Yesterday I picked up our oldest daughter Ava from school with the Can Am Outlander 6 x 6 in tow and fully loaded with all the fixin’s for an quick afternoon adventure into the woods of the Kitsap Peninsula.
The mission at hand was to teach her five things about the outdoors – pine cones, fir trees, ferns, salal, and some interesting rocks. The bridge between adventure and learning would be a fun ride on this beast-of-a-machine Outlander 6 x 6 along with grilled cheese sandwiches and hot cider off our new Camp Chef Rainier Campers Combo stove.
Shortly after launching the Can Am mothership we were blasting thru huge mud puddles in search of a nice spot for a picnic. It’s essentially been pouring rain non-stop here for the last couple of weeks and there was no shortage of water on the trails and roads where we were riding.
After finding a spot to hunker down for a bit I had the pre-made grilled cheese sandwiches (her fave!) on the stove in short order. I bought this stove because it comes with the griddle which makes it nice for cooking grilled cheese, pancakes, bacon, etc.. It’s a great piece of equipment for making adventures afield fun for the kids!
Ava’s no stranger to this stove. We use it quite a bit at home for “camping” on our back deck and it now resides permanently in my river sled. Packing it along in this ATV was a no-brainer!
It took all of five to ten minutes to whip up the samiches and warm up some cider in the coffee pot. One advantage to this stove is that I don’t have to cart along an extra frying pan. The griddle can also be replaced by a grill for cooking burgers, steaks, and hot dogs and it all packs nicely in a carrying case.
Thankfully Mother Nature gave us a rare sunny afternoon here in the Pacific Northwest to blast outside for this quick adventure. After a grilled cheese sammy and a few shots of hot cider Ava was all fired up to learn a few things about the outdoors.
I have to reset myself sometimes to look at the small things in nature instead of searching for big game, big fish, and big everything. For a four-and-a-half year old that can be kind of daunting. This was the perfect opportunity to do that!
After jumping up and down in a few mud puddles and horsing around a bit we spent some time looking at the different plants that grow in our area. It’s winter and there’s not many bugs or frogs around, so today plants were the go-to item and of course a couple of interesting rocks.
We talked about how pine cones become fir trees, checked out some ferns and salal brush, and looked at a bunch of rocks until we found some interesting ones. One, in particular, looked like a dinosaur tooth. It took a grand total of fifteen minutes to scope out a few items in Mother Nature’s treasure chest, just the right amount of time for a four and a half year old’s attention span.
This morning at breakfast Ava was sitting at the table telling us how the pine cones fall to the ground and become fir trees. I figure I only have around nine more years with her until I become her idiot dad that knows nothing. That may not be far from the truth, but at least for now we can have some fun together. I’d say this adventure was a successful one!
With most deer season’s winding down and and folks updating their social media sites with “success” photos some might find themselves asking, “How are certain people so successful and other’s only find a buck, any buck, every few years?”. I am often asked this same question and what it comes down to is lifestyle. Those that live to hunt also hunt to live. Making eating venison a priority in their life. Ryan Lampers, of Ray’s Baits, is one of these guys, and so is his family. Ryan is a very successful hunter and he explained on The Outdoor Line radio show a few weeks ago that the primary reason he is so successful is because hunting is a lifestyle. Lampers lives, eats, and breaths hunting.
A Montana Late Season Sunset-Rob Endsley
Rob Endsley and I were talking about hunting and how it drives the way we live. Both of us agreeing that preparing for next year’s deer season starts the day after this year’s season ends. Endsley spends a lot of time scouring maps and a lot of time on Google Earth. Pouring over data, success rates, public lands, and access to public lands is what successful game plans are all about. This leads him to new hunting grounds and a higher success rate than the “average Joe”. A willingness to hunt new places, and even other states, will force your to learn new areas, migration routes, herd management, and deer behavior. All of this leads to becoming a better hunter.
Scouting, and learning new areas lead to successful hunts-Jason Brooks
My main hunting partners, Chad and Kyle Hurst, also subscribe to the “hunter’s lifestyle” and make wild game a staple in their diet. Kyle is one of those hunters I describe as a “machine”. A guy who puts physical fitness as well as dietary essentials as a main focus of how he lives. It showed this past fall when we flew into Idaho’s backcountry. Kyle hiked nearly 39 miles in five days and packed meat on three of those days. The last evening of our trip he heard about a hot springs three miles upriver, which he jogged to.
Kyle Hurst with a high country buck-Kyle Hurst
Luckily, we don’t have to be in “super-human” physical shape like Kyle or Ryan, though it does help immensely. Back to how Rob and I prepare for our hunts. By expanding your hunting areas and knowledge you increase your chances at success. Of course I prefer to hunt from my deer camp in my home state of Washington, and I have taken some nice bucks over the years there, but on an average day in Washington I might see three or four bucks. In Idaho I see around ten to fifteen a day. Even then, the “caliber” of bucks is no comparison. In Idaho I passed up bucks until the last afternoon, always looking for “Mr. Big”, and let go several four points that were in the 140-150 inch class. In Washington I rarely pass up any legal buck.
Chad Hurst packing out an Idaho buck he killed 5 miles from camp-Jason Brooks
This brings us to the measure of “success”. I talk to a lot of hunters, some who brag about their big bucks, as they should, but also frown on those that take barely legal bucks. Then there are the hunters who draw a doe permit and get stoked at filling the freezer. The measure of success is an individual decision. Personally, I still get excited to get a doe with my muzzleloader or bow as much as shooting a buck with my rifle.
Adam Brooks with his first deer, a muley doe, and a successful hunt-Jason Brooks
In Idaho this year I wanted a “monster” buck but on the last afternoon of my hunt I ended up taking one of the smallest legal bucks I found on my entire trip. I was thankful for the deer, as I wanted the meat more than the antlers. Plus, I was able to hunt the entire week, given an opportunity at any moment to find my “buck of a lifetime” and enjoying the week in the mountains. This was a total success and at any time I could have shot the buck of a lifetime.
When we got home both Chad and Kyle took their four point racks and put them into the pile in their garage again reminding me that it is the hunt that drives them and their hunt-to-live, live-to-hunt lifestyle.
Most big game seasons are coming to an end right now, but next season is just beginning. Make a pact with yourself to do your homework and up your game between now and next fall. Spend some time studying maps, Google Earth, game department data, and online forums. Become overly proficient with your bow, muzzleloader, or rifle and get yourself in shape. If you’re a weekend warrior then make those weekends count!
Jason Brooks Outdoor Line Blogger Northwest Outdoor Writer
Winter blackmouth season is upon us here in Puget Sound and it’s time to talk about a few lethal rigs to catch these immature king salmon. In the winter months the bait size in Puget Sound is generally a lot smaller than during the summer months and “matching the hatch” can be critical to getting them to snap. Small herring, sand lance, and hooligans make up the bulk of the baitfish in the sound during the winter blackmouth season.
Green Crush/Ace Hi Needlefish Combo
This is a go-to rig anytime there’s candlefish around. I’m a big fan of Luhr Jensen’s “Green Crush” and “Blue Crush” flashers because they have UV on one side and full glow on the other. No matter what the lighting conditions these flashers will give you some “pop” down below in the blackmouth zone. The “Blue Crush” works just as well as the “Green Crush” for me. Pick a winner!
Any time I’m fishing Ace Hi’s or hoochie’s I run a minimum of 50 pound fluorocarbon leader. Flourocarbon is a lot stiffer than monofilament and the combination of that stiffness and the heavier line transmits a lot of action from the flasher back to the Ace Hi. The short 30 inch leader helps with that also. These lures don’t impart their own action so you’ve got to get them shake’n and bake’n with the flasher. Don’t worry about spooking fish with the heavier leader. If the flasher doesn’t spook ’em, the leader sure as heck isn’t going to.
I tie two 3/0 Mustad Ultrapoint hooks back-to-back and very close together for this rig. Next I’ll run four Silver Horde glow beads as spacers to push the hooks toward the back of the Ace Hi “Needlefish”. I like these particular beads because they’re football shaped and it’s takes fewer of them to get the job done. Plus they glow for days.
The best needlefish colors I’ve found so far have been green splatterback and blue splatterback. The chartreuse, purple, black, and white Ace Hi “Needlefish” patterns work great also though. And if you ever get into a situation where there’s squid around run the orange splatterback pattern. I’ve terrorized the kings on that pattern when they’re gorging on squid!
Blue Crush/Coho Killer Combo
Tom Nelson and I refer to the Coho Killer spoon as the “fish detector”. Like the needlefish pattern mentioned above the Coho Killer is also an excellent candlefish imitation and it imitates small winter herring too. Don’t let the name fool you though. This spoon will flat-out murder the blackmouth in the winter months and summer Chinook will hammer this spoon also.
I run a longer 42 inch, 30 pound monofilament leader for this rig because the spoon has it’s own action and doesn’t need any help from the flasher. The flasher brings ’em in for a look and the action of the spoon seals the deal. Monofilament is much more limber than fluorocarbon and lets the spoon dance around freely behind the flasher.
Like most lures the Coho Killer works pretty good right out of the package. A few minor tweaks to this nasty little lure will turn it into a freak show down on the bottom though. The first thing you want to do is accentuate the bends in the lure. By increasing the lures two bends the Coho Killer turns into a blur at trolling speeds and this tweak also makes it switch direction every so often.
Next you’ll want to remove the hook from the tail of the Coho Killer and add a split ring to the rear hook ring. Then add a swivel and a 2/0 Mustad Open Eye Siwash hook to the split ring. This setup allows a hooked salmon to twist and turn when it’s hooked without applying a bunch of torque to the back of the spoon. These spoons are exceptionally lightweight and the addition of the swivel reduces the chance of seriously damaging the spoon every time a fish is hooked.
The top Coho Killer colors for winter blackmouth are Irish Cream, Cookies and Cream, White Lightning, Mexican Flag, and the green, blue, and purple splatter back patterns. The glow and UV patterns work best in the winter months when blackmouth are hugging the bottom in deep water and the chrome plated patterns seem to work better in the summer when salmon are suspended.
Coyote Flasher/Kingfisher Lite Spoon
This is the same rig as above but with a Kingfisher Lite spoon. As I mentioned earlier both the “Green Crush” and “Blue Crush” flashers work excellent as attractors. Run blue on one downrigger and green on the other and see which one is performing better. I started running blue quite a few years ago after noticing that everyone else was running traditional green. Guess what? It worked!
The smaller 2.5, 3.0 and 3.5 Kingfisher Lite spoons do a great job of matching the size of small herring and hooligans in the winter months in Puget Sound. Small herring abound in the sound itself and hooligans can be plentiful in the San Juan Islands in the winter time. Hooligans are small smelt that are between 2 and 4 inches long in the winter and blackmouth love them.
The Kingfisher Lite spoons that seem to get bit the most are Cookies and Cream, Irish Cream, Mexican Flag, Kitchen Sink, Herring Aid, Resurrection, and Yellowtail. Yellowtail doesn’t look remotely like anything you’d find in Puget Sound but the blackmouth don’t seem to care. That’s definitely one of our top spoons for blackmouth year-in, year out. Nelly’s got a couple of these spoons on his boat that have little to no paint left on them.
The Kingfisher Lite spoon also swims a little better by accentuating the bends. Here’s a video from Tom Nelson that shows how to give a little bend to these great spoons to make them fish better.
The Attraction of Scent
John Martinis caught this 16 pound blackmouth on Possession Bar on November 1st, 2016. A 3 inch “Herring Aid” spoon did the trick!
I like to add Pro Cure herring gel to all these lures to help seal the deal. If I’m putting scent on a flasher I will always apply it to the bottom end of the flasher on the glow side. There’s no sense in dulling down the shiny side of the flasher with a bunch of gel. Herring scent is the name-of-the-game in most situations unless I’m trolling around rocky structure that might hold shrimp. In that case I’ll go with a shrimp-based scent like Pro Cure Shrimp/Krill or Shrimp/Anise. Another scent that works great is Pro Cure’s Bloody Tuna Anise. On occasion I’ll cut a small herring strip and add it to the top hook of my Ace Hi Fly just to make it a little more enticing.
A Note on Shakers
These three rigs will catch blackmouth throughout the sound and in some situations that can include undersize blackmouth. If you continue encountering these small blackmouth either leave the area or switch to bigger gear. 4 inch spoons, whole herring, and at times 4 and 5 inch plugs will greatly reduce the number of shaker encounters. Not only are we responsible for taking care of the resource but you’re not fishing effectively if you’re towing around a small shaker on your gear all day.
Fish any of these rigs near the bottom where there’s bait and blackmouth around and you’ll catch fish. These are all time-tested rigs that have filled plenty of punch cards for both myself and Tom “Nelly” Nelson.
Good luck to you this winter blackmouth season and don’t be afraid to share your fish pics and stories with us over on the Outdoor Line forums. And if you’ve got any tips or additions to any of this I’m all ears!
Here’s a couple of outstanding products that have helped my hunting tremendously the last few years:
KUIU Binocular Harness
A few years ago I started shopping around for a new binocular harness that was durable, easy to use, lightweight, and compact. I found that with KUIU’s binocular harness. I live in Washington State and most of my hunting occurs in the west where we don’t think twice about scrambling up mountains and ridges after big game.
As advertised this bino harness fits tight to my chest and does a fairly good job of keeping the rain off my binoculars. If it’s really coming down sideways I’ll pull the rain cover over the harness. Most of the time I don’t need to do that though. If you hunt here in Washington you’ll spend quite a few days in the rain.
Here’s a quick video from Jason Hairston of KUIU that shows how the binocular harness works:
Primos Trigger Stick
I originally purchased the Primos Bi-pod Trigger Stick and had great luck with it. On a particularly windy day a few years back in the blacktail woods, however, I couldn’t hold the crosshairs steady for a standing shot at a buck around 150 yards away. The wind was howling and even with the rifle resting firmly on the bipod the crosshairs were waving all over the place. The second I returned home I jumped on the Primos website and found that they had just released a new tripod version of their Trigger Stick.
I immediately purchased the Jim Shockey Tall Tripodand it’s helped put several deer in our freezer now. Here’s a quick video that shows how it works and there are plenty more videos on YouTube for this product.
The only drawbacks I’ve found with the tripod version is that it’s a little heavier to lug around and if you’re in a stalking situation be sure to keep the rubber strap around the bottom of the legs. If they catch on the brush and then come back together quickly they make a clanging noise thats no bueno. Keeping the strap cinched tightly around the legs alleviates that problem. Because of the added weight I probably wouldn’t take it with me on extreme hunts into the backcountry when shaving pounds and even ounces off a pack is critical. It’s always along on day hunts or hunts where I’m using an ATV for transportation though.
Other than those two minor details the trigger stick has worked flawlessly for me. I’ve hunted with it in -25 below zero temperatures in Montana and driving rain in Washington and it’s worked every time. Learn how to operate this piece of equipment and I promise you it will help you make those difficult shots in the field a lot more do-able.