The Four Cornerstones of Winter Chinook Success!

It’s 0640 Saturday morning, we’re between segments on the Radio Show and Rob Endsley’s pen is just flying across his show sheet.

“Well, if you don’t write it, I will…now what is the fourth blackmouth point?” Rob says.

Some of the best “stuff” happens in between segments while the microphones are off and Robbo and I are rippin’ each other but good. However, often the “fertilizer” that flies both ways feeds an idea or concept that leads to an important or instructive point that is “blog-worthy” or, in this case, four points that boil down a whole bunch of winter chinook wisdom into an easy to remember approach.

Cornerstone One: Fish Deep

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After a late summer and fall of easy coho fishing, it’s very tempting to take a laid back approach to winter chinook or “blackmouth” fishing and that is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Coho or silvers are most often found suspended over deep water while Puget Sound winter chinook are almost always found near structure in a depth band of approximately 80-250 feet of water but generally within 10 feet of the bottom.

While you can enjoy success on silvers without paying strict attention to your boats course or depth, to consistently hook chinook, you have to keep a close eye on both! Despite the fact that I use Cannon’s Bottom Digi-Troll 10’s in Bottom Track mode, to keep your gear within 10 feet of the bottom you must follow the bottom contour –or areas of near equal depth- while at the same time constantly adjusting the depth of the downrigger ball to remain in the strike zone.

Cornerstone Two: Fish Small

HiFly7In the winter we typically find less bait and baitfish individual sizes are at their smallest. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “match the hatch” and that is definitely the best game plan here. Fortunately there are a lot of tackle options that fill the bill. Silver Horde has the Coho Killer, Needlefish Ace-Hi fly and Kingfisher Lite spoons from size 2.0-3.5. With those three items alone you have the ability to mimic bait sizes from 1.5 to nearly four inches! The word “opportunistic” has been used to describe the dietary habits of immature chinook and while they will feed on a wide variety of species, often the best approach is to start small and gather all available information to get dialed in from there.

Cornerstone Three: Fish Fast

evinrudeThe fact of the matter is that in wintertime, there are less baitfish available and fewer fish chasing them than in the summer months and that puts you into a “search mode”. The most effective way to search is to cover water quickly and there is no better way than downrigger trolling to do just that.

However, there is more to fishing fast than just leaning on the throttle. Keeping an eye on current direction and velocity is a great approach to speed up and enhance your fishing efficiency. Chinook tend to face into the current so that feed can be washed into their view and you’ll cover more territory by “riding the tide” as well. Even though your Lowrance or Simrad GPS chartplotter displays a digital speed over ground, the best way to keep track of your speed through the water is to continually monitor the downrigger wire angle and relate that angle to the speed you observe on the GPS display. You’ll find that wire angle increasing when “bucking” or trolling into a tide and that may be an indication that it’s time to change trolling direction!

Cornerstone Four: Fish Near Feed

BairSchoolWinter chinook or “blackmouth” are also refered to as feeder chinook and brother, you had better believe that “findin’ and grindin’” is what they’re all about. When you’re a little fish in a big body of water, one of your best defenses against becoming someone else’s snack is getting bigger so that you fit in less predators mouths. Therefore, fast growth becomes a reproductive and survival advantage to a young chinook and the only way to achieve that growth is to find groceries. So, in turn the smart winter chinook angler needs to find the feed to find the fish and this is where your fishfinder is your very best friend! Learning to correctly operate your sounder, fine tune it’s adjustments and interpret the display will result in a full fishbox. At times, you’ll see larger arcs surrounding a bait ball and that my friend is where you want to stay for a while.

When you consider that there is someplace in Puget Sound to fish for and catch quality chinook all winter long you’ve got to admit that we’re very fortunate indeed to live here! Compared to the Great Lakes that freeze solid and coastal waters that are continually lashed by winter gales, the blackmouth fishery in Puget Sound begins to look very inviting and I hope to see you on the water this winter!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Setting Up My New Deer Rifle – Savage 7mm-08

I’m always looking for an excuse to purchase new toys to satisfy my hunting and fishing fix and this time it just so happened that I “needed” a new low-recoil rifle. I needed one because of a recent hunt for Sitka blacktails in Southeast Alaska and a daughter that just turned two. She seems a little young for a rifle but with the rapidly rising cost of guns and ammo in the U.S. I pitched it to my wife as a solid investment. With any luck our daughter will be hunting with me in the next ten years, or so, and she sure as heck won’t be shouldering my .300 Winnie or my shoulder-thumping Belgium Browning 30.06. It took some convincing but my wife finally bit on my sales pitch.

After a ton of research I settled on the 7mm-08 because the load offers a wide range of ammunition choices and it resides in the lower end of the recoil charts. It’s a veritable cream-puff compared to the bigger magnums. My good friend Jay Field purchased a 7mm-08 a few years back and simply loves it for blacktail hunting in Western Washington and short-range mule deer or whitetail hunts in Eastern Washington.

You can find 7mm-08 ammo from 100 grain all the up to 175 grain which provides a lot more opportunity to hunt big game larger than just deer. Black bears and elk are definitely not out of the picture with the 7mm 08.

I was so happy with the last Savage I purchased I just went ahead and ordered a second one from Sportco in Fife, Washington. For optics I went with a Leupold VX-2 in 3X9 with a Boone and Crockett reticle. This rifle will be used mostly for shots less than 300 yards, so I didn’t see the need to purchase a jacked-up scope for it.

I dropped the gun off with Don Davis and Steve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club and they set the whole sha-bango up for me while I was in Alaska running saltwater charters for the summer.

The first thing Don did was to take the rifle and scope to Northwest Hydroprint in Montesano, Washington to have them apply a camo pattern called “Swamp Hide” to them. After pouring over all the camo patterns on their website I figured this one would fit-in best in the blacktail woods.

After the camo was applied Don mounted the Leupold scope and it was ready for the range.

Factory barrels come with microscopic burrs than can effect the accuracy of the rifle. The first thing Steve does to remove those burrs is to run JB Bore Paste thru the barrel to remove the burrs and polish the barrel. It’s called lapping the barrel and this task should be performed on any new rifle. After every pass with bore paste Steve follows it up with Montana Extreme solvent until he gets a clean patch.

Then the barrel break-in starts. Steve fires a single shot and cleans the barrel with Montana Extreme solvent after every shot for ten shots. He then fires 3 shot groups, cleaning in between each set of shots until he reaches 20 or so. After that the rifle is ready to be sighted-in.

Steve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club breaking in Rob Endsley's new Savage 7mm-08 Another handy product that Steve uses is a bore guide from Midway USA. Bore guides come in a variety of caliber groups and they make sliding the rod into the barrel much easier. Plus, they eliminate any damage that may occur as your banging the cleaning rod against the receiving end of the barrel.  hand_lapping2Here’s the bore guide from Midway USA

hand_lapping After Steve was done conditioning the bore he left the rifle with me for the final sight-in. He already had the rifle hitting the paper and dialing it in from there was a snap. After many years of using sand bags to stabilize my rifle at the range I finally broke down and purchased a Caldwell “Lead Sled”. These platforms make is SO EASY to dial your rifle exactly where you want it and keep it there. lead_sledAfter that it was just a matter of finding a Sitka blacktail and making the shot. As it turned out finding a Sitka blacktail during the pre-rut was no easy task. Sitka’s go into a pre-rut funk the third week of September where they simply vanish from the face of the earth. Low and behold I finally found a buck and my new Savage 7mm-08 performed beautifully.

Rob Endsley with his first Sitka blacktail taken with a Savage 7mm-08 with Federal 140 grain Barnes X ammunitionIf you’re wading thru a mountain of info on small caliber deer rifles I urge you to take another look at the 7mm-08. The 7mm-08 is an excellent caliber for shots under 300 yards and it might allow you to hunt a few different species of game than just deer.

I’m very happy with how this rifle turned out and I can’t wait for the day when I can share the experience of deer hunting with our daughter!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Luhr Jensen Releases New Kwikfish Colors

The rivers are nothing more than a trickle here in Western Washington right now so why would I be blabbing about three new Kwikfish colors from Luhr Jensen? Because one of these days the skies will open up and the rivers they will rise. And when they do you’ll wish you had these plugs in your quiver of Kwiky’s.

These are very simple color patterns that have already been proven salmon crushers over the years. The cerise/chartreuse combo is a take on the old famous “Chicken Little” plug that’s caught bazillions of salmon, the green/chartreuse combo is an anytime-anywhere winner, and I’m particularly fond of the blue/chartreuse combo for the coastal rivers. Kings and coho annihilate this plug in steelhead green water on the coast!

2015 Luhr Jensen Kwikfish colors 2015_kwikfish2Once a tackle shop is out of a particular Kwikfish it may take weeks to get it re-stocked. Right now is when you want to pick up plugs that are on your wish list because when the rains come, well, the rush is on and most of the pegs holding the schwanky fish-killing colors are gone. Pick’em up now and thank me later!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Cogburn’s New Hunting Fat Bike

I just got back from a week long hunting trip in Southeast Alaska with Mike and Dory Schoby who were filming Mike’s new hunting show Border to Border. Mike had a couple of totally bitchin’ Cogburn mountain bikes strapped to his camp trailer.

I promptly yanked one off the trailer and jumped aboard the fat bike to check it out. They come with mondo tires that provide traction and a comfortable ride and you can mount any number of items onto the bike. Mike’s bike was tricked out with Cogburn’s gun/bow rack, a big storage pouch in the center, and large water bottles mounted on the forward forks.

Check out this awesome video that showcases all the features of the Cogburn hunting bike…

With a base price of $2100 the price tag might be a little steep for most, but if you want the ultimate hunting bike this might just be it. Hats off to the folks at Cogburn for building such a well-thought-out bike exclusively for hunters!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle