Shed Hunting 101

As the snow melts it’s time to go find some sheds-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With deer and elk dropping their antlers and the snow level climbing above 5,000 feet it’s time to go shed hunting. This long and harsh winter is finally coming to an end and before green-up occurs the matted-down vegetation found in the woods right now makes it easier to find the prized bone. Here are a few tips as well as some reminders on shed hunting here in Washington.

My Hungarian Vizsla “Lucy” helps me find sheds-Jason Brooks

Use your dog! One way to increase your antler cache is to train your dog to look for sheds. Play fetch or force break retrieving using an antler and heavily reward your dog when they find it and bring it back. It won’t take long and they’ll be out searching for sheds and bringing them back to you in trade for a small treat. You will note my Hungarian Vizsla Lucy is wearing her hunting vest by Browning. This helps me keep tabs on her as she races across the hillsides. If we stumble across some deer or elk I can easily see her and call her back, leaving the animals alone.

When you find one shed look around for the other side nearby-Jason Brooks

When you find one shed, look for the other. The bases loosen and they fall off, which often happens simultaneously. If you find one shed search around and you might pick up a match set.

Leave winter kill skulls and antlers in the field-Jason Brooks

Leave winter kill animals alone. In Washington you can only collect naturally shed antlers so if you come across a winter kill leave it for the coyotes and other animals.

Leave deer and elk alone so they can recover from the long winter-Jason Brooks

If you find a group of deer or herd of elk then back out and come back another day. You might be out stretching your legs and getting a good workout in while hiking the hills but the animals are still enduring the harsh winter. Their fat reserves are gone and until the grasses and brush start to green up they don’t have much of a food source. It’s best to leave animals alone, even if you see a nice buck and hope to follow him until the antlers drop. Mark the spot on your GPS and come back next week.

Finding sheds is a great way to get afield in the springtime-Jason Brooks

Remember that shed hunting is a business for some and it can be very competitive. If you find an open slope and are lucky enough to find a shed or two then remember the spot for next year and keep it to yourself. Popular places near known wintering grounds can be very competitive. Only shed hunt on public lands or where you have permission and check the WDFW website regarding WDFW lands as most of them are closed until later in the spring to allow wintering animals a place to rest.

I love shed hunting because it’s a chance to work with my dog, get some excersice, and spend some quality time outside with my kids. After the winter we’ve had here in Washington it’s about time all of us get outside anyway. It’s been a long one!

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line-Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

 

Catch More Kokanee with these Useful Tips

Kokanee are one of the best eating fish to catch-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With temperatures finally starting to warm up it’s time to pull the boat out of winter storage and rig the rods for kokanee!

These tasty landlocked Sockeye are already starting to fill stringers on many Eastern Washington lakes and Southwest Washington reservoirs. Here are a few tips that have put a lot of Kokanee in my boat over the years.

Specialty rods that are limber will increase landed fish-Jason Brooks

Fishing rods need to be specific to this fishery. A 7 ½ foot rod with an ultra-light action is needed to help keep the fish hooked. Kokanee have exceptionally soft mouths and a fast-action rod will usually pull the hook free. Not only should you use lightweight rods, but also spool the reel with 8 or 10-pound test monofilament which will stretch and helps land more fish. The 8 foot Daiwa DXSK802L Kokanee trolling rod is an excellent choice for a this and so is it’s little brother the 7’6″ DXSK762L.

Dodgers and mini-squids are a top producing combo-Jason Brooks

Dodgers and lures need to be “teamed up” for the day’s fishing. The Double D dodger by Mack’s lure along with a Cha Cha mini-squid is a top Kokanee set-up. When using the 9 inch dodger shorten the leader to 8-12 inches to impart some whipping action on the fly or squid behind it. For the smaller 4 inch dodgers I like to pair them up with a Double Whammy wedding ring spinner and a longer leader of 24 inches. Both of these set-ups are designed to be used at slow speed, around 1 mph, which is about perfect for early season Kokanee fishing. Later in the year kick up your speeds to 1.5 mph and switch to a Sling Blade style dodger.

Shoepeg Corn  with added scents tipped on any lure increases bites-Jason Brooks

Corn is a must! White Shoepeg corn for some reason is an absolute must for Kokanee fishing. Corn naturally has a lot of oil in it and attracts Kokanee. To increase your bites substantially though soak your corn overnight in Pro-Cure bait oils along with some Wizard Kokanee Killer Korn Magic which toughens the corn and adds bite stimulates.

Kokanee are sensitive to sunlight, fish deep on bright days-Jason Brooks

Kokanee are very light sensitive. On bright sunny days you will find the fish at deeper depths and it is easier to locate fish during the early morning hours before the direct sunlight hits the water. On cloudy days the fish will be closer to the surface. Downriggers help keep your gear at the right depth once you find the fish.

New from Brad’s is the Kokanee Cut Plug-Jason Brooks

Try something new! Brad’s Killer Fishing Gear have come out with a smaller “Kokanee” cut plug. Just like the bigger versions, they are a hinged plug that allows you to fill the cavity with scents and come rigged with tandem red hooks. You can also get a two pack of un-rigged plugs. The one thing that these baits allow you to do is fish different speeds as they work well from the slower early-season fishing to the faster speeds that work better when the water warms up. These plugs can be fished bare or trailing 36 inches behind a dodger or in-line flasher.

Lake Chelan and Lake Roosevelt are already on fire for Kokanee and it won’t be long before the some of the top lakes in Western Washington start heating up for Kokes. It’s been a long winter and I’m pretty excited to get out there and test out some new Kokanee gear that’s been piling up on my fishing work bench!

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line – Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Seven Ways To Get Your Salmon Season Off to a Swift Start!

By Tom Nelson

Well, “show season” aka “winter” is fast fading in the rear view mirror and after several full days of seeing the latest and greatest the fishing industry 2017 has to offer, I’ve boiled down the vast array of choices to these top of the line items that will get you off on the right fishy foot this season!

Daiwa Four-Carrier J Braid: A whole lot of anglers who’s opinions I sincerely respect are moving toward a spool of 65lb braid with a 20-foot top shot of 25 lb test mono for their mooching and trolling reels. The Daiwa J Braid in particular has less flexibility and stretch than most braids and more abrasion resistance making it a great choice for salt or river salmon fisheries!

Silver Horde’s Two Face Spoons: Kelly Morrison of SIlver Horde noticed that most of the “hot spoons” that anglers had the pleasure of fishing have had one thing in common: some type of paint finish on the “back” or concave side. Silver Horde has capitalized on this trend by finishing both sides of the very popular -and effective- Kingfisher Lite and Coho Killer series of lightweight trolling spoons.

CANNON Terminator Kit: Are you still carrying around a box of crimps and a pair of specialty pliers that you rarely use for anything else? Here’s the thing: as soon as you crimp your cable, you’ve damaged it and the clock is ticking. Here come the wire frays and then “POP” another expensive ball, release and rigging has just become habitat. With Cannon’s nylon Terminator, the wire is cushioned in the channel of the loom and you’ll enjoy significantly longer wire life, saving you money and fishing time!

Pro-Cure Downrigger Dynamite: There’s little question of the deadly effectiveness of Phil Pirone’s proprietary blend of amino acid bite stimulants which is the backbone of the industry’s leading Brine-n-Bite herring brine. Realizing that artificial trolling lures could benefit from the same chemistry, a mixure of herring, anchovie and sardine was spiked with amino acids and BOOM! You’ve got Downrigger Dynamite. Give it a drag. It will get you bit…

Daiwa LEXA 300 Linecounter: It’s simply about time that someone came up with a line counter that’s out of the way, easy to see and palms like a genuine low-profile reel. Introducing the Daiwa LEXA 300 LC. High speed slick with a butter smooth drag, don’t underestimate the power of it’s oversize gears and 21-pound drag system. As great as this reel is, I can’t wait to see the LEXA 400 LC ’cause it will be the best reel at Buoy Ten this August!

Gamakatsu Big River Open-Eye Siwash Hooks: Now available in a wider variety of sizes, you’ll be able to find these replacement hooks to fit any size spoon, plug or lure you care to rig. Benefitting from Gamakatsu’s magnificent curvature and shape of their popular Octopus hooks, these Big River Siwash are a definite upgrade for the questionable “original equipment” hooks that are all to often furnished with our favorite lures.

SIMRAD NSS 16 evo 3: All I could say was “Wow” when I saw the speed and layout of this behemoth! Processor speed is no longer an issue, nor is screen space as custom splits are a fingertip selection away. In addition to the Simrad DNA of a fully integrated Auto-Pilot, there’s a “Hot Key” that you can program to your favorite function. The screen is the brand new SolarMAX™ HD display technology that delivers exceptional clarity and ultra-wide viewing angles, combined with an all-weather touchscreen and expanded keypad for total control in all conditions.

There’s lots to get your attention this season and there’s no reason to wait! Try out some of this gear now so it will be familiar to you come our busy summer seasons and we’ll see you on the water!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

5 Quick Tips for Trophy Steelhead

Rob Endsley with a Trophy Steelhead

by Jason Brooks

Big wild steelhead are starting to show in our Northwest rivers. This means it’s time to go fishing folks. Here are five quick tips to make your trip better.

Use bigger gear to fight bigger fish-Jason Brooks

  1. Upsize your gear – Once you set the hook and realize you have a big steelhead it’s nice to know you can handle that fish and fight it to the bank. Use heavier mainlines and leaders as well as a stout rod. This helps you land the fish as well as release a fish that isn’t exhausted.

Pink worms are very effective for big fish-Jason Brooks

  1. Forget the Bait –  Instead of using bait which tends to cause higher mortality, switch to other tactics such as spoons, plugs, spinners, rubber worms and beads.

Scents attract fish as well as cover unwanted smells-Jason Brooks

  1. Use Scent – Bait gets swallowed but scent attracts fish to your gear and helps cover any unwanted smells. Apply Pro-Cure Super Gel to leaders, weights, and swivels and soak yarnies in Pro-Cure bait oils. Yarnies can be just as effective as bait and wild steelhead won’t swallow them.

Bobber dogging is an great way to increase your catch rate-Jason Brooks

  1. Learn to Bobberdog – This technique allows you to fish all different kinds of water without making adjustments. It is simple, you’ll lose less gear, and it’s highly effective. Hawken Fishing makes an entire line of Aero Floats designed specifically for bobber-dogging. Spend some time learning this technique and you’ll be able to easily target trophy steelhead holding water. 

Ted Schuman admires a trophy steelhead about to be released-Jason Brooks

  1. Take a Camera – Big fish are in our rivers and if you land that “fish of a lifetime” then take the time to snap a few photographs to preserve the memories. Remember to keep the fish in the water until the camera is ready.

Jason Brooks – Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Let’s Go Ice Fishing!

Grandpa Al Brooks with Adam and Ryan enjoying a day ice fishing on Roses Lake-Jason Brooks

Let’s Go Ice Fishing!

by Jason Brooks

The recent cold temperatures have thickened the ice and a winter pastime is creating memories once again. Ice fishing is going strong in Eastern Washington with the trout bite being consistent on Roses Lake near the tiny town of Manson. Those that prefer to catch a mess of perch are doing really well on Moses Lake and don’t forget Fish Lake near Leavenworth.

Ryan Brooks waits for a bite through the ice-Jason Brooks

The fishing is fairly simple, just chop or auger a hole in the ice and drop your baits down towards the bottom where the water temperatures are a little warmer. Look for areas where other anglers have found previous success, as shown on the ice with places where fish have flopped around and froze, or by watching anglers on the ice.

A rainbow trout coming through the ice-Jason Brooks

Ice fishing is one of those activities that is more of a novelty than a “must catch a limit” fishery. Have fun out on the ice but realize that it is cold, windy, and if you take the kids along they might not want to sit out there for very long. To make it more comfortable I like to take a lawn chair and a piece of carpet. The carpet makes it so you won’t be sliding around all the time and it really helps keep your feet warm.

Just enough freshly frozen trout for dinner-Jason Brooks

For gear, a standard, light action Daiwa trout rod works well, but so do those tiny “ice fishing” rods you find in the mid-west. They are very sensitive as the bite is light with the cold waters. Spool the small reel with 6 pound Platinum Izorline monofilament. When trout fishing it is best to use a leader with the weight tied at the bottom and the hook tied off of the leader between the weight and the swivel. I prefer to use a 1/4 ounce bell weight and size 10 bait holder hooks. Common baits are powerbait, single salmon eggs, or my favorite-salad shrimp cured overnight in Pro-Cure’s “Shrimp and Prawn” cure. For perch, jigging is the way to go, and it also works great for trout fishing too. Use a small jig, like a 1/8 ounce or smaller Mack’s Lure Glo-Getter that is UV enhanced. Tip the jig with a piece of worm, shrimp, or maggots. I also use a lot of scent when ice fishing no matter the type of fish as this attracts the lethargic fish and turns on a bite. Try Anise and Garlic scents as they seem to work really well ice fishing.

Adam Brooks and our Vizsla Lucy use carpet to keep their feet warm on the ice-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks – Outdoor Line Blogger

Smoked Salmon – A Simple and Delicious Recipe

Smoking salmon can be as easy or difficult as you make it. By using the highest quality salmon, however, you can produce a very high quality smoked fish product using even the most basic recipe and ingredients. Don’t be fooled into thinking the spawned out old boot that you just caught on the river is “good enough for the smoker”, as the quality of the fish you put in the smoker will be exactly what you get out of it.

Below is a simple yet delicious smoked salmon recipe that I use to smoke all my fish.

Preparing the Fish
After filleting the fish decide whether you want to leave the fish in whole fillets or single serving size pieces. I chunk my fillets into a size appropriate to serve several people, so we can pull it out of the freezer as we need it.

The pin bones can easily be removed from the fillet with a set of needle nose pliers or pin bone pliers. Pine bone pliers can be purchased online at Amazon.com or at most Metropolitan markets located in the Seattle area. At the end of the drying process the pin bones protrude from the flesh making them a little easier to pull out of the fish.

pin_bone_plier

There are literally hundreds of different recipes for smoking salmon, most of which turn out a great tasting product in the end. This is a very simple recipe that I picked up years ago from a friend that produces some of the best smoked salmon I’ve ever eaten.

Ingredients
-1 Cup Brown Sugar (dark brown sugar works great, too!)
-1 Cup Coarse Kosher Salt
-1 Cup White Sugar
-3 Quarts of Water

Combine the above ingredients in a plastic container or non-metallic mixing bowl. To make the ingredients dissolve more readily I use hot tap water and then allow the mixture to cool completely before adding the fish to it. Also, be sure the salt you use for the brine is non-iodized. Iodized salt produces a metallic taste in the fish. For large quantities of salmon I place the brine and fish in a 5 gallon bucket and place it in a cooler full of ice overnight.

smokedfish_water

Kosher salt is highly refined which makes it dissolve quickly and absorb more readily into the fish. Because of how it’s refined it’s also a lot less “salty” than other forms of salt. Depending upon your taste you can also add garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon pepper, cracked black pepper, Worstershire Sauce, and just about anything else you can imagine to this recipe. I prefer to keep the brine simple and then add either cracked pepper or jalapeño slices to the fish at the end of the brining process.

Now that the brine is dissolved and ready place the salmon in the brine meat-side down and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. For a large load of salmon I’ll place it in a clean 5 gallon bucket that will then go in a cooler full of ice where it stays overnight.

fish_brine

Aside from the brine, the next step in this process is probably the most important in assuring your fish turns out great.

After removing the fish from the brine place it on the smoker racks and allow it to air dry until the surface is tacky-dry. If you spray a little non-stick on your smoker racks the fish will come off the racks nicely when it’s done smoking. During the drying period a glaze, also known as a pellicle, will form on the surface of the fish trapping the brine and fish oils within the meat. A fan can be used to speed up this process.

The Smoker
There are several commercially produced smokers on the market that work great for smoking fish. You’ll find smokers that use propane as a heat source and others that use an electric element to burn the chips and heat the unit. The smoker I use is an electric Masterbuilt with digital-controlled heat and time settings.

If I’m smoking smaller salmon like silvers I’ll cold smoke the fish at 110 degrees for two hours and then finish it at 170 degrees for two more hours. For larger pieces of king salmon the cold smoke time will stay the same but I’ll jack up the cooking time to closer to three hours or more until the fish is finished.

masterbuilt_smoker_web

For safety reasons, you should always plan on placing the smoker a safe distance from anything combustible and don’t plan on smoking fish on your wooden deck.

Alder, apple, and cherry chips are all sold commercially by companies like Brinkman and Little Chief. Alder is definitely my first choice when it comes to smoking fish.

smoker_chips

Smoking the Fish
Since the fish is already on the racks all you have to do now is slide the fish in your Masterbuilt smoker and turn the smoker on. For a load of silver salmon I’ll set the smoker at 110 degrees for two hours and I’ll add one tray of alder chips during that time. Once the cold-smoke process is complete I’ll crank the smoker up to 170 degrees for two more hours and by the end of this time the salmon is usually cooked to perfection. If you want a little drier fish you can extend the cooking time. For king salmon I keep the cold smoke time the same but extend the cooking process to three or even four hours depending on how thick the fillets are.

I just started adding jalapeño pepper slices to my salmon and absolutely the flavor and spice it brings to the fish. If you like a little heat I recommend giving this a try…it is AWESOME!

salmon_peppers2_web

Packaging the Smoked Fish

If you want to store your smoked fish in the freezer you’ll want to use a vacuum sealer like a Food Saver to package the fish. After the fish is sealed be sure to write the date and the species of fish on the package.

salmon_peppers3_web

Once you’ve mastered this process, however, you’ll find that the fish rarely even makes it to the freezer!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Early Winter Steelhead Have Arrived!

Brenda Schuman and Katie Hovland with an early winter steelhead-Ted Schuman

Brenda Schuman and Katie Hovland with an early winter steelhead-Ted Schuman

Early Winter Steelhead – They’re Here!

by Jason Brooks

Reports of early winter run steelhead have been blowing up my phone lately. Most notably my buddy Ted Schuman of Winter Run Guide Service and has been teasing me with photos from a few recent trips. Ted has been concentrating on far away Olympic Peninsula rivers and prides himself on catching steelhead before most other anglers put away the Coho twitching rods. Not far behind Ted is Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service who likes to double dip on steelhead and Coho this time of year. His son Hunter Ainsworth is often bobber dogging baits with his pops, a technique that works great for both coho and early winter runs in December.

Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service and his son Hunter with a winter steelhead caught bobber dogging-Mike Ainsworth

Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service and his son Hunter with a winter steelhead caught bobber dogging a few winters ago-Mike Ainsworth

This year is no exception. With the cold weather this past week it seems to have slowed the Coho bite just a bit and a perfect time to switch over to steelhead fishing. Snow in the mountains means clear water which is perfect for pulling plugs and bait divers. Ted’s hottest setup for early December winter steelhead has been backtrolling Yakima Bait’s Mag Lip 3.5’s or Luhr Jensen Jet Divers with coon shrimp. With colder water temps it’s a technique that keeps the presentation in front of steelhead longer and gets them to bite. It’s hard to argue with it’s effectiveness!

Yakima Bait's "Dr. Death" mag lip 3.5 is a top producing steelhead plug-Jason Brooks

Yakima Bait’s “Dr. Death” mag lip 3.5 is a top producing steelhead plug-Jason Brooks

A healthy dose of Pro-Cure bait oils or super sauces, especially Bloody Tuna Anise, Sandshrimp, or Anise/Krill applied to plugs and even on the bait diver helps draw steelhead in for the take down.

The author's top winter steelhead scent additives-Jason Brooks

The author’s top winter steelhead scent additives-Jason Brooks

December is just the beginning of the winter steelhead season but don’t forget that several runs of late Coho are still coming into some of the Southwest Washington rivers. It is a great time to get out and double-up, especially since several of the rivers are restricted to just one hatchery Coho a day but two hatchery steelhead.

Katie Hovland with her very first ever steelhead, an early winter run-Ted Schuman

Katie Hovland with her first steelhead, an early winter run-Ted Schuman

In the last few day’s Ted has hooked ten “metalhead’s” in just three trips down the river, including a very bright first steelhead for Katie Hovland who was fishing with Ted and his wife Brenda this weekend. Don’t wait around until the new year before breaking out the bobber-dogging or plug rods. Steelhead are showing up and it’s time to hit the water!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer

Next Hunting Season Starts Now

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Tips for Becoming a Successful Deer Hunter

by Jason Brooks

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

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

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-Jason Brooks

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

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

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 

Blacktail Success – Reading the Sign

By Rob Endsley

Blacktails will drive you to madness!

For starters they live in the dense jungle known as the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Chest-high salal brush, re-prod, salmonberry’s, alder thickets, and some of the deepest, darkest pockets of timber you can imagine is what you’ll find in blacktail country. And you can expect rain and lots of it. The rain is punishing at times.

One minute they are right there in broad daylight and half a second later they are gone, never to be seen again. A study printed in Northwest Sportsman magazine several years ago concluded that lowland blacktails in Western Washington live in about a two square Kilometer area. They don’t migrate long distances and they know every stick, stump, bush, rock, and brush-tunnel in their environment.

I start every season by tromping around the open country of Okanogan County in Eastern Washington hoping to spot a big buck from a mile away and then move in for the shot. When that doesn’t happen, and it usually doesn’t, I head home to Gig Harbor and mentally prepare myself for hunting jungle blacktails on the Olympic Peninsula.

That mental preparation is what helped me this year. It kept from from quitting and saying to heck with blacktails.

On day one of my blacktail mis-adventure it was a balmy 61 degrees and I didn’t see a single deer. What I did see though were rubs, a lot of rubs, and fresh tracks and sign everywhere. That led me to believe they were still nocturnal. It was October 24th and I knew that my best chance wasn’t until the end of the general season on Halloween or perhaps the late hunt the third week of November.

I had focused my attention on some of the more open clear cuts on day one so I shifted to the re-prod on day two, thinking the deer might be opting for a little more cover. That hunch turned up three does and a bunch more sign. Since I seemed to be onto something I checked a rather large clearcut that was around seven or eight years old and full or re-prod. My brief scouting mission into that cut turned up a bunch of rubs that were less than a day old. It was mid day and temp’s were again around 60 degrees so I headed home.

On day three I awoke to pounding rain on the roof of our home. This is one of the many reasons why blacktail hunting is so brutal here in Western Washington. You can plan on your binoculars and scope being fogged up and covered in rain drops non-stop all day long and even with the finest rain gear you’ll be soaking wet. On this particular morning it was coming down in sheets. I’m not gonna lie, dragging myself out of the sack was tough that morning.

I made my way to the edge of the clearcut with the fresh rubs around twenty minutes before shooting light and sat atop a large mound that overlooked a good portion of the cut. It was POURING down rain. I turned off my headlamp and sat in the darkness wondering what the hell I was doing there.

As it began to get light I started glassing the reprod for signs of life. I keep my binocs holstered in a  KUIU binocular harness that helps to keep them dry a little, but I was still having to use a paper towel that I stuffed in a pocket before I left the house on the lenses.

After twenty to thirty minutes or so I decided to move to another mound in the cut that overlooked a series of draws. That’s where the freshest rubs were the day before and I was hoping maybe the decreased light level from the black dinge overhead would keep that buck out in the open a few minutes longer.

Slowly creeping up to that mound I noticed two white spots in the salal brush in the distance on the other side of a draw. I skipped the binoculars entirely and quickly set up my Primos Trigger Stickknowing darn well that I might have two seconds to get a shot if it was indeed a buck.

I popped the scope covers off and settled the rifle into the notch on the stick and quickly determined that it was a decent blacktail buck in the salal brush. The white spots were the tip of his nose and his throat patch.

I had merely peeked my head over the edge of the mound and he was already onto me. Without time to range the animal I cranked my Leupold up to it’s full magnification, settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder, took a breath to gather myself, and slowly and evenly squeezed the Accutrigger.

My .300 Winnie barked and the muzzle break was so full of water that it looked like I had just fired a shot from a muzzleloader. A massive cloud of steam completely blocked my sight from the buck. I caught a glimpse of him struggling to make his way to the timber and then he was gone. Pulling out my range finder I quickly determined where he was standing was only 127 yards away. I knew the shot was right on the money and I also knew that finding a blacktail in chest high salal brush and timber in the pouring down rain was going to be a challenge. I’ve taken a lot of deer over the years and here I was trembling over a blacktail that would never make any record book.

I made my way to where the buck went into the brush and started walking a grid back and forth in the salal and huckleberries. The rain cranked up another notch and I was nearly drowning. After around fifteen minutes of working a back-and-forth grid I could see his rump underneath some brush ahead of me. The shot had hit him exactly where I aimed and he’d still managed to travel around 40 yards before falling to the 165 grain Barnes X.Washington Blacktail - Rob Endsley - The Outdoor Line

It was a nice, mature 2 x 3 that wouldn’t make any magazine covers but I didn’t care. These lowland blacktails are as challenging a critter to hunt as you’ll find here in the west and the countless days I’ve spent studying them had payed off once again.

I put my tag on him, field dressed him, and slogged my way back to the Can Am 6 x 6 parked over a mile away. Lifestyles Can-Am in Mount Vernon, Washington loaned me this rig for the hunting season. The general manager there told me “this ATV will take you places you shouldn’t be”. He was right. It’s six wheel drive, has a 700 pound dump bed, and 1,000 cc’s to power up and over just about anything that stands in it’s way. It’s simply a killer rig for hunting!rob_2016_5_web

Take Away’s from This Hunt:

Reading the Sign

I used the first two days as more of a scouting mission. The sight of fresh rubs and tracks everywhere led me to believe there were plenty of blacktails in the area but they were feeding and moving at night. This is classic blacktail behavior and the odds of seeing some animals would get better as the season approached Halloween and the rut started to heat up. If it didn’t happen before then I could count on something on the late hunt in November when sixty percent of the blacktails are harvested in Washington.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Hunting mule deer in open country means you’ll probably see some animals every day and sometimes a lot of animals. Even if you can’t get close enough for a shot at least you know they are there. With blacktail hunting I’d say that at least half the time you won’t see a darned thing. It’s all about the sign though. If you can find fresh rubs, tracks, and droppings and can stick around until the rut starts to heat up you’ll have a much greater chance of success. Don’t get me wrong. I get as discouraged and frustrated as anyone. I know how these critters operate though and that’s what keeps me going back. If you’re patient and keep working the sign eventually you’ll get an opportunity.

The blacktail I took this year wasn’t in the rut yet and I had him butchered into boneless steaks and hamburger that our family will enjoy for the next year. If you tag out with a nice buck this year don’t hesitate to post a quick photo on the Outdoor Line forums.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle 

It’s Here – Daiwa Lexa Line Counter!

By Rob Endsley

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Daiwa’s new Lexa 300 line counter is a compact powerhouse that will put plenty of salmon, steelhead, and tuna in the boat here in the Pacific Northwest. With the Lexa’s buttery smooth Ultimate Tournament Carbon Drag anglers can finesse a big steelhead or walleye on light line or slam the breaks on a running Chinook or albacore. It also makes it a great all around reel for Pacific Northwest guides that make the seasonal switch from salmon and steelhead to walleye.

With 22 pounds of drag you can do just about anything with this reel. Saltwater salmon, ling cod, and tuna suddenly become fair game with this low profile reel.

The Lexa 300 line counter holds 240 pounds of 40 pound braid and is equipped with a  braid-ready spool with cutouts for tying off braid. No more wrapping electrical tape around the spool or backing with monofilament to keep the braid from spinning on the spool.

Most line counters are built with trolling in mind but this one also has Magforce cast control which makes casting a breeze. This makes for quick redeployment of the gear when the bite is on.

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The line counter on the Lexa 300 is centered and the numbers are easy to read. The reel also comes with Daiwa’s “Swept Handle” that places the paddle closer to the rod.

Daiwa also has plans for a Lexa 400 line counter slated for release next year. That reel will very likely end up as mooching reel on my charter boat in Southeast Alaska.

The other nice thing about the new Lexa line counter is that you can find it in both left and right handed versions and two gear ratios, 5.5:1 and 6.3:1.

As of this blog very limited supplies of the new Lexa 300 line counter have been shipped to retailers and you won’t even find it on Daiwa’s website. They will retail at around $199 and expect to see them in stores sometime in early November. Definitely worth the wait!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
www.theoutdoorline.com