Subject to time and availability.

How to Filet a Fish:
Demonstrations by City Fish Co. at 1 pm and 2 pm.

Bacon & Jerky Sampling
: The Jerky Gal will serve up elk, venison, salmon and buffalo jerky and Animal Bacon will bring the lamb and buffalo bacon.

Learn Hunting Skills
: Awaken your primal nature and learn hunting and foraging skills with the Human Nature Hunting School.

Gun Storage Demo
: See TruckVault/ShotLock’s line of home and vehicle gun storage solutions.

Complimentary pie and Woods Coffee served 10 am – 1 pm.

WHEN: Saturday, September 29, 2017 10 am – 6 pm

WHERE: Filson Flagship Store, 1741 1st Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98134

Rodakowski’s Tips for Taking a Westside Blacktail

Dubbed the “grey ghost” blacktail have earned the reputation as one of the toughest big game species to hunt in the world. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

There are only a few magical days a season when mature blacktail show themselves during daylight hours and if you plan on having some success you need to make sure you are in the woods when these days happen. Every year people ask me what it takes to harvest a mature blacktail and why are some folks successful while others are not. Simply answered, you need to be out there with the deer when they are active and that peak activity usually occurs in late October through the month of November when the rut occurs. The rest of the time they are extremely nocturnal and you’ll rarely catch a glimpse of them during daylight hours.

September blacktails rub their velvet and transition to a more nocturnal pattern. (Troy Rodakowski)

The first cold snap of the season usually hits during the month of October and makes for some great hunting. By then the rain has dampened the forest floor and made for some very quiet hiking enabling hunters to sneak to tree stands, ground blinds, and elevated vantage points. Of course, finding trophy deer is not easy but with does beginning to come into estrus bucks will be more visible during daylight hours especially first thing in the morning and just before dark. During these times you’ll want to meticulously scan the densest cover with optics before giving up on a good looking location. The bottom line is that blacktail relish the thickest cover and they tunnel and weave themselves through it which enables them to go nearly undetected for much of their lives. As a hunter you need to put yourself in the cover or very near it to be successful. The biggest of blacktail won’t be too far from the edge of a field or clear cut and you want to take your time glassing these areas.

The Coast Range: Deer on the coast typically have smaller racks due to genetics, thick cover, and slightly less nutrients in their feed. There are exceptions to this rule though and larger deer can be found near old burns and logged locations that have opened up the canopies. These areas can produce some real monsters that score well into the 130 to 140 class. Hunters need to spend time near the perimeters of likely locations like this that have the lowest human activity. Tree stands or elevated locations that allow hunters to watch the thickest cover around these cuts can provide some excellent opportunities at bigger bucks. Large bucks often spend the majority of their time in thick cover and seldom step out into the center of the cuts in broad daylight. You can sometimes coax them out with fawn and doe bleats but make sure to use them sparingly. These calls can spike their curiosity and entice them to pop their heads out of the dense cover.

Public land hunting is becoming more difficult. However, finding road systems closed to motorized travel will help put you on deer. (Troy Rodakowski)

Valley Deer: Lowland blacktail thrive in small patches of woods near rivers and agricultural grounds. Access can be difficult though because most of these lands are private. If you can gain access to some of this ground, however, you might be surprised by how many blacktails roam these lowland areas. Deer numbers have slowly grown in many lowland locations and numerous farmers and private landowners have seen increased blacktail traffic and agricultural damage from the increase in population. Establishing good relationships with multiple landowners is essential in order to find trophy deer in these locations. Due to increased human activity deer here frequently move under the cover of darkness even more so than in the coastal clear cuts. Finding a place to hunt that’s close to home will be of great benefit for scouting and the number of hours that you are able to spend in the field picking apart these areas to pattern the deer. Binoculars and spotting scopes are a great tool here because of how open most of these farmlands are and you can increase your odds by scouting the cover in the intersecting areas between agricultural tracts. These lowland blacktails behave much like whitetails in the midwest. Hunt them like you would an ag-land whitetail and you’ll be in the game.

Rub lines and areas with multiple rubs are sure signs that a blacktail buck is in the area. Focusing on these places will tip the scale in your favor. (T. Rodakowski)

Deer in these areas will usually feed into the edges of agricultural fields at twilight and dusk. Plan to be in the field and set up before dark in the morning and an hour or two before dusk in the afternoon. Ground blinds and tree stand can be the ticket once a buck is patterned or a good field is located with a lot of deer activity. I have seen deer exhibiting rut activity in mid to late October or even earlier and I definitely hit the field early every year to get a handle of what the blacktails are up to. I’ve also seen a good number of bucks chasing does well into the month of December. Fellow blacktail hunter and ODFW biologist Brian Wolfer from the Springfield ODFW office prefers hunting when the bucks are most active during the pre-rut. “I have observed the most buck activity during the pre-rut in late October and early November when deer are chasing each other around,“ says Wolfer.

On dry years animals will gravitate to local water sources near irrigation ditches, slough bottoms, and ponds near river systems. Seasons with higher rainfall and early fall rains seem to encourage deer to rut much sooner and will also become extended into early December. Heavy rains will also push deer out of slough bottoms as they begin to fill with water. “We have been trying to get a better idea on migration and movements from collaring and collecting harvest data over the last few years,” adds Wolfer. Even though state game officials are learning more and more about blacktails these deer continue to remind us how mysterious and illusive they are.

Checking for fresh sign and focusing on those locations will put a hunter one step closer to harvesting a deer. (Bill Wellette)

Cascade Blacktail: Snowfall at higher elevations will push deer into migratory mode and with the rut progressively ramping up bucks will continue to breed does on the move. Deer here will travel greater distances in comparison to others at lower elevations. Snowline hunting is the norm for many late season hunters as numerous deer will drop in elevation with accumulating snow. Even though the snows usually push them down I’m amazed every year at trail cam footage and reports of large bucks taken in several inches of snow. There are some larger, mature blacktails that are much slower to migrate and can be found at elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 ft. through much of November. If you can be in the field in late October or mid-November when there’s snow on the ground the odds go up dramatically.

Once the weather changes deer will begin to migrate. The author took this buck on a late season hunt. (Troy Rodakowski)

Finding migration routes is helpful for high country blacktail but in the lowlands finding isolated hidey holes for these deer is the key and many hunters have had success, calling, rattling and hunting from tree stands in these lower areas. Bucks at higher elevation are quite difficult to pattern because they are on the move, especially late in the season as the weather and rut greatly affect their habitual patterns.

If you plan on hunting the general firearm season this year I highly recommend getting out there and doing your homework early to see where a buck might be hanging out. Chances are he’s not going to go far and if you’re in the field when rut activity starts ramping up he might give you an opportunity during shooting hours.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Wildfire Deer Camp Alternatives

Alternatives for Deer Camp’s Affected by Wildfire

by Jason Brooks

With several wildfires burning up the Cascade mountains from Mt. Rainier to the Canadian border those that like to hunt mule deer might have to make different plans this year. With six major fires that are all but out of control with no end in sight until the snow falls along with the mule deer coming off of one of the worst winters in decades it seems that “deer camp” is closed. But one great thing about Washington is that we have three deer species to hunt and several options when it comes to chasing after them. Here are a few tips to help with this fall’s hunts.

 

Hunt Blacktails in Western Washington, like this mature buck -Rob Endsley

1. Hunt Blacktails

It goes without saying that if you can’t get to your favorite mule deer grounds then stay on the west side and hunt blacktails. The smallest of our deer in this state is also one of the hardest to hunt. Most mature bucks prefer nighttime feeding during the first few weeks of Fall. But luckily the season is long with just over two full weeks for the October hunt and a four-day late season in November for rifle hunters. Archery and muzzle loader hunters have even longer and more liberal seasons.

Blacktails don’t need much room to roam as most live their entire lives in two-hundred acres or less. If you find a nice blacktail buck then keep concentrating on that area. You are likely to find him again. As the rut nears-starting the last few days of the general modern firearm season and ending around the weekend of the late buck hunt-bucks stay our during the daytime longer and will even respond to rattling and calling.

 

Chase after Whitetails like this buck that Brian Chlipala found just east of the Washington-Idaho border. -Brian Chlipala

2. Chase Whitetails

For hunters who hunt Eastern Washington it might be a great year to switch over to the whitetail deer. Mostly found in the far eastern portions of the state there are pockets of whitetails in the Okanogan area as well as some in northern Chelan County. In Southwest Washington the high jumping, tail wagging deer is found in the foothills of the blues. In the Northeast above Spokane whitetails are just about everywhere. Your hardest part of the whitetail hunt will be gaining access to the many small parcels of private lands that “checkerboard” the public lands.

 

Mule Deer can be found in recent burns, such as this buck taken by Ryan Brooks in the Methow after the 2015 fire -Jason Brooks

3. Hunt smart for Mule Deer

Yes, there are still places to hunt mulies this fall. Look towards the Snake River breaks and the vast lands managed by the BLM. Other options include the WDFW lands in Grant, Asotin, Douglas, Ferry, and Benton Counties. The Blue mountains also have some really good mule deer bucks and Forest Service lands.

If you do decide to hunt near the fire areas keep in mind that there will be some closures outside of the burns. This is mostly due to remote access and the need to fight the fires or rehabilitate them once the fall rains come. Fires burn in a mosaic pattern and there will be places on the fringe of the fires that will hold deer. If we get a good rain once the fire is out then grasses will sprout and the green-up is welcomed by deer getting ready for winter. Make sure to check with the local ranger district for any access restrictions. You can also find current fire information at the Forest Service fire website.

 

Fire’s will eventually provide more feed for mule deer and the hunting will get better in time. -Jason Brooks

The Future

For this fall most of the mule deer areas will be affected, either directly by the fires or by over-use from hunters looking to find a place to go after being closed out of their normal spots. One thing wildfire does is open up the canopy to allow grasses and brush to grow. By next spring the buckbrush will be growing and the deer will return quickly to the burn areas. In 2015 we hunted in a burn that occurred earlier in the summer and my son took an exceptional buck. The deer had been sneaking down to an alfalfa field at night and by mid-day was back in the fresh burn. By bedding in the deep ash the buck had virtually no ticks on him. He was healthy and fat.

This shows promise as deer can bounce back pretty fast from wildfires. It will take a few years to recover from the harsh winter of 2016-17 but with next year’s excessive feed from the new burns this will actually help the deer recover quicker. Keep a positive mind and use this year to find a back-up plan. Who knows, you might just find yourself in a new deer camp and an adventure of a lifetime.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor receive top billing for autumn salmon fishing

Karyl Beyerle of Olympia with a 20 pound king. Big fish like this can be found at places along the inner-coast waterways and estuaries in fall. Credit photo to Tony Floor.

By Mark Yuasa

Now that ocean salmon fisheries have concluded, it’s time for anglers to shift attention to estuaries and lower tributaries as fish migrate upstream heading into autumn.

One area garnering plenty of notice lately is Willapa Bay where a king forecast of 36,805 (32,674 are of hatchery origin) have started to appear in catches, and fishing has been decent since it opened on Aug. 1.

“I give high marks as we head into (September), and the main herd of the local king run typically peaks historically around Labor Day,” said Tony Floor, the director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

“When WIllapa opened on first of August they had one of their best early fisheries ever, and that can be based on Columbia River kings dipping into the Washaway Beach area (located west of Tokeland),” Floor said. “The first 10 days were very good and it has cooled off since but still kicking out some fish.”

Salmon fishing this past Saturday during the Willapa Day Salmon Derby was good with some anglers hooking multiple fish between Channel Markers 13 and 19 during the mid-day incoming tide.

The hatchery chinook fishery will continue to produce glory moments now through the end of this month.

Those will be followed on the heels of what should be a very nice return of coho from the middle of this month through October. The forecast is 91,718 (54,998 are of hatchery origin) compared to 67,609 (28,093) last year.

On the bigger tidal exchanges grass can be a problem for anglers and will foul up fishing gear.

“I’ve heard the grass was minimal early on, but as we have these long hot summer days the grass has become more problematic in the past week to 10 days,” Floor said. “Grass is horrific on the ebb tide, and worse on bigger tide exchanges. The best way to avoid this is by fishing during the softer tidal series.”

This is a shallow water fishery so letting out 12 to 16 pulls of line at depths of 15 to 25 feet is key to get your presentation spinning just off the sandy bottom. Gear is similar to the Buoy-10 salmon fishery where an angler will use a five- to seven-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six- to eight-foot leader and cut-plug or whole herring.

Willapa Bay is open now through Jan. 31 with a six fish daily limit and only three may be adults. Minimum size limit is 12 inches, and release wild chinook. The two-pole endorsement is allowed.

The non-tribal commercial gill-net fishery gets underway on Sept. 16, and word to the wise is avoid going when the nets are in the water. For a netting schedule, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/commercial/salmon/season_setting.html.

Moving up the coast, Grays Harbor is another fall salmon fishery that is definitely worth trip when it opens on Sept. 16, and while chinook are off-limits look for this spot to produce big, brawny coho that can reach in upwards of 20 pounds.

The Grays Harbor coho forecast is 86,398 (50,043 are of wild origin) compared to 27,841 last year, which is a remarkable turn-around. On the other-hand the chinook outlook of 21,824 (5,362 are of hatchery origin), but will allow an in-river fishery in Humptulips River that opened on Sept. 1.

“I would anglers who plan to fish Grays Harbor is to be very knowledgeable with the rules as they change from year-to-year,” Floor said.

Just as a refresher on the rules right now the Humptulips North Bay fishery is open through Sept. 15 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and release wild coho. The eastern Grays Harbor fishery opens Sept. 16 through Nov. 30 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and only one wild coho may be retained and release all chinook.

Another fun coho-only fishery in early fall is the Westport Boat Basin which is open through Jan. 31, but the best action usually occurs now through October. The daily limit is six salmon, and no more than four may be adult fish. Release chinook, no night fishing and an anti-snagging rule is in effect. Only single-barbless hooks may be used.

The boat ride from the Westport Marina to the main fishing ground takes about 15 minutes along the harbor’s south channel toward an area off the Johns River mouth. Start at the “Goal Post” – a set of rotting wood pilings – near entrance marker off the Johns River.

Plan on trolling in an easterly direction where a trough runs east and west along the shoreline toward the Chehalis River mouth. Many will use Stearns Bluff, a landmark hillside east of the Johns River as the ending spot.

The gear is a six-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six-foot leader and a whole or cut-plug herring. Simply let out 12 to 16 pulls of fishing line — since this is a shallow water fishery at depths of 15 to 25 feet — and make sure your bait is spinning just a foot or so off the sandy bottom.

Constantly check your gear as the harbor can be loaded with eel grass mainly on a low tide when its pulled away from shore.

“Fish don’t like salad on your bait,” according to Floor.

The action occurs during the flood tide, but there can be brief bites on the ebb tide too. Getting out at the crack of dawn is how it works at Grays Harbor, and here it’s all about tides.

There are three major boat launches in Grays Harbor, and the four-lane ramp at Westport is the most convenient. Next is a small two-lane ramp ideal for smaller boats just inside the Johns River. Both are best to access the south channel.

The other is the 28th Street launch in Hoquiam just inside the Chehalis River mouth, and is best to access the north channel fishery.

Use caution when running your boat from any of the launch sites, and always be sure to follow the channel markers as there are many shallow sandbars (especially at low tide) where you can ground a vessel. Also be aware of large ships traveling to and from the ocean.

Mark Yuasa
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

Fall Anglers will be Busy With Kings and Walleye

By Dave Graybill

Fall in North Central Washington is most often the favorite season for anglers in the region.  Our weather cools a bit and it makes it more appealing to be out on the water after the heat of summer.  While the weather is cooling there are a couple of fisheries that heat up in the fall.  The one that draws the most attention is the annual return of fall salmon to the Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River.  The other is the fall walleye bite on our area reservoirs.

Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service poses with me with one of the kings we got at Vernita.

Every year the most abundant run of salmon to the Columbia River makes it way to our region.  Over a half million “up river brights” are expected to enter the Columbia this year, and the vast majority are bound for the Hanford Reach and the hatchery at Priest Rapids Dam.  The attraction of fishing for these kings is most apparent at the launch sites near the Vernita Bridge.  A small village of campers, trailers and 5th wheelers appears here every year, as anglers set up camp and commute from all over the state and beyond to chase these prized fish.

The launches a Vernita are rough, but they don’t stop the long lines of boats of all sizes and shapes from putting in here.  From this launch they can run down below the bridge to popular fishing locations above and below Coyote Rapids, the Reactors, and the long runs that are ideal for trolling for kings.  Down stream there is a good concrete ramp at White Bluffs that also offers good access to the king fishing water.  Parking here is more limited than at Vernita and the fishing area is smaller, but it can be very productive.  The kings must pass through White Bluffs on their way to the hatchery at Priest Rapids, so the action starts off here first.

For many years I preferred fishing with herring in the Reach.  That is just how it was done—back bouncing herring.  In recent years Super Baits have taken the main stage for salmon anglers.  Sure, there are times when herring will do the job, but the number of fish taken on Super Baits far outnumbers other methods.

There are two styles of Super Baits.  The original on top and the
Plug Cut on the bottom.

Super Baits are typically trolled behind Pro Troll flashers on downriggers.  I saw a different method being used in 2014 when I was shooting some video of the CCA King of Reach Salmon Derby.  This guy, and he had the reputation of being one of the top, if not the top salmon slayer of the group, was trolling Super Baits, but in a way I had never seen before.  He had them rigged behind a flasher, but instead of using downriggers he was fishing them with lead balls.  He would troll both up stream and down stream and he claimed that the lead ball method put a different action on the Super Baits and were terrifically successful.  He didn’t fish any other way.

Using lead balls for kings isn’t something new.  I have fished with Shane Magnuson many times on the lower Columbia for spring and fall salmon and he used lead balls.  In fact he decided to try them on the upper Columbia River kings starting last year, and now that’s pretty much all he does anymore.  When he fishes for spring salmon, at Drano Lake for example, he uses those triangular Fish Flashes, but for summer runs up here he uses the Pro Troll flashers.  When he fishes Vernita this fall, I will bet he will be running lead balls.  I am presenting this technique as something an angler should have in their bag of tricks.  There will be times that the standard presentations of Super Baits on downriggers, back trolling eggs, pulling plugs or using herring will be the way to go.

If you want to try fishing lead balls, here is how to set up.  I will start at the Super Bait and work my way up.  After you have put a 44- to 48-inch leader on your Super Bait and attached it to your flasher, add a 24-inch leader of 30-pound test with snaps on both ends.  This allows the flasher to do its work below the lead ball.  I rig the next step the same way that Shane does.  I put a split ring between two five- or six-bead roller swivels.  To one end I attach the leader above the flasher.  To the other end I attach my main line with a plug snap with a rubber bead above the knot, and a sliding plug snap, to hold the lead ball.  Now when I attach my lead ball it can slide freely on my line.  The size of the lead ball, whether an eight-, ten- or 12-ouncer, depends on the current.  You will want your flasher rotating above the bottom where you are fishing, and this will take a little practice to judge your depth when trolling lead balls.   Also, remember when you are trolling down stream with the current you will be flying compared to trolling up stream against the current.  The best way to judge your speed is to watch your rod tip and try to maintain a rod pulse once every second.

Here is how a lead ball rig can be rigged.  Lots of swivels for a
spinning Pro Troll Flasher.

It’s really not that hard to rig for fishing with lead balls.  You can have everything ready if whatever you are doing on a particular day just isn’t getting the job done.  It just may change your luck, and once you get comfortable fishing this way it may become your favorite way to hook kings—anywhere on the Columbia.

As for the walleye fishing this fall, I would bet that Banks Lake will continue to be the best place to try your luck.  It wasn’t always producing limit catches this summer, but it was the most consistent of our region’s walleye waters.  Potholes Reservoir should produce walleye this fall, too, but probably not at the same pace as Banks.  It will be very low this fall.  In the early fall crank bait fishing should be effective then trolling bait will become a better way to go.  Walleye on Potholes will be heavier than the Banks Lake fish.

The crank bait fishing on Banks Lake should continue to be good.  I have had very good success this summer fishing cranks and found the Flicker Shad lures in sizes 5 through 9 very effective.  I didn’t start the season fishing crank baits, and don’t think I will end the season using this method.  I started trolling with spinners on worm harnesses or Slow Death Hooks, and I think I will be ending the fall season using these.

Something that I was able to use this past season just recently came on the market yet.  It is from the makers of Dutch Fork Custom Lures that I had been fishing almost exclusively.  I had tremendous success with their ghost blades, especially the Turtle Back in the Blue Tiger color.  They sent me a brand new design to test, and I found it works great.  They call it the Butterfly Blade and it can be fished in worm harnesses and even ahead of a Slow Death Hook.  I tested these revolutionary blades and had great success, and if you are a walleye angler you will want to try them on Banks and Potholes this fall.

This the new Butterfly Blade created by Dutch Fork Custom Lures.
The top shows one rigged on a Slow Death Hook.

The new Butterfly Blades just came available recently.  Dutch Fork is supplying the blades to Northland Tackle and can be purchased in a variety of colors and pre-tied for a variety of fishing styles.  Just log onto www.northlandfishingtackle.com and do a search for Butterfly Blades.  This will send you to the page that has them available.  You can also find the blades on the Dutch Fork Custom Lures page, and tie them up the way you like.  Go to www.dutchforkcustomlures.com and can you look at the colors available through them and order what you want.

It is usually pretty hard to get me to switch from my favored methods of fishing, no matter what species.  When I got the spinners from Dutch Fork I immediately become a believer, particularly in the Turtle Back style.  These new Butterfly Blades are unique and there just isn’t anything else out there like them.  If you are serious about catching walleye you will want to have some in your box.

I know I will start my fall fishing at Banks Lake off the Million Dollar Mile launch.  There will be a point at which this will be less effective.  When that happens I will move up to Barker Canyon and start pulling spinners and Slow Death Hooks on bottom bouncers.  Two years ago we could fish both Banks Lake and Potholes right through the fall and winter.  Last year they froze solid.

I don’t know how long I will be able to fish for walleye on these two reservoirs.  The way I am going through the walleye in my freezer I hope we have a long fall season!

Dave Graybill
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
TheOutdoorLine.com

 

Lake Washington yellow perch are abundant and an excellent late-summer fish to catch

Danny Garrett, the state Fish and Wildlife warm-water biologist, holds up a nice stringer of yellow perch he caught on Lake Washington. These later-summer fish are an easy catch and very abundant in the lake. Photo courtesy of Danny Garrett.

By Mark Yuasa

The yellow perch in Lake Washington are one of the most prolific fish species in Lake Washington, and for anglers they’re easy to find and extremely fun to catch.

“I recently took our marketing team out to fish for them, and we caught around 200 and never left our one spot,” said Danny Garrett, the state Fish and Wildlife warm-water species biologist.

“We caught a bunch in 8- to 10-inch range along with a couple over 10 inches,” Garrett said. “It is just so easy to catch them at this time of the year. I get super excited every August and can never talk enough about the perch fishery.”

Those sizes of yellow perch that Garrett and his group caught are typical of the catch in Lake Washington although a “jumbo-sized” fish of 12 inches or longer can often be found mixed into the schools of fish.

The shorelines along the bays of Lake Washington are filled with yellow perch.

State fisheries experts say it is only a matter of time before the official state record of 2.75 pounds caught by Larry Benthien at Snelson’s Slough in Skagit County on June 22, 1969 could be broken, and it likely may come from Seattle’s backyard urban watershed.

The basis for this statement is largely based upon the ample feed and lots of room for yellow perch to grow in Lake Washington  the second largest natural-bodied lake in the state.

“I don’t think we can keep up with the recruitment of yellow perch in Lake Washington, and even with the amount of fishing pressure we won’t make a dent on the population,” Garrett said. “The survival rate of perch are doing very well, and I’ve been doing surveys on the lake, and they dominate all the other warm-water fish species.”

Yellow perch – known for their colorful yellow, orange and brass-colored bodies with distinct olive-green, vertical triangular bars along each of their sides – spawn in April, and well ahead of many other warm-water fish species in the lake.

The female perch are the largest, and they tend to grow much faster (usually maturing in three to four years) and live long up to 8 to 10 years.

Yellow perch are the most abundant fish species in Lake Washington, and are very willing to take an anglers bait all-day long. Photo courtesy of WDFW.

“Unless we get a high die-off due to some type of fungal infection, I think they will be with us for a very long time in the lake,” Garrett said.

Perch won’t peel off line or leap out of the water like a salmon, but an all-day virtual nonstop bite will get any angler hooked on this enjoyable late summer and fall fishery.

‘On the day we fished it, we hung out in the Newport Canal and along the Newport Shores area just south of I-90,” Garret said. “There was 100s and 1,000s of perch schooling in the area, and when we’d reel in one you’d see 50 more perch chasing them up to the surface. It was amazing.”

Since the lake is huge – 20 miles long and covering more than 22,000 acres – it can seem a bit daunting to the newbie, but there are some simple tips to follow to find excellent success to catching yellow perch.

The best time to fish for yellow perch begins around July when the water heats up, and peaks in August through October. As the winter chill sets in by November, the bite all but ceases as the perch move out into very deep water.

Look for schools of yellow perch in shallow water, 15 to 35 feet, and close to the shoreline. They tend to hang in shaded spots just outside the cover of weed beds, milfoil, aquatic weeds and lily pads or under docks, piers and overhanging trees and brush.

A young angler tries his luck to catch fish and yellow perch off a dock.

“The fish feed throughout the day on snails, clams, crayfish and smaller invertebrates, and are a lot more active even in middle of afternoon and only hunker down at night when predators are out,” said Garrett who claims even during broad daylight they aren’t spooked by boaters or jet- or water-skiers zipping around.

“When we fished it a couple weeks ago they were active from 11 a.m. until we quit at 3 p.m.,” Garrett said. “You don’t have to be out there fishing early in the morning either. I also visited a bunch of piers and shorelines recently, and saw guys catching them right next to busy swim areas.”

Places to catch and gear to use for yellow perch

Popular locations to catch perch are Seward Park; Kenmore log boom and pier; Magnuson Park shoreline; Andrews Bay; Juanita Bay; Newport area; Webster Point in Union Bay; Yarrow Bay in Kirkland; Gene Coulon Park in Renton; Foster Island just outside the Montlake Cut; Mercer Island; and the docks off Madison Park, Stan Sayres Pits, Leschi Park and Mount Baker Park.

The gear to catch them is relatively simple using a light-to-medium-action fishing rod with a spinning reel attached to 4- to 6-pound test line.

“I keep two simple no-brainer options in the boat to catch perch, and while perch meat is awesome I haven’t gone in that direction,” Garrett said. “I use earth worms and a drop-shot (egg-style) weight, which is much easier than the three-way swivel technique. I will also use (Sniper Lures) Sniper Snubs – a colorful tiny 3-inch plastic worm. You really have to feel the very subtle strikes these fish make, and often the bigger 10- and 12-inch fish will just nibble at the bait, and are more finicky biters. Don’t set the hook hard when you first feel them bite, play with them a little bit and they’ll eventually strike the bait.”

The difference between an 8-inch and 14-inch yellow perch show the growth potential in Lake Washington. Some experts say the next state record could come from Seattle’s largest urban watershed. Photo courtesy of Danny Garrett, WDFW biologist.

Others will also use a skirted crappie jig, maggots and like previously mentioned by Garrett a small chunk of perch meat or even a perch eyeball works well.

While the main focus in Lake Washington are yellow perch the wide diversity of fish species enables an angler to switch gears and catch cutthroat and rainbow trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass and black crappie along with another abundant fish the “rock bass” a species of the sunfish.

“There are more rock bass showing up than in previous years, and guys are catching a lot of them,” Garrett said. “In places like the Ship Canal we have seen a 50-50 split of yellow perch and rock bass. They aren’t big on eating, but very fun to catch.”

Lake Washington isn’t the only yellow perch show in town, and good action can be found in lakes Sammamish; Beaver and Pine near Issaquah; Whatcom near Bellingham; Sawyer northwest of Black Diamond; Goodwin northwest of Marysville; Stevens east of Everett; American near Fort Lewis; Kapowsin southeast of Puyallup; Angle in Sea-Tac; Desire in Renton; Meridian in Kent; and Harts southeast of Yelm.

Yellow perch are also very tasty with a firm white-fleshed body.

“I would call them the little walleye and they’re actually related,” Garrett said. “They’re in the same wheelhouse in texture and flavor as a walleye, and I’d eat them all-day long.”

State Fish and Wildlife doesn’t have a daily catch or size limit on yellow perch in the majority of statewide lakes, but check the regulation pamphlet before heading out to fish for them. You can also find plenty of information on yellow perch, including a super great video with WDFW’s Danny Garrett by going to the link http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/washington/Species/1849/.

Mark Yuasa

Outdoor Line Blogger

710 ESPN Seattle

 

Nootka!



 

Nootka Sound Salmon Fishing!

by Jason Brooks

 

Nootka Island has inlets that lead to many rivers and streams as well as high mountains, all of which provide protected waters for anglers that venture to the far north looking for a fishing trip of a lifetime. This is remote fishing, though you won’t be alone. Many lodges, campgrounds, and locals cater to the anglers who head here each year to intercept the large salmon migration. Most of the fish are heading south from Alaska to the coast of Washington, Oregon and California plus the famed Frazer River in southern British Columbia.

 

Flynn’s Cove is one of the many places to stay while fishing Nootka Sound-Jason Brooks

There are many places to stay as well as fish and it can be a bit overwhelming if you have never been to the Nootka area. On my recent trip with Ralph Thomas, a veteran of the Nootka fishery, we stayed at Flynn’s Cove where we rented a private cabin and did our own “do it yourself” trip. For those that want to splurge you can find many resorts and full service lodges that provide everything except your toothbrush. Either option you choose the fishing will be great but it is not a “cheap” trip. Even going on a budget, do it yourself, trip the costs is still around $2,000 for first timers. Once you learn what you need and what you don’t need then the price can be brought down a little.

 

A nice Chinook caught by Ralph Thomas in the open ocean off of the west coast of Nootka Island-Jason Brooks

Fishing is very versatile with inside protected waters available for the days that you can’t get out to the open ocean. Fishing the inside can be a bit slower, but the fish are there and once you find them and what they are biting on a great bite can be had. We often fished in the open ocean during the morning until mid-day and then came inside to fish the evening and be closer to the cabin at the end of the day.

 

Wiggle Bill Hoochie set-up by Mack’s Lure caught many Kings-Jason Brooks

For fishing in the open ocean we went as far at 16 miles offshore, so a big, ocean going boat is a must for out here. Once we found the fish “highway” around the 300-foot line we dropped our gear and things got a bit crazy. Doubles were common and we opted to mostly gear fish instead of using bait as that way we didn’t have to worry about our presentation. Mack’s Lure Wiggle Bill Hoochies which are UV and give the hoochie extra action were our most productive lures. We filled the cavity of the hooch with Pro-Cure Sardine Super Sauce.

 

The “All-star Line-up” of Pro-Cure that helped us keep fish and clean our gear-Jason Brooks

When we fished inside we switched from plug cut herring to spoons and even some Brad’s Super Cut Plug’s behind dodgers. The fishing can be just as crazy and dangerous when fishing near rocks and other boats. We caught a few Coho inside as well as a lot of “feeder” Chinook in the 10 to 15 pound range. One nice thing about fishing inside is the wildlife where we were surrounded by eagles, otters and black bears.

 

Wildlife was everywhere you looked when fishing inside the inlet-Jason Brooks

Bottom fishing was fantastic as well. We fished one morning inside for some lingcod and rockfish near the rock piles where we had some incidental catches while trolling for salmon. Then when we got serious for bottom fish we headed about 4 miles out and found a large flat and some smaller rock piles. Here we put on mooching weights and a 30-inch leader of 25 pound Izorline XXX to a Brad’s Super Cut Plug stuffed with minced herring and Pro-Cure Herring Super Sauce. This allowed us to drop the weights to the bottom, reel up a crank on the reel, and not get hung up on the bottom.

 

Bottom fishing is fantastic in Nootka Sound and off the coast in the open ocean-Jason Brooks

If you have ever thought about heading north to Nootka, or if you have done it in the past but just want to try a new area, then start planning next year’s trip now. Most resorts fill up fast on return bookings. Hotels along the way also can have limited vacancy this time of year as this is a very popular vacation fishing destination.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Early coastal razor clam summer assessments show a drop in abundance especially at Long Beach

Razor clam diggers last spring look for razor clam “shows” at Moclips Beach.

Coastal razor clam lovers will likely see a decline in clam populations for 2017-18 digging season.

State Fish and Wildlife biologists are in process of finalizing summer razor clam population assessments at Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch. The exception is Twin Harbors that will undergo abundance surveys this coming week.

“Razor clam populations are down for most part on every beach, but in some cases it’s not too bad particularly at Mocrocks and Copalis,” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager. “It looks like more of an average year after we’ve been riding on this great big band wagon for a while now.”

“Our real puzzle is Long Beach adult razor clam population, which is down considerably,” Ayres said. “We didn’t do a lot of harvesting (last season) and also had a bonus (25) clam daily limit. I would’ve guessed that there should’ve been a lot more clams there due to that.”

A batch of razor clams await to be cleaned after a successful outing at Copalis Beach last winter.

Ayres and his survey crews plan to go back soon to Long Beach, which covers a broad stretch of beach-line from Columbia River mouth north to Leadbetter Point.

“We’ll look at a couple spots at Long Beach again, but won’t do assessments on whole beach,” Ayres said. “We’ll probably never know for sure what happened to the clams although we suspect the southern part of (Long Beach) was affected by freshwater run-off. When salinity levels are lower and young clams don’t like that. This is my best guess, but still doesn’t account for the central and northern beaches.”

Long Beach was supposed to be a shining star last season with oodles of razor clams, but elevated levels of marine toxins known as domoic acid — a natural marine toxin produced by certain types of marine algae that can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities — had the beach closed virtually the entire season.

“We had hoped for a big banger of a season at Long Beach,” Ayres said. “During the brief (11) days of digging we saw good digging on northern end, but not so much on central section. It was a disappointment.”

Postseason estimates showed 77,778 digger trips on April 12-16 and April 26-May 1 (187,261 during 2015-16 season and 162,558 during 2014-15 season) at Long Beach yielded 1,555,113 clams (more than 2.61 million and 2.29 million clams respectively) for an average of 20.0 clams per person (14.0 and 14.1 respectively) clams per person. State fisheries bumped up the daily limit to first 25 clams dug person regardless of size or condition.

Tegan Yuasa (left) and Taylan Yuasa (right) try their luck for razor clams last winter at Copalis Beach.

With no clam surveys taken at Twin Harbors – one of more popular digging areas spanning from Grays Harbor south jetty at Westport south to Willapa Bay’s northern shore – until next week all we can do for now is look at 2016-17 season. Twin Harbors saw pockets of time where beaches were closed due to elevated levels of domoic acid although not nearly as dire as Long Beach.

Clam digging was open from Oct. 14-19, Nov. 17-19 and Nov. 26-28. Digging didn’t reopen until Feb. 7-12, Feb. 23-28 and March 7-13, and then in spring on April 5-9, April 12-16 and April 26-30.

In all Twin Harbors during 2016-17 season saw 62,893 diggers taking home 834,086 clams for a 13.3 clam per person average. The first 15 clams was a daily limit regardless of size or condition. Twin Harbors was completely shutdown in 2015-16 due to elevated levels of marine toxins.

To the north diggers should expect fairly good digging at Copalis Beach from Grays Harbor north jetty to Copalis River had a drop in razor clam populations, and Mocrocks Beach from Copalis River to southern boundary of Quinault Indian Reservation.

Exactly how much digging time at Copalis and Mocrocks depends on upcoming discussions with tribal fishery co-managers.

At Copalis from Oct. 14 through April 30 (33 total digging days), 82,108 digger trips (69,536 in 2015-16 season and 58,626 in 2014-15) saw a harvest of 1,040,193 clams (952,020 and 780,625 respectively) for 12.7 digger average (13.7 and 13.3 respectively).

At Mocrocks from Oct. 14 through April 29, 57,958 digger trips (70,747 in 2015-16 and 58,739 in 2014-15) had 686,628 (965,623 and 818,645 respectively) and harvested for 11.8 digger average (13.6 and 13.9 respectively).

The juvenile clam estimate at Kalaloch Beach on northern coast shows more than 100-million little guys sitting under the sand, but Ayres says many are very small pre-recruit clams tha won’t reach harvestable size for a while.

Diggers search for razor clams as the sun drops over the weatern horizon off Moclips Beach.

“We may have to wait a while to try to harvest them,” Ayres said. “We have around 190,000 adult-size clams which is less than half of what we had a year ago so it may be hard to make case until later on. This is lowest number of adult clams we have seen in past 25 years at Kalaloch. If you had density levels like this you’d have to search hard to find any (adult-size) clams.”

Hopes ran high for Kalaloch last season, which had been closed since 2011-12 season, and then saw a brief dig this past season on Jan. 8-9. That dig produced a paltry 1,410 clams for 637 diggers who averaged 2.2 clams per person.

During 2016-17, 68 digging days coast-wide produced 4,117,431 clams for 281,374 diggers trips compared to 4,665,743 clams with an effort of 327,545 during 2015-16 season.

So far this summer marine toxin levels for domoic acid remained under the 20 parts-per-million cutoff. Latest tests taken showed levels at 14.0 on July 12 at Long Beach; 8.0 on July 11 at Twin Harbors; 11.0 on July 25 at Copalis; and 11.0 on July 25 at Mocrocks.

Fall and winter razor clam digs occur during evening low tides while spring-time digs occur during morning low tides.

State Fish and Wildlife plans to have the public comment review period ready by early next month, and information will be posted at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

“We’ll probably set some digging time during the first part of October where we have a series of good low tides, but everything is dependent on further marine toxin testing,” Ayres said.

Ichiro Nakata of Mercer Island likes what he found in the sand during a night time dig at Copalis Beach.

Word on lost Puget Sound shellfish harvest opportunities

State Fish and Wildlife is looking for public opinion on a draft developed to make up for lost shellfish opportunities on Whidbey Island due to an oil spill from a boat that caught fire in 2012.

The area being looked at is Penn Cove, which was closed for shellfish for several weeks beginning in May of 2012.

“Calculating the value of these damages is a challenging process, but we think we have good data and rational to support our plan,” Don Noviello, with state Fish and Wildlife’s Oil Spill Team said in a news release.

If granted, the plan call for distribution of varying levels of oyster seeds at three beaches in the Penn Cove area over two seasons.

To view the plan, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/habitat/oil_spill/damage.html. Submit comments via email through Sept. 5 at PennCoveNRDA@dfw.wa.gov.