2018 Columbia River Fall Chinook Forecast

2018 Fall Chinook Forecast for the Columbia River

by Jason Brooks

The 2018 Fall Columbia River Chinook forecast was just announced today. Anglers hoping to catch an Upriver Bright won’t be too excited over the forecast. Last fall the predicted return was 582,600 fish but after the season was over the actual return fell over 100,000 short of that with 475,900 Chinook arriving. 2018 predicted return is 365,600 total Chinook.

Buzz Ramsey with a 2017 Columbia Upriver Bright-Jason Brooks

 

Looking at last years’ predictions and returns, most of the runs were assumed to be higher than what really came back. But the over-estimated Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH) was way off with a 2017 prediction of 158,400 and only 48,200 coming back. 2018 has fish biologist making lower predictions, hopefully underestimated.

An estimated 200,100 Upriver Bright (URB) run, still less than half of the ten-year average, is on par with the other stocks predictions with a total run estimation about half of the ten-year average. Biologist stated, “Several years of poor ocean conditions are likely contributing to the decreased returns”, once again blaming the warm water blob and other conditions to the reason for the low returns.

One bright note is that the Colville Confederated Tribe hatchery at Bridgeport is finally putting out 2.9 million smolts. Last year being the first year of returning adult fish. Even if Buoy 10 is slow this year, the famed Brewster terminal fishery at the mouth of the Okanogan River should provide a good opportunity at some summer Chinook. But come fall, anglers might be looking at shorter seasons depending on the North of Falcon process.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Ling Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

5 Tips for High Water Steelhead

5 TIP’S FOR HIGH WATER STEELHEAD

by Jason Brooks

Two weeks of rain and counting with more to come. It seems like our rivers and streams will never come back “into shape” and our winter steelhead season continues to dwindle down from months to weeks. Rain and high water makes it difficult but it doesn’t mean that anglers can’t go fishing. Once the rivers stabilize it is time to give a few different techniques a try to increase your catch rate in high water.

Ted Schuman with a steelhead caught during a recent rain storm and high water conditions-Jason Brooks

 

Target travel lanes and soft edges.

As the saying goes, “Fish where the fish are”. The most obvious places are behind boulders and root wads, but don’t overlook points that are jutting out into the river and create a current break. The high water is now flooding weeds, brush and shoreline grasses  that slows the currents and the fish often hold in the “soft waters” near the river’s edge.

Fish the soft edges right at the bank of an overflowing river-Jason Brooks

 

Pull bait divers and plugs.

By keeping your baits in front of fish for an extended period of time your catch rate increases. But in high and off colored water the fish can be moving so this makes it hard to cast and drift-fish “slots” where the fish might only hold for a brief period of time. Using Brad’s bait divers or pulling plugs means you can keep the bait or plug in the zone for a long time and entice holding fish as well as intercept moving fish.

Bait Divers and Pulling Plugs are very productive ways to fish in high water-Jason Brooks

 

Increase the profile of your lures and baits.

Fishing pink worms, either under a float, bobberdogging, or drift fishing has become a staple for winter steelheaders. Most of the time a 4-inch worm is preferred but when the flows bring turbid waters upsize the worms to a six-inch one. You can add some “flash” by putting a bead under a Mack’s Lure Smile Blade at the front of the worm and a matching pill float. Medium size coonstripe instead of the small, or a whole sand shrimp with a size 10 Spin-N-Glo are great upsized baits for high water steelhead.

Upsize your gear and add some contrast or flash to pink worms with a smile blade-Jason Brooks

 

Double-up the terminal gear.

Anglers who bobberdog often fish a yarnie with a bead trailer. When fishing high water this is a great technique to use so if a steelhead misses the first bait then the second one is trailing right behind and the fish capitalizes on the opportunity. Floating jigs also allows you to use a “dropper” with a trailing bead pegged a few inches from a Gamakatsu wide-gap hook. Steelybeads are a local company from Vashon Island, WA and each bead is hand painted. This assures the angler that each bead is not only the color you want but that it is free from any defects as they are all inspected, one at a time. With the off-color water increase the size to a 12mm or even a 14mm.

The author “doubled-up” on steelhead by using a yarnie trailed by a bead-Jason Brooks

 

Scent it up.

Steelhead anglers like to use scents and cures to entice a bite. Garlic, Bloody Tuna, Shrimp, or any other “flavor” is a personal choice but steelhead like sweets and Anise should always be at the top of any steelheader’s list.  Water soluble oils work great for yarnies and jigs but when the water is high it is best to use a scent that sticks and won’t wash off quickly. Pro-Cure’s Super Sauce will stay on even in high flows. Don’t think it’s just for the bait. You can disperse more scent if you smear it on your hook, rub it on the leader, and your weight.

Rob Endsley with a hatchery steelhead that bit after using some Pro-Cure Super Sauce-Jason Brooks

 

When the water is high and muddy look for fish to hold in soft waters and current breaks. Fish these places to increase your catch ratio and don’t let the weather forecast keep you from hitting the river. Even if flows are too high to drift boat or use a jet sled, a day out hiking along a riverbank can lead you to new places and a day out fishing when nobody else is on the river.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

4 Tips for Taking More Coyotes

by Jason Brooks

With winter in full swing and our big game season’s over the hunter who doesn’t chase waterfowl might be finding themselves wishing it was still October. But there are a few other things that those who prefer to chase after ungulates instead of fowl can do right now to keep the hunt going and help our quarry through the winter. The most obvious is to go predator hunting, especially for coyotes. Here are a few things to consider when taking afield to hunt the killers of elk calves and deer fawns, the wily coyote.

The author chose to wear solid earth tone colors when hunting near an orchard-Jason Brooks

Know how to set-up to call and your surroundings

A few weeks ago I took my boys and my brother out to call coyotes in Eastern Washington. On our first set of the day we positioned ourselves on a rim above a steep canyon that led down to the Columbia river and an orchard. Using a remote electronic caller, I varied the calls from pup whimpers and birds fighting. Knowing that the coyotes would be coming in from a long distance the call choice was pretty much the highest shrills and screams the electric call had so it would carry a long distance. After twenty minutes we decided to try a new spot and stood up, only to find a coyote running away on the ridge above us. All of us set up thinking any coyotes would be coming in from below and when we saw the dog it was too late, realizing that someone should have set-up to look behind us.

Troy Brooks keeps an eye out for songdogs as he heads for a calling set-Jason Brooks

Use cover and camo

Coyotes have very good eyesight and their hearing allows them to pinpoint exact locations. This is why a remote with an electronic call has really helped those who hunt alone. But if you choose to use mouth calls just know that good camo and sitting inside or alongside cover will keep the coyotes from figuring out you’re not a dying jackrabbit. Western Washington has a lot of neighborhood havoc causing coyotes. Hunting small parcels of land near developments isn’t uncommon as long as you have permission from private land owners or the public land is zoned where you can hunt. In these cases, the hunter should wear earth tones, such as brown’s greens, and black so not to draw attention from others.

A hunter sits in a sagebrush bush to conceal himself while calling coyotes-Jason Brooks

Be persistent and patient

Depending on where you are and the terrain you are calling will determine how long to call for. A few weeks ago while chasing deer in the late December archery season in Western Washington I cut several coyote and bobcat tracks. Just about every clear-cut landing had some kind of sign of the predators. If I know a bobcat is in the area then I will call for a much longer period of time as they are very patient and so should you be. In a small clear-cut, a hundred acres or less, then twenty minutes is plenty of time for coyotes. The dense forest of Western Washington means the calls won’t carry too far. For the large timber cuts, over a hundred acres, then treat it like you would in Eastern Washington. Give the predators time to cover the distance. I often set a minimum bench mark for 20 minutes and go from there up to an hour.

Western Washington is very dense and coyotes will come in close-Jason Brooks

Use the right gun and ammo

Hunting coyotes and other predators in Eastern Washington means that their pelts are worth money. There are several fur buyers that will buy the coyotes whole or skinned, as long as the fur isn’t damaged. I have three guns that are my “coyote hunting arsenal”. The first is my all-around rifle, a Winchester Model 70 Ranger chambered in .223 Remington. This caliber is light, fast, and perfect for shooting coyotes from 50 yards to 200 yards with little pelt damage and is the rifle I use the most. If I am hunting the wheat fields of the Palouse where shots can be very far then I take my Thompson Center Encore in .243 Winchester. I also take this rifle for hunting Western Washington or any other places where I might run into a Cougar (when the season is open). Lastly, is my 12 gauge. A Mossberg 500 with a modified choke. The shotgun goes with me on all of my hunts and sometimes is the only gun I take for Western Washington hunting and is used for shots from 40 yards and under.

The author’s favorite coyote guns, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and the 12 gauge (left to right)-Jason Brooks

The ammunition you choose also makes a big difference. You want a light bullet that enters but then explodes and does not exit. The idea being a small hole going in, and none coming out. Shot placement makes a big difference in this as well but after several years of hunting coyotes I have found the V-Max by Hornady does a great job with little pelt damage. I stopped re-loading my predator rounds awhile back too, since the line of Hornady Superformance Varmint is extremely accurate and can be found with their V-Max bullet. Hornady also makes a Heavy Magnum Coyote shotgun load in 12 and 20 gauge. I prefer the BB size shot in 3-inch magnum 12 gauge. The BB’s are lead and nickel coated, so do not use these for a goose hunt or ducks, even if you jump some while out coyote hunting.

Quality ammo and bullet selection is very important to minimize fur damage or make a lethal kill-Jason Brooks

Why you should hunt coyotes

Some people have a hard time shooting an animal and not using it in some way. The coyotes hunted in Western Washington have no value on the commercial fur market and in a few weeks the dogs in Eastern Washington and Oregon won’t be worth anything either. Once the breeding season starts, usually around the first of February, coyotes start to rub and this ruins the fur. So, why hunt coyotes? Simply put, they are predators and kill a lot of deer fawns and elk calves. As a hunter we owe it to our quarry to conduct sound wildlife management and as we build shopping malls and sub-burbs we shrink the healthy deer and elk habitat but coyotes can thrive in these same locations. If a non-hunter challenges you about hunting coyotes remind them that they also carry a variety of diseases including Parvo and Mange that is easily transferred to our family pets. And speaking of family pets, coyotes love to eat our furry friends and have even tried to grab toddlers and young kids, though very rare. Just because deer and elk season is over doesn’t mean hunting season is over. Head out and hunt coyotes.

Coyotes kill  deer during the winter as well as fawns and elk calves in the Spring-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Tips for a Successful Late Season Quail Hunt

by Jason Brooks

With just a few weeks left in the upland bird hunts for Washington it is time to start changing up tactics a bit to increase your success on late season quail. The birds have been hunted hard now for several months but thanks to these small and tasty birds the broods are often large enough to handle the extra-long season of opportunities. But once the temperatures plummet you will need to change how you approach the day’s hunt.

Birds don’t start their daily movements until well after the sun is up when it’s cold-Jason Brooks

Don’t start too early

Though we often like to be in the hills at first light, and with that being somewhere after breakfast anyway this time of year, birds are slow to come out of the roost. Quail are mostly a ground roosting bird which means they will often be holding under sagebrush and dense cover until the sun hits and starts to warm them up. The tiny birds will roost in thick spruce or pine trees if available so look for a sage covered hillside that might also have a stand of evergreens. I find most of my birds in the middle of the day.

Quail hunting in the middle of the day is the most productive-Jason Brooks

Don’t hunt late

Just like how the birds don’t really get moving until mid-day they also tend to head for their nighttime safety early in winter. As the sun starts for the far horizon quail will start to shorten their movements and stop feeding. The key to a late season bird hunt is to maximize the middle of the day when the birds are out moving and actively feeding.

The author prefers to use his side by side with size 6 shot-Jason Brooks

Pick the right shotgun, load and choke

With the cold temperatures I will bundle up in layers of wool, down jackets and gloves. Auto-loading shotguns help with the lack of needing to move a pump and aid your follow-up shots. If you do use a pump-action then be sure to use a gun oil that can take cold temperatures. I prefer to use my side by side as it is a challenge as well as a great gun to shoot. Tighten your chokes up from Improved Cylinder to Modified if you wish to continue to use light shot such as size 7 1/2’s. This will help with the dense plumage the birds have put on since early fall. Instead of changing the choke consider moving up to size 6 shot in a high brass. The wider choke allows for an increased pattern size and the larger shot helps penetrate the feathers.

Late season quail will hold very tight, even with a dog on full point-Jason Brooks

Expect tight holding birds

In the early season it seems I can barely get close enough to a covey before they bust and flush. I don’t mind this as it allows me to pick up singles and doubles on the second approach. But in winter the cold weather and snows make it so the birds don’t want to flush easily. This past weekend we were hunting with our Hungarian Vizsla and one bird was six inches off her nose and still wouldn’t flush. The dog held point and I kicked the bush a few times to get it to fly. Since the birds hold so tight most shots will be very close which is another reason to keep the choke wide and use a larger shot.

Hunt into the wind to give your dog the best chance to find the birds-Jason Brooks

Watch the weather

Cloudy days and days with lots of moisture, either in snow or fog, makes for a long and tough day of bird hunting. This is mostly because the birds will be in dense cover to keep from getting wet and cold. It can be almost impossible to get a covey to move or flush in these conditions. More than once I have seen quail running around in a big thicket but no matter what I did they wouldn’t flush. Try and hunt sunny days as the birds will be on the move and out in the warm sunlight. If there is a breeze then make sure to work your dog into the wind as the scent can travel and cause your dog to “false point” when hunting with the wind or even pick up birds from behind. I’ve made the mistake of hunting with the wind and walk right past birds only to have them flush behind me.

A late season quail hunt is one of the best ways to spend a winter day-Jason Brooks

Keep in mind that if you are cold then so is your dog. Give them some extra food at the end of the day to help them regulate their temperatures and get their strength back. Water for your four legged hunting partner and for yourself is often overlooked in the winter. Be sure to offer it to your dog regularly. The season is only a few weeks away from the end so on the next sunny day get out and chase some late season quail.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Rifle Review: Kimber Mountain Ascent

by Jason Brooks

Being a backcountry hunter for the past thirty-plus years I have learned that weight is everything. Over the years I have hunted far from the trailhead and in the early years I started with an all-steel Remington Model 141 Gamemaster chambered in 35 Remington and topped with a weaver fixed 4X scope. That rifle package weighed over 10 pounds. Since then I have gone through a few different rifles trying to balance weight with accuracy and ballistics. I’ve never really found a rifle that I liked until I came across the new Kimber Mountain Ascent. The Kimber Mountain Ascent is the lightest bolt action hunting rifle in production today.

Kimber’s Mountain Ascent is a lightweight and extremely accurate rifle for the backcountry-Jason Brooks

My Kimber Mountain Ascent chambered in .280 Ackley Improved with a Vortex Razor HD LH 2-10x40mm scope weighs in at just over 6 pounds. I’ll review the re-emergence of the .280 Ackley Improved cartridge in another blog along with the new Razor HD Lightweight Hunter scope. I’m very impressed with both. So here is the lowdown on the rifle that packs light, shoots straight, and kills efficiently.

The three position Model 70 style safety is easy to use and very reliable-Jason Brooks

I chose the solid moss green stock for my Kimber Mountain Ascent because I just don’t care much for camouflage stocks. The moss green stock is made of reinforced carbon fiber that is extremely lightweight, resists scratching, and has texture so it stays solid in your hand on wet, cold days. If you prefer a camouflage stock Kimber has Gore Optifade “Open Country” and “Subalpine” stock options with soft touch finishes that are warm to the touch and grip easily.

The first thing I noticed about the rifle was the long barrel. Most “mountain rifles” come with either 20 or 22-inch barrels to save weight. In lieu of a short barrel Kimber flutes a very thin 24-inch barrel to give it strength and stability. The longer barrel offers higher velocities since the bullet has a longer path to travel and build pressure. It also increases accuracy as the bullet can stabilize with an extended distance in contact with the rifling. With the longer barrel there’s also less margin of error when it comes to pointing the barrel at your target.

However, this is a hunting rifle, not a range rifle, and after the second subsequent shot the barrel was warm to the touch. Three quick successive shots and the barrel was borderline hot. In a perfect world we make “one shot kills” but when an immediate follow-up shot is needed be aware of barrel heating. When sighting-in at the range adequate time is needed between groups to let the Kimber’s lightweight barrel cool down. I’d recommend practicing with this rifle at the range before taking it afield. It’s so lightweight that it may take you a few range sessions to get a feel for shooting it.

A muzzle break helps tame the recoil of the light rifle-Jason Brooks

The larger-caliber Mountain Ascent’s comes with a threaded barrel and cap as well as a muzzle break. It’s your choice on which to use and they change out easily. I prefer the muzzle break since the rifle is very lightweight. Recoil can be an issue with any lightweight rifle and the muzzle break helps with this as does the with the pre-fitted Pachmeyr Decelerator pad that’s standard with the Kimber. My rifle doesn’t kick enough for me to worry about flinching as long as I used hearing protection, which is a must with a muzzle break. With the muzzle break the .280 Ackley Improved and the rest of the magnum calibers are a dream to shoot with the Mountain Ascent. Lightweight rifles certainly produce more recoil and the muzzle break attenuates that nicely.

A fully adjustable trigger makes for a fine shooting rifle-Jason Brooks

Extremely lightweight rifles are often given a bad reputation for being inaccurate. This can be partly due to a heavy trigger pull and the shooter rocking the rifle or “rolling” their finger on the trigger instead of using a steady pull. Kimber is well aware of this and allows shooters who prefer a light trigger to make this adjustment easily. Each rifle is test fired before leaving the factory and Kimber guarantees sub-MOA accuracy.

My first range session had me wondering how this was possible. After realizing I was moving the rifle as I was firing it I looked up how to adjust the trigger. A couple bedding screws keep the action and free-floating barrel in the stock and two small set-screws on the trigger assembly adjust the weight-of-pull and trigger travel. It took me about five minutes from start to finish to adjust the trigger. Since then I have had sub-MOA accuracy with quality ammo every time I’ve shot the rifle.

Every ounce that can be shaved has been taken off of the rifle-Jason Brooks

The action has just about every ounce shaved off including hollowing the bolt handle and trimming down the action. The rifle will hold four rounds in the internal magazine but I had some difficulty trying to chamber a round when I put all four cartridges in the gun. Instead I would only put three rounds in the rifle and for the most part it chambers and cycles just fine. Again, think of this rifle as a “make the shot count” tool and you will have no problems.

The author with an Idaho backcountry bull he took with the Kimber Mountain Ascent-Jason Brooks

The Kimber Mountain Ascent is an extremely accurate rifle that is easy to carry in the field, so “making the shot count” is not much of a problem. It took me one shot at 310 yards to kill a five-point bull elk in Idaho’s backcountry this past fall and I had no problem carrying the rifle back to camp with a heavy load of meat. With any lightweight backcountry hunting rifle I’m reticent to take shots beyond 400 yards and this rifle is no different.

The Kimber Mountain Ascent fits the criteria as a true mountain hunting rifle and in my opinion is well worth the price. If you’re looking to shave pounds or even ounces off your load on your next backcountry hunting trip this rifle should be at the top of your list.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Catch More “B” Run Coho this Holiday Season

by Jason Brooks

Brian Chlipala with a “Christmas” Coho-Jason Brooks

With all of the rain predicted this week and warmer temperatures making for swollen rivers that means that the “B” run Coho will be arriving!

Fish have been trickling in for the past few weeks, pushing in with the last of the chums. Now that the wet weather is here the late returning Coho will only get better once the rivers become fishable. Here are a few tips on increasing your catch on these big “Christmas” Coho.

Wrapped plugs in high and off-color water are deadly for late Coho-Jason Brooks

Backtrolling Plugs

In high water look for moving fish along soft edges. This is where pulling plugs can really put a lot of fish in the box. K-15 Kwikfish, Yakima Bait Company Mag-Lip 3.5’s and 4’s, or Brad’s Killer Fish K14’s wrapped with a piece of herring or tuna belly are great producers in high water. Bright colors such as double Trouble, Fickle Pickle, and Mad Clown are top producers for Coho.

Use spinners, plugs, and spoons for low visibility and high water conditions-Jason Brooks

Throw Hardware

While the waters are high and off color using a bright spinner, spoon, or even throwing and retrieving plugs like the Brad’s Wigglers, Wiggle Warts, or Yakima Bait Fat Wiggler’s can make for fast action. Coho are known to be aggressive and in waters where visibility is limited be sure to use bright colors with a metallic finish. Vibrax size 5 spinners are a mainstay when it comes to catching coho in off colored water.

Jigs twitched in backwaters and under logs are hard to beat for B run Coho-Jason Brooks

Twitching Jigs

Late Coho like to stack up in backwaters and soft-water pockets. Twitching jigs has become one of the most popular techniques for the slow water where these fish hold, but don’t overlook “drift twitching” which is twitching jigs in current. Look for logs and trees where the water is only a few feet deep. As you float by these areas toss in a jig and give it a twitch. My “go to” twitching jigs are Mack’s Lure Rock Dancer made of bucktail so they can withstand the toothy hook-nosed bucks. Try black and purple or cerise and black in 3/8 ounce. Another great twitching jig is the Aero Jig from Hawken Fishing. They come in both 1/2 ounce and 3/8 ounce sizes and are lethal twitching jigs in the river.

Use a heavy dose of scents and add some bait to jigs in high water-Jason Brooks

Scent It Up

Don’t forget to use a lot of scent, especially when the water is still high and visibility is low. Pro-Cure Super Sauce or Super Gels hold on in the turbulent waters. Shrimp is one of the most productive scents but also give bloody tuna, salmon egg, herring, or anchovy a try. Tip your jigs with a piece of raw prawn or sand shrimp tail and wrap your plugs with a sardine fillet to add more scent.

Check the river conditions before you go-Jason Brooks

Know When and Where To Go

Keep an eye on the current river graphs and the forecasts for river levels. Once your favorite salmon river peaks and starts to drop the fish will be on the move. If the rivers drop back down to historical means then look for fish in the back eddies, coves, and sloughs. If the water is still above the mean level then target the seams and travel lanes, such as along the soft grassy edges where the fish will be on the move.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Very Few Bucks in Idaho’s Backcountry, Elk Abound

Hunt Report: Idaho!

by Jason Brooks

Spending this past week in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness I found myself in an unusual situation. After putting up the wall tent and unpacking our gear for the week as the Cessna 206 flew away leaving us in solitude I found myself peering through my spotting scope. Normally we see plenty of deer from camp including small bucks and does but looking up and down all of the draws and canyons we were not finding any deer. Then movement caught my eye on a far mountain; elk!

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the lower 48-Jason Brooks

On our way over to McCall, Idaho I stopped at a gas station in Lewiston that is a IDFG vendor. Reports from last year’s harsh winter indicated that deer numbers were down, with the exception of the Salmon River region where we were going, which had a “normal winter”. I decided to buy a second deer tag in case my trigger finger itched before I found a mature buck but the attendant told me that all of the leftover non-resident tags were sold out. However, there were still elk tags left so I pulled out the $115 difference and bought an elk tag.

The sight of the elk put me at ease but I was concerned about the lack of deer. The next morning, I was up at 4:00 AM and headed out by headlamp to climb the eight miles where I last saw the elk bedding down on a ridgeline the evening before. As the sun came up I realized that I hiked up an adjacent ridge and in this country that meant I was a long-ways off. After confirming with my GPS I kicked it into gear and closed the 5-mile detour only to find the elk had migrated over to another mountain several miles away.

An abandoned Fire Lookout high on top of an Idaho mountain-Jason Brooks

Taking lunch at an old fire lookout and then a nap while I waited for an evening hunt the
weather began to change. Temperatures dropped and a cold front was moving in. After my rest I radioed back to camp and told my dad that I would be in late. He replied by letting me know he found another herd of elk; this time the group included at least five legal bulls.

On my way down the ridge I found six shed deer antlers and once in the bottom of the draw it became obvious why I wasn’t seeing very many deer.

The protected draws and gullies where full of bones, deer skeletons fully intact including their rib cages which meant there were so many dead deer predators and scavengers didn’t even try for the easy meals. Last winter’s deep freeze caused severe winterkill on the deer. I have been hunting this same area since 1991 and the only time I have seen this many starved deer was after the severe winter of 1996.

A doe that starved to death during last winter wasn’t even eaten by scavengers as there were so many deer that were winter killed-Jason Brooks

Unlike the mule deer, the elk of the region fared much better, mostly due to their rut being in September allowing them to put back on fat reserves before the winter began. Once again I found myself up a few hours before daylight. This time I was joined by an old friend, Russ McClellan, who had an elk tag as well. We hiked three miles in the dark and stopped at a vantage point that allowed us to glass the open face of a mountain as the sun came up. Elk were everywhere!

Russ glassing the open hillside where the elk bedded on a bench-Jason Brooks

Making a stalk up the far ridge to conceal ourselves we only got up about a 1,000 feet into our 3,000-foot climb when we spotted another herd of elk making their way up a creek drainage. Knowing the big herd was heading for the timber and would bed down we quickly dropped our elevation gain and headed up the creek drainage. Finally catching up to the herd two miles later we discovered two small, sub-legal bulls. The hike and climb back to our first stalk was miserable.

Russ McClellan admires his bull he took in Idaho last week-Jason Brooks

The stalk took us nearly five hours but soon we cut over to the ridge above the elk. Everywhere we looked there were elk. Sentry cows kept guard but we stayed concealed on the backside of the ridge.  Closing the distance to 300 yards I used a lone sage on the ridgeline to keep the cows from seeing me. A big, mature bull fed into a small opening and then laid down with a snag between me and him. I didn’t risk the shot but instead found a 5-point bull in some small fir trees. Finding the bull in my Vortex scope the Kimber Mountain Ascent in .280 Ackley Improved barked once and the bull ran fifty yards before tipping over. Russ was ready when a 4×5 bull stood up at my shot and he connected with his Weatherby Vanguard in .308. A good bullet design is a must when hunting elk and the Hornady ELD-X penetrates and holds up against tough animals like elk. I prefer to handload the 7mm bullet but Hornady also makes commercial rounds, even for the .280 Ackley Improved.

The Authors Kimber Mountain Ascent topped with a Vortex HD LH 2-10x40mm, a lightweight rifle and scope combo-Jason Brooks

We spent the evening boning out elk and made it to camp just before 11:00 PM. Early the next morning we set out to continue packing meat which took us three days to get all of the elk back into camp. The storms continued with rain during the day and snow at night until Saturday, the day we were set to fly-out. Broken clouds and the drone of an airplane woke us and we broke camp. By the time we flew out that afternoon I tallied up the animals I spotted. Over 200 elk with nine bulls but just over 100 deer and ten bucks spotted. Normally I see between 15 and 20 bucks a day. That night in McCall I looked at the weather forecast, more snow. If this ends up being another bad winter, then the deer will take a major toll. Let’s hope at least the elk continue to thrive. Unlike last year we didn’t hear or see any signs of wolves.

The bull that fell to the author’s Kimber Mountain Ascent in .280 Ackley Improved-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Catch More Salmon in Low Water

by Jason Brooks

With a dry summer and now a fall that is extending the dry season our rivers are extremely low. But even with the skinny water the salmon need to get to the spawning grounds and are entering with each new tide. What might seem like lock-jawed fish it can be very frustrating to get the fish to bite. Here are a few tips to consider when fishing low water and making the most of the conditions to catch more fish.

Finding where the fish are holding is key in low water conditions-Jason Brooks

Find “pocket water” which are small areas with structure. They can be as simple as a small run with sunken logs that the fish will use for cover. Floating eggs along the structure to fish that are hiding will allow you to target biting fish.

Downsize your baits when the water is low-Jason Brooks

Smaller baits. Instead of fishing the standard “golf ball” sized bait switch to smaller egg clusters and the 18 count sand shrimp or jus the tails of the dozen count. The low water means you don’t need a large bait and the smaller baits allow you to use a smaller hook size which will penetrate easier and quicker to a fish that isn’t grabbing it very hard.

Concentrate on smaller areas where fish will use structure such as sunken logs to hide-Jason Brooks

Find shade, find fish. The low water and bright sunny days means the fish will seek cover and if you look into the underlying areas below overhanding tree limbs you will find fish resting in the shade. Cast well upstream and float into the fish so not to spook them out of the holding area.

Hiring a Pro-Guide to learn new ways to fish your favorite river will increase your catch rate-Mike Ainsworth (First Light Guide Service)

Hire a guide. Yes, we know that hiring a guide to learn a new river is the quickest way to increase your knowledge of the watershed. But even on rivers that you already know how to navigate hiring a guide also teaches you how to fish during different water conditions. This past week I floated the Humptulips and it was at an all-time low flow. As we passed Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service (206-817-0394) he smiled and let us know that his clients had already caught several low water salmon in a spot that most other anglers pass by.

Get out and fish when you can and adjust for the water conditions, which is how I landed this fall Chinook earlier this week-Jason Brooks

Don’t wait for the rains to come. Instead adjust your fishing techniques and where to look for the fish. Head out and enjoy this great fall weather as the rain and cold will come soon enough.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blog Writer

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

High Hunt Report!

A weekend in the backcountry for the High Hunt

by Jason Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1. Expect crowds.

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

#2. Be patient.

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

#3. Look for cover.

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

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

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