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.

 

Buoy 10 salmon fishery opens Aug. 1, and don’t expect solitude at highly popular late-summer destination

While king salmon garner most of the attention at Buoy 10 look for some huge coho like this one hooked last August.

By Mark Yuasa

Year in and year out, the Lower Columbia River mouth near Buoy 10 has been deemed one of the top salmon fisheries in the Pacific Northwest and anglers will see an added caveat in later-summer.

Tony Floor, the director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association has made this is second home in late-summer since the mid-1980s, and indicates Buoy 10 usually produces decent action right when it opens.

State Fish and Wildlife says the projected catches at Buoy 10 will be around 22,100 chinook and 16,560 coho (including 1,500 release mortalities).

“I think realistically its tougher to predict this season and the best data is the forecast, which can be debated,” Floor said. “I believe them and have used them for 45 years, and the number this season is significantly down by 35 to 45 percent. The reality button is people should show patience.”

The good news is anglers will be allowed to keep wild and/or hatchery chinook daily, unlike last year when wild chinook needed to be released on Sundays and Mondays. During those two days last summer there was a big drop in effort as not many of the kings are hatchery-marked fish.

The fishing season will get underway on Aug. 1 through Labor Day (Sept. 4) with a daily limit of two salmon, and only one of which can be a chinook. The daily limit at Buoy 10 from Sept. 5 through 30 will be two hatchery coho, but all chinook must be released.

From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, the Buoy 10 rules allow anglers to keep two adult salmon daily, but coho must be hatchery-marked.

In-season considerations include a potential for allowing a chinook mark-selective fishery during all or part of the non-retention season from Sept. 5-30.

The red navigational buoy – known as Buoy 10 – is located just south of the Port of Ilwaco which marks the western boundary of this nearly 20-mile fishing area that heads east upstream to the Tongue Point-Rocky Point boundary above the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Just like last year, if you haven’t already booked moorage space don’t expect to any spaces as the Port of Ilwaco has filled their allotment in August. Anglers will still be able to get their boats in the water at various boat ramps, but be patient and expect long waiting times at the ramps.

The red navigational marker known as “Buoy 10” is a place many anglers flock to, but there are many other areas to fish at the Lower Columbia River mouth.

A Columbia River fall chinook forecast of 582,600 closely mirrors last year’s actual return (951,300 was forecast last year with an actual return of 643,300), and was the fourth largest on record but down significantly from the record runs in 2013 to 2015.

The all-time actual return record dating to 1938 was 1,268,400 adult chinook in 2013, which was 227 percent of the 2003-to-2012 average of 557,600 adult fish. In 2014, the actual return was 1,159,000, which was second-highest on record.

“We saw some of the biggest runs of the century (in 2013-2015), and now it has fallen down due to ocean conditions, El Nino and the blob,” Floor said. “But, despite all the rhetoric it is still a good choice, and the best timeframe will be the third week of August.”

The Columbia River coho forecast calls for 496,200 to arrive off the Washington-Oregon coast, compared to a preseason forecast of 549,200 last year and an actual return of 317,000.

That is a stark difference in comparison to a forecast of 1,015,000 in 2015 and an actual return of 322,100 and a forecast in 2014 of 964,100 with a return of 1,240,800.

The Columbia subtotal this season is 386,300 (380,600 last year and 223,100 actual return) – these are fish that turn the corner of southwest Washington and into the “Big-C” and doesn’t include the northern Oregon coast.

The Columbia forecast last year was 777,100 coho, but less than a third actually returned – 242,300. Poor ocean conditions and a lack of feed could have played a negative role.

The gear at Buoy 10 is fairly simplistic and consists of a weighted diver with a KoneZone- or Fish-Flash-type flasher tied to a leader with a whole or cut-plug herring in 30 feet of water.

Clyde McBrayer of Olympia hoists a beautiful king salmon caught just below the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Anglers will need to constantly check their herring as it will get tattered while being dragged along the sandy bottom or from the extremely strong tides. Spinners like a Toman’s Thumper Flex with a blade in red/white or chartreuse attached to a plastic squid or a Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug lure.

In the early morning on a flood tide, plan to first stop along the Wing Walls – located outside of the Port of Ilwaco – and work your way up and down the river.

The Desdemona Sands (a flat sandy bar which is exposed at low tides) is a place to look at during a mid- to late-flood tide as fish move along the drop-offs. Many will also work the buoy line on the Oregon side up to the bridge, which has also become a very popular area.

Fish either above or below the Astoria-Megler Bridge during flood tide change because that is where the kings tend to hang as they get pushed in with the tide. Others will concentrate at the Church Hole off Fort Columbia State Park; and the northern tip of Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon side west toward Hammond.

A newly discovered location this summer has been the channel leading out of the Port of Ilwaco marina where anglers were scoring on “dip-in” salmon.

The area is very diverse so if the bite is off at the mouth of the river, many will head out into the ocean along the 30-foot line just outside the surf off Long Beach near the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. This is a relatively easy place to fish when ocean conditions allow with anglers letting out 13 to 15 pulls of line (two feet per pull) with a diver or Fish Flash and a whole or cut-plug herring.

The best time off Long Beach is August as salmon stage before moving into the Columbia River, and it doesn’t matter on the tide or time of day as long as the fish are holding. On the surf line look on your depth-finder for huge anchovy baitfish schools.

If the batfish aren’t holding off Long Beach, then another option is the the ocean fishing grounds about 7 to 10 miles to areas west of the CR Buoy at depths of 50 to 80 feet, and ofen-times the Ilwaco charter boat fleet will venture even further to the 300-foot depth line.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife data from last season taken between Aug. 1 and Oct. 2 showed 5,018 boats with 15,701 kept 3,004 chinook (plus 1,332 released), 1,478 hatchery coho (plus 763 coho released) and 12 steelhead (plus two steelhead reelased) for 0.19 chinook per rod average and 0.09 on coho and 0.29 for both species.

The week-by-week catch per rod average was 0.11 for Aug. 1-7; 0.20 for Aug. 8-14; 0.22 for Aug. 15-21; 0.41 for Aug. 22-28; 0.50 for Aug. 29-Sept. 4; 0.48 for Sept. 6-11; 0.17 for Sept. 12-18; 0.13 for Sept. 19-25; and 0.16 for Sept. 26-Oct. 2.

The ocean outside the Lower Columbia River mouth produces very good catches of salmon.

Catches abound outside Buoy 10

The Rocky Point-Tongue Point line to the Lewis River/Warrior Rock line is open from Aug. 1 through Sept. 7 for chinook catch-and-keep, and then only hatchery-marked chinook may be kept from Sept. 8-14. Daily limit is two adult fish, and only one may be a chinook. Chinook retention will reopen Oct. 1 with a two fish daily limit of which two may be chinook.

The Lewis River/Warrior Rock line to Bonneville Dam will be open for chinook from this Aug. 1 through Dec. 31. The daily limit is two adult salmon of which two may be chinook.

In those two areas, state fisheries expect a catch (including release mortality) of 21,890 adult chinook (33,620 last year) and 1,040 adult coho (1,570 last year).

Areas from Bonneville Dam to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco will be open Aug. 1 through Dec. 31 with a daily limit of two adult salmon. The catch expectation is 4,080 adult chinook.

Anglers on the boat may keep fishing until the catch limit is achieved for all aboard from Buoy 10 up to the Oregon/Washington border.

Shore fishing is option at Buoy 10

Both sides at the Lower Columbia River mouth have good shoreline fishing options where anglers can have a decent chance to catch a salmon.

The North Jetty on the Washington side is open daily when the marine area off Ilwaco or Buoy 10 areas are open for salmon. The daily limit and minimum size restrictions follow the most liberal of either of these areas. A saltwater or combination license is required to fish from the North Jetty.

On the Oregon side, anglers on an incoming tide can cast from long sandy stretch of beach-line along Clatsop Spit west of Hammond in the State Park. Most will cast a Blue Fox or Mepps spinner attached to a 30-inch leader with a one ounce banana weight to run it off the bottom. Other will use a number 5 or 6 bell-body red or orange lure with a small Nickle-blade dodger.

Willapa Bay another worthwhile destination

Buoy 10 isn’t the only later-summer option to catch salmon, and just north is Willapa Bay near Tokeland and from the towns of Raymond down to South Bend along Highway 101.

Not only does the Willapa River system host a good number of chinook, but the Columbia River chinook tend to dip-in at Washaway Beach.

The Willapa system itself is expecting a good run of 32,674 (36,200 was forecast last year) hatchery kings for a total run of 36,805, and has seen an increased hatchery production with boosted runs since 1988. This shallow water fishery will be good from August and peaks usually around Labor Day weekend. has seen an increased hatchery production with boosted runs since 1988.

More than a decade ago, the best fishing occurred along the shallow surf line at Washaway Beach on the outer perimeter of Cape Shoalwater, which is the major migration highway for salmon.

Now the fishery has shifted inside the bay’s deep channel and is dotted with red and green channel markers numbered from 2 to 27. The markers start in the middle of the bay and run all the way to the Willapa River mouth, and it is here where the salmon park before heading into the Willapa River salmon hatchery and some to the spawning grounds.

The preferred technique is to slowly troll in water 10 to 25 feet deep using a 6-ounce drop sinker ball on a three-way sliding swivel attached to a chartreuse green Kone Zone flasher and a 6-foot leader laced with a cut-plug herring.

Be sure to keep your bait about 1-2 feet off the bottom, smack dab in front of the fish’s face.

Salmon move in and out of the bay to feed on baitfish pushed in by the tides. Stay away from big tidal flows as grass that gets pushed into the bay can make it virtually impossible to keep off you gear.

 

Columbia River Catch and Release Sturgeon

by Jason Brooks

The lower Columbia river that separates Oregon and Washington is a super-highway for salmon and steelhead. As fall runs approach most anglers set up and wait to intercept fish. A single take-down makes everyone on board excited but what if there was another fishery where you can catch over a dozen or two fish that are measured in feet instead of inches using simple techniques on the same waters; there is and its sturgeon fishing!

Bruce Warren and Ryan Brooks with a Columbia River sturgeon-Jason Brooks

The lower Columbia is full of sturgeon and thanks to a well-regulated fishery with a long catch and release season you can go out with minimal gear and catch fish all day long. This past week my son Ryan and I joined Chris Kelly and his son Nathan and fished with Bruce Warren of Fishing for Fun Guide Service (253) 208-7433.

The morning’s Sun rising over the Columbia-Jason Brooks

Using two large sand shrimp wrapped onto a Gamakatsu 6/0 Big River barbless hook tied to a 40-pound lead of Izorline’s clear XXX we made sure to soak the baits with Pro-Cure bait oil. The mainline was 65-pound braid spooled onto a level wind reel and a stout 7’8” rod rated for 12-40 pounds. A 16-ounce pyramid weight on a slider kept our bait right on the bottom.

Sand shrimp soaked in Pro-Cure on a 6/0 Gamakatsu Big River barbless hook-Jason Brooks

The bites were surprisingly light. A tap of the rod tip and a few pulls, then you set the hook by swinging the rod upriver and reeling down at the same time. It took about a dozen bites for us to get the technique down and then the catching began.

Chris Kelly and his son Nathan with Guide Bruce Warren-Jason Brooks

As the sun rose we moved to a few other spots. Bruce doesn’t like over fishing any one place, even though all of the fish were safely released. Most of the sturgeon were between 35 and 45 inches with the largest fish of the day measuring 46 ½ inches at the fork landed by Chris Kelly and his son Nathan doing a team effort.

The biggest fish of the trip measured just shy of 5 feet-Jason Brooks

At the end of the day we pulled back into the marina and briefly talked to the fish checker. Out of a half a dozen boats only one summer Chinook was reported as being caught. He asked if we caught anything and when I replied we landed 18 fish in less than four hours he looked at me and knew that we were sturgeon fishing. Adding that this was about normal for a few hours. We didn’t see any other boats on the water during our entire trip while sitting on anchor for sturgeon.

Chris Kelly fighting one of the eighteen fish we caught in just a few hours with Guide Bruce Warren-Jason Brooks

Bruce Warren is one of the best lower Columbia guides I fish with. Not only does he provide a safe and successful trip but he is willing to share his techniques and make sure you know how to catch fish. He mentioned that this fishery will be great for several more weeks as long as the water temperatures are warm and there is a good current.

Guide Bruce Warren of Fishing for Fun Guide Service casting out the heavy set-up -Jason Brooks

We fished through a tide change but as long as the water was flowing downstream we were catching fish. So while you await the fall salmon and steelhead runs head to the Columbia and sit on anchor and do some sturgeon catching or give Bruce a call and he’ll be happy to take you out and show you how it’s done.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Scout Now for Fall Bear Season

by Jason Brooks

Fall bear season is just a few weeks away and that means it is time to start scouting. Late July and early August provides enough daylight, warm weather, and opportunities to locate your bear now so when the season opens you are ready. Here are a few tips on locating the best bear areas now to be successful this fall.

The author’s son Ryan scouting open slops for signs of black bears-Jason Brooks

#1. Glass for bears, habitat, and terrain.

When scouting don’t just sit and look for animals. In July and early August, you might not find game out feeding. The lack of seeing game doesn’t mean bears aren’t there, it just means that bears aren’t there right now. Especially if the berries and other food sources are not ripe. Also keep in mind that the daylight is still strong, the temperatures warm, and thermal winds kick up earlier. Instead look for plants, other food sources, benches, hiking routes, stalking routes and camping spots. The idea of scouting isn’t just about finding game but also learning the lay of the land. A good pair of binoculars and a spotting scope are a must. Lightweight and compact models such as the Vortex Vanquish are perfect for scouting trips.

Mountain Ash is one of the black bears favorite fall foods-Jason Brooks

#2. Bears like berries.

As the alpine snow finally melts off you will notice the blooming wildflowers starting to wilt. This is because most of those flowers are blossoms to the many wild berry patches that grow in Washington. Learn how to identify the plants from afar and you will locate the bears much easier. Broadleaf plants, such as thimbleberries, blackberries, and wild raspberries ripen first. Concentrate on avalanche chutes and open slopes were you locate these plants. Mountain ash is a small tree or large bush and bears love the berries they yield. You can spot an ash tree from a long distance away and bears will shake them, rip them down, and pull them over when their fruit is ripe. Oftentimes I locate bears simply by watching the brush and see if it starts to move or shake.

Bug’s are annoying, so be prepared to keep them away while out scouting-Jason Brooks

#3. Be bug prepared.

Hiking in July and August is primetime for biting bugs. Especially in the high country where ground heather, moss, and tarns are still saturated with water. Mosquitos can ruin a day of scouting. Biting black flies are even worse. Use a quality repellent with DEET. If you don’t like using chemicals then a good head net, bug resistant clothing, and a Thermacell are a must, especially when sitting and glassing.

With the long summer days, and clear skies now is the time to get into the mountains and start looking for bears and their habitat. Learn the food sources in your hunting area. As fall approaches bears will go into a constant feeding mode and you will find them out eating all throughout the day. For now, just locating where the food is, how to get there, and a place to set up camp will help you fill your tag when the season opens.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography