Graybill’s Tips for Catching Lake Chelan Kokanee

Snow capped mountains make for a scenic back drop when fishing for kokanee in the winter on Lake Chelan. (Photo Dave Graybill)

By Dave Graybill

We are blessed with many clear and calm days throughout the winter months here in Eastern Washington. That will encourage kokanee anglers to launch their boats to take advantage of the great kokanee fishing available to them on Lake Chelan. The good kokanee fishing in the winter months surprised anglers last year. It looks like the fishing will be even better and the kokanee even larger this season.

Last year I was invited to try the kokanee fishing with Jeff Witkowski, of Darrell and Dads Family Guide Service, in December. We got our limits in pretty short order, fishing in the Yacht Club area on Chelan. I took my brother-in-law Tom Verschuren to the same spot on a clear and sunny December day, and we got a bunch of kokanee and even a lake trout. A little later in the month my brother Rick and I joined Jeff for another kokanee trip on Chelan. We got 30 kokanee in the same area.

I have made several late-fall trips to Lake Chelan, and found kokanee to be plentiful, and better yet, even larger than the previous year. While last year’s fish were mostly 11 to 12 inches, with some 13-inch fish mixed in, this year’s crop are mostly 13 inches with plenty in the 14-inch class. I started fishing a ways above the Yacht Club and then with each trip moved further down toward the Yacht Club. On my last trip we found fish as far down the lake as the area across from Rocky Point. This is an indication that kokanee are dispersed throughout the lake already. I really didn’t expect to find them so far down lake. This is where I look for them in the spring and summer. It appears that there is a bumper crop of kokanee in Lake Chelan this season and I don’t see it slowing down between and spring.

Every serious kokanee angler has their favorite rods, reels and terminal tackle. There is a lot of great kokanee gear on the market. I have fished for kokanee regularly on Lake Chelan since the early 90s and have tried a lot of different gear. I have enjoyed very good success with kokanee the past couple of years and I will share with you what I am using and how I fish for them. It will at least be a place to start if you’re new to the sport of kokanee fishing.

I start with specialized rods. They have to have a very soft action. Kokanee have a very soft mouth and the rods have to an effective shock absorber. They are very important. A rod that is too stiff will result in many lost fish. When possible I fish with four rods. Two on downriggers and two on lead balls out the back. I prefer this to “stacking” because it saves time and tangles. I started using lead balls on my back rods last year and have had good success so far this late fall and early winter with them.

The two downrigger rods are the 7-foot Kokanee Specials from Lamiglas. I have used these rods for years and they hold up well with downrigger use. I have good quality level wind reels on these rods. The Abu Garcia Revo series reels are favorites of mine. The rods I use out the back are longer. They are 9-foot Berkley Air spinning rods, but have a very soft action. I first got them for fishing big kokanee on Lake Roosevelt, when I am often using side planers. They work just fine when trolling 3- to 4-ounce lead balls. On these rods I am using the Okuma Coldwater line counter reels. It is hard to estimate exactly how deep your lures are running when trolling kokanee gear, but with the line counters I can consistently get back to the depth that I am finding fish.

Kokanee were abundant on Lake Chelan last winter, and they are even bigger this season. (Photo Dave Graybill)

I rig the two sets of rods differently. I can put my kokanee gear directly on my main line with a swivel. On the lead ball rigs I first add a rubber bead, then a swivel so it can slide on the line. I put another rubber bead to protect the knot. It is necessary to then add a connector to allow the blade or dodger to have the right action. You can use heavy mono with a swivel on each end, but I prefer to use the 14-inch, multi-dodger connectors from Kokabow Fishing Tackle. They are made of heavy wire and this helps avoid tangles. You have to let your line out carefully when using the lead balls. If you go too fast the dodger gets ahead of the ball and your leader gets hooked to your line.

There are a lot of different dodgers and blades made especially for kokanee angling. For the past three seasons I have been primarily using the gear from Kokabow Fishing Tackle, and I am not disappointed. The blades come in a wide variety of colors and two different sizes. I use the larger, 5.5-inch blades. They have a “kick” like no others, and that is what the kokanee like. They transmit great action to spinner or squid-style lures. When you are trying to decide which colors of blades to try, I tend to like to run bright colors on bright days and darker colors on overcast days. Some of my favorites are the Watermelon, Yellow Jacket, Blueback, Sunburst and Sunrise.

I also like the spinners and squidders from Kokabow. These also come in a wide variety of colors. The squid-style spinner was introduced just last year and has become extremely popular. The regular spinners still produce good catches, though. Different colors are favorites on different lakes. In our region the fish seem to like the pink and orange colors the best. These two would be my first choices, but it is always a good idea to experiment. This year I tried the new Ravisher color and found it an excellent choice in the late fall.

I would also recommend a leader length of 14 inches. I have fished longer leaders and shorter leaders, but overall a length of 14 inches seems to be just right for getting good action on the spinner. I also add white shoe peg corn to the hooks. I put two kernels on each hook and make sure that they are soaked in Graybills Guide Formula Kokanee or Craw-Anise flavor. I also stain my corn to a deep pink or purple color. The Wizard Kokanee Killer Korn Dye from Pro-Cure works great and it really makes the corn last a long time. I have used the same cured corn trip after trip. I add scent to the stained corn, too.

It is important to have a well-adjusted depth sounder when fishing for kokanee. There is no point fishing in empty water. Sure, there may be some hunting required, but you need to be able to spot schools of fish to determine the depth to put your gear. I will often put my downrigger gear 50 feet or more behind the ball. This gives me enough time to raise or lower my baits to present them to the fish. It will also help keep your speed at the rate you want. I have found that speed of 1.5 to 1.7 mph to be effective on Lake Chelan.

Also, it really helps to have a very long-handled net. When kokanee get up to the surface and near the boat they really start to jump and this is often the time that they shake the hook. Getting a net under them as soon as possible puts more fish in the boat.

I want to mention that cutthroat are very abundant in Lake Chelan, too. Fish to 14 inches are very common, and easy to catch. You can get them by trolling your kokanee gear at shallow depth. You can also switch to lures, like the Mag Lip 2.5 to get them. Anglers often get their 10-fish limits of kokanee and add a five-fish limit of cutthroat to their cooler in a days fishing on Chelan.

There is no need to put the boat away for the winter. There is terrific kokanee fishing available to anglers on Lake Chelan right now, and it will continue right into the spring and summer. If you are new to kokanee fishing this would be a great year to get out and learn what it takes to get some of these wonderful-eating fish.

Dave Graybill
Outdoor Line Blogger
North Central Washington
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Make This Now: Duck Banh Mi Sliders

By Julie Cyr

Make This Now: Duck Banh Mi Sliders

By Julie Cyr

Banh Mi is, of course, a Vietnamese hybrid sandwich.  These field to table sliders are great for lunch or a casual dinner.

Slaw:
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 (4 inch) piece daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Hot Chili Aioli:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sriracha

Duck:
8 ounces duck leg or breast
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 teaspoon ground coriander

6 brioche slider buns, halved
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
Lime wedges

Make the slaw:
Place the carrot and daikon in a bowl.
Whisk sugar, salt, vinegar and juice in a small bowl.  Add to the vegetables and chill for 30 minutes.

Make the Aioli:
Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Chill.

Make the duck:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the duck in a small baking dish or Dutch oven.  Set aside.  Whisk tamari, sugar, oil, sriracha, and coriander in a small bowl.  Pour over the duck and mix to coat.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest, 7 minutes.  Using two forks, shred the duck and return to pan juices.

Assemble the sliders:
Spread 2 teaspoons Aioli on the bottom bun half.  Top with shredded duck, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon slaw, jalapeños, cilantro, drizzle with Sriracha.  Repeat with remaining buns.  Serve with lime wedges.

Julie Cyr
Master Hunter – Sitka Girl – Food Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

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

Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor receive top billing for autumn salmon fishing

Karyl Beyerle of Olympia with a 20 pound king. Big fish like this can be found at places along the inner-coast waterways and estuaries in fall. Credit photo to Tony Floor.

By Mark Yuasa

Now that ocean salmon fisheries have concluded, it’s time for anglers to shift attention to estuaries and lower tributaries as fish migrate upstream heading into autumn.

One area garnering plenty of notice lately is Willapa Bay where a king forecast of 36,805 (32,674 are of hatchery origin) have started to appear in catches, and fishing has been decent since it opened on Aug. 1.

“I give high marks as we head into (September), and the main herd of the local king run typically peaks historically around Labor Day,” said Tony Floor, the director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

“When WIllapa opened on first of August they had one of their best early fisheries ever, and that can be based on Columbia River kings dipping into the Washaway Beach area (located west of Tokeland),” Floor said. “The first 10 days were very good and it has cooled off since but still kicking out some fish.”

Salmon fishing this past Saturday during the Willapa Day Salmon Derby was good with some anglers hooking multiple fish between Channel Markers 13 and 19 during the mid-day incoming tide.

The hatchery chinook fishery will continue to produce glory moments now through the end of this month.

Those will be followed on the heels of what should be a very nice return of coho from the middle of this month through October. The forecast is 91,718 (54,998 are of hatchery origin) compared to 67,609 (28,093) last year.

On the bigger tidal exchanges grass can be a problem for anglers and will foul up fishing gear.

“I’ve heard the grass was minimal early on, but as we have these long hot summer days the grass has become more problematic in the past week to 10 days,” Floor said. “Grass is horrific on the ebb tide, and worse on bigger tide exchanges. The best way to avoid this is by fishing during the softer tidal series.”

This is a shallow water fishery so letting out 12 to 16 pulls of line at depths of 15 to 25 feet is key to get your presentation spinning just off the sandy bottom. Gear is similar to the Buoy-10 salmon fishery where an angler will use a five- to seven-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six- to eight-foot leader and cut-plug or whole herring.

Willapa Bay is open now through Jan. 31 with a six fish daily limit and only three may be adults. Minimum size limit is 12 inches, and release wild chinook. The two-pole endorsement is allowed.

The non-tribal commercial gill-net fishery gets underway on Sept. 16, and word to the wise is avoid going when the nets are in the water. For a netting schedule, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/commercial/salmon/season_setting.html.

Moving up the coast, Grays Harbor is another fall salmon fishery that is definitely worth trip when it opens on Sept. 16, and while chinook are off-limits look for this spot to produce big, brawny coho that can reach in upwards of 20 pounds.

The Grays Harbor coho forecast is 86,398 (50,043 are of wild origin) compared to 27,841 last year, which is a remarkable turn-around. On the other-hand the chinook outlook of 21,824 (5,362 are of hatchery origin), but will allow an in-river fishery in Humptulips River that opened on Sept. 1.

“I would anglers who plan to fish Grays Harbor is to be very knowledgeable with the rules as they change from year-to-year,” Floor said.

Just as a refresher on the rules right now the Humptulips North Bay fishery is open through Sept. 15 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and release wild coho. The eastern Grays Harbor fishery opens Sept. 16 through Nov. 30 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and only one wild coho may be retained and release all chinook.

Another fun coho-only fishery in early fall is the Westport Boat Basin which is open through Jan. 31, but the best action usually occurs now through October. The daily limit is six salmon, and no more than four may be adult fish. Release chinook, no night fishing and an anti-snagging rule is in effect. Only single-barbless hooks may be used.

The boat ride from the Westport Marina to the main fishing ground takes about 15 minutes along the harbor’s south channel toward an area off the Johns River mouth. Start at the “Goal Post” – a set of rotting wood pilings – near entrance marker off the Johns River.

Plan on trolling in an easterly direction where a trough runs east and west along the shoreline toward the Chehalis River mouth. Many will use Stearns Bluff, a landmark hillside east of the Johns River as the ending spot.

The gear is a six-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six-foot leader and a whole or cut-plug herring. Simply let out 12 to 16 pulls of fishing line — since this is a shallow water fishery at depths of 15 to 25 feet — and make sure your bait is spinning just a foot or so off the sandy bottom.

Constantly check your gear as the harbor can be loaded with eel grass mainly on a low tide when its pulled away from shore.

“Fish don’t like salad on your bait,” according to Floor.

The action occurs during the flood tide, but there can be brief bites on the ebb tide too. Getting out at the crack of dawn is how it works at Grays Harbor, and here it’s all about tides.

There are three major boat launches in Grays Harbor, and the four-lane ramp at Westport is the most convenient. Next is a small two-lane ramp ideal for smaller boats just inside the Johns River. Both are best to access the south channel.

The other is the 28th Street launch in Hoquiam just inside the Chehalis River mouth, and is best to access the north channel fishery.

Use caution when running your boat from any of the launch sites, and always be sure to follow the channel markers as there are many shallow sandbars (especially at low tide) where you can ground a vessel. Also be aware of large ships traveling to and from the ocean.

Mark Yuasa
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

Fall Anglers will be Busy With Kings and Walleye

By Dave Graybill

Fall in North Central Washington is most often the favorite season for anglers in the region.  Our weather cools a bit and it makes it more appealing to be out on the water after the heat of summer.  While the weather is cooling there are a couple of fisheries that heat up in the fall.  The one that draws the most attention is the annual return of fall salmon to the Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River.  The other is the fall walleye bite on our area reservoirs.

Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service poses with me with one of the kings we got at Vernita.

Every year the most abundant run of salmon to the Columbia River makes it way to our region.  Over a half million “up river brights” are expected to enter the Columbia this year, and the vast majority are bound for the Hanford Reach and the hatchery at Priest Rapids Dam.  The attraction of fishing for these kings is most apparent at the launch sites near the Vernita Bridge.  A small village of campers, trailers and 5th wheelers appears here every year, as anglers set up camp and commute from all over the state and beyond to chase these prized fish.

The launches a Vernita are rough, but they don’t stop the long lines of boats of all sizes and shapes from putting in here.  From this launch they can run down below the bridge to popular fishing locations above and below Coyote Rapids, the Reactors, and the long runs that are ideal for trolling for kings.  Down stream there is a good concrete ramp at White Bluffs that also offers good access to the king fishing water.  Parking here is more limited than at Vernita and the fishing area is smaller, but it can be very productive.  The kings must pass through White Bluffs on their way to the hatchery at Priest Rapids, so the action starts off here first.

For many years I preferred fishing with herring in the Reach.  That is just how it was done—back bouncing herring.  In recent years Super Baits have taken the main stage for salmon anglers.  Sure, there are times when herring will do the job, but the number of fish taken on Super Baits far outnumbers other methods.

There are two styles of Super Baits.  The original on top and the
Plug Cut on the bottom.

Super Baits are typically trolled behind Pro Troll flashers on downriggers.  I saw a different method being used in 2014 when I was shooting some video of the CCA King of Reach Salmon Derby.  This guy, and he had the reputation of being one of the top, if not the top salmon slayer of the group, was trolling Super Baits, but in a way I had never seen before.  He had them rigged behind a flasher, but instead of using downriggers he was fishing them with lead balls.  He would troll both up stream and down stream and he claimed that the lead ball method put a different action on the Super Baits and were terrifically successful.  He didn’t fish any other way.

Using lead balls for kings isn’t something new.  I have fished with Shane Magnuson many times on the lower Columbia for spring and fall salmon and he used lead balls.  In fact he decided to try them on the upper Columbia River kings starting last year, and now that’s pretty much all he does anymore.  When he fishes for spring salmon, at Drano Lake for example, he uses those triangular Fish Flashes, but for summer runs up here he uses the Pro Troll flashers.  When he fishes Vernita this fall, I will bet he will be running lead balls.  I am presenting this technique as something an angler should have in their bag of tricks.  There will be times that the standard presentations of Super Baits on downriggers, back trolling eggs, pulling plugs or using herring will be the way to go.

If you want to try fishing lead balls, here is how to set up.  I will start at the Super Bait and work my way up.  After you have put a 44- to 48-inch leader on your Super Bait and attached it to your flasher, add a 24-inch leader of 30-pound test with snaps on both ends.  This allows the flasher to do its work below the lead ball.  I rig the next step the same way that Shane does.  I put a split ring between two five- or six-bead roller swivels.  To one end I attach the leader above the flasher.  To the other end I attach my main line with a plug snap with a rubber bead above the knot, and a sliding plug snap, to hold the lead ball.  Now when I attach my lead ball it can slide freely on my line.  The size of the lead ball, whether an eight-, ten- or 12-ouncer, depends on the current.  You will want your flasher rotating above the bottom where you are fishing, and this will take a little practice to judge your depth when trolling lead balls.   Also, remember when you are trolling down stream with the current you will be flying compared to trolling up stream against the current.  The best way to judge your speed is to watch your rod tip and try to maintain a rod pulse once every second.

Here is how a lead ball rig can be rigged.  Lots of swivels for a
spinning Pro Troll Flasher.

It’s really not that hard to rig for fishing with lead balls.  You can have everything ready if whatever you are doing on a particular day just isn’t getting the job done.  It just may change your luck, and once you get comfortable fishing this way it may become your favorite way to hook kings—anywhere on the Columbia.

As for the walleye fishing this fall, I would bet that Banks Lake will continue to be the best place to try your luck.  It wasn’t always producing limit catches this summer, but it was the most consistent of our region’s walleye waters.  Potholes Reservoir should produce walleye this fall, too, but probably not at the same pace as Banks.  It will be very low this fall.  In the early fall crank bait fishing should be effective then trolling bait will become a better way to go.  Walleye on Potholes will be heavier than the Banks Lake fish.

The crank bait fishing on Banks Lake should continue to be good.  I have had very good success this summer fishing cranks and found the Flicker Shad lures in sizes 5 through 9 very effective.  I didn’t start the season fishing crank baits, and don’t think I will end the season using this method.  I started trolling with spinners on worm harnesses or Slow Death Hooks, and I think I will be ending the fall season using these.

Something that I was able to use this past season just recently came on the market yet.  It is from the makers of Dutch Fork Custom Lures that I had been fishing almost exclusively.  I had tremendous success with their ghost blades, especially the Turtle Back in the Blue Tiger color.  They sent me a brand new design to test, and I found it works great.  They call it the Butterfly Blade and it can be fished in worm harnesses and even ahead of a Slow Death Hook.  I tested these revolutionary blades and had great success, and if you are a walleye angler you will want to try them on Banks and Potholes this fall.

This the new Butterfly Blade created by Dutch Fork Custom Lures.
The top shows one rigged on a Slow Death Hook.

The new Butterfly Blades just came available recently.  Dutch Fork is supplying the blades to Northland Tackle and can be purchased in a variety of colors and pre-tied for a variety of fishing styles.  Just log onto www.northlandfishingtackle.com and do a search for Butterfly Blades.  This will send you to the page that has them available.  You can also find the blades on the Dutch Fork Custom Lures page, and tie them up the way you like.  Go to www.dutchforkcustomlures.com and can you look at the colors available through them and order what you want.

It is usually pretty hard to get me to switch from my favored methods of fishing, no matter what species.  When I got the spinners from Dutch Fork I immediately become a believer, particularly in the Turtle Back style.  These new Butterfly Blades are unique and there just isn’t anything else out there like them.  If you are serious about catching walleye you will want to have some in your box.

I know I will start my fall fishing at Banks Lake off the Million Dollar Mile launch.  There will be a point at which this will be less effective.  When that happens I will move up to Barker Canyon and start pulling spinners and Slow Death Hooks on bottom bouncers.  Two years ago we could fish both Banks Lake and Potholes right through the fall and winter.  Last year they froze solid.

I don’t know how long I will be able to fish for walleye on these two reservoirs.  The way I am going through the walleye in my freezer I hope we have a long fall season!

Dave Graybill
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
TheOutdoorLine.com

 

Columbia River Catch and Release Sturgeon

by Jason Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Scout Now for Fall Bear Season

by Jason Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

#2. Bears like berries.

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

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

#3. Be bug prepared.

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

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

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Scout Now for Fall’s Hunts!

by Jason Brooks

With special permit draws being announced hunting season is starting to feel a little bit closer. If you drew your “dream tag” or struck out once again now is the time to start your scouting. If you attended my seminar last April then you heard me talk about other resources to help with your scouting, if you missed the seminar then keep reading as I highlight some of the details. A record snowpack means that you might not be able to put “boots on the ground” to find your big buck or bull this fall for a few more weeks or even a month but you can start your scouting right now!

Finding bucks in the summertime helps find them again in the Fall-Jason Brooks

Start with your state’s Fish and Game website and their hunt planning tools. For Washington it is the “Go Hunt” feature at the WDFW Hunting Tab. On this planner you can find public lands, private lands that allows access, integrated maps with satellite photos, roads, unit boundaries and harvest data.

WDFW Go Hunt allows you to find maps of your unit as well as harvest data-Jason Brooks

Once you have your unit figured out then it is time to start thinking about other places for information. Websites such as Hunting WashingtonEastman’s Hunting , Muley Madness, and other sites offer articles and even forums where hunters give up information. You can also contact members and ask them directly about their experiences, especially for the hard-to-draw tags.

The SNOTEL website lets you know how much snow is still in the high country-Jason Brooks

As you start to narrow down your areas search maps and topography websites such as “Google Earth”. You can also find other maps and data about your area from government websites such as the SNOTEL site that gives you up-to-date snow depth information. This will let you know when you can actually head to your unit and do some physical scouting of the ridges, mountains, draws, and drainages you want to hunt.

Google Earth shows you topography as well as other features such as lakes, open slopes, and ridges-Jason Brooks

Other websites that provide information are ones that non-hunters frequent and provide trail reports for such as Washington Trails AssociationWilderness.net and wildland fire data at National Interagency Fire Center.

Before you head to your unit make sure to check the local forest service website if you are hunting the national forest. This will list road conditions and closures, trail conditions, planned projects such as construction or prescribed burns, and other information including ATV use.

National Interagency Fire Center provides up-to-date fire maps and information-Jason Brooks

Now that you know if your hunting the yearly “deer camp” or are heading to a new unit and a dream hunt it is time to start scouting. Between weekend trips keep up to date with various websites and maps. Learn the area and talk to those that are familiar with the unit such as biologist, guides, and other hunters. Just remember to share information as well when asked.

Kyle Hurst knows scouting pays off and helped him harvest this mule deer during a general season-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer 

Look to the Upper Columbia For Summer Salmon Action

Shane Magnuson helps me show off a dandy king I landed fishing with him at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

By Dave Graybill

No other season attracts more anglers to the upper Columbia River than when the summer-run and sockeye salmon seasons open on July 1st every year. While most salmon seasons are announced by Emergency Regulations on the upper Columbia, the summer-run salmon earned a permanent listing in the Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet over a decade ago. This is the time of the year anglers can count on visiting Central Washington and expect to find excellent numbers of Chinook salmon to fill their coolers.

The first place that salmon anglers focus their attention is above Priest Rapids Dam. There are a couple of spots that some anglers will troll in the early season, such as right above the dam and off the mouth of Crab Creek near Schwana. The biggest crowd will be found right below Wanapum Dam. Here boats circle around in what is known as the “Toilet Bowl” where hordes of early-arriving kings stack up before entering the fish ladder and moving on up river. Anglers also encounter returning sockeye salmon, and they can be seen surfacing in waves along the face of the rip rap bank. It is not unusual for sockeye to be taken on gear intended for kings.

Most of the boats will be trolling Super Baits behind flashers below Wanapum. Some will fish lighter sockeye gear on a couple of rods after the morning bite has slowed. The fishing will be good here starting July 1st and for many weeks, until the bulk of the early-returning Chinook and sockeye have passed on to the upper river. There is a much-improved staging and parking area right below Wanapum. Still there can be a very long line of boats waiting to launch before daylight on opening day. There is also a very good launch on the opposite shore, on Huntzinger Road below the dam. When running up to Wanapum, take special care and watch for shallow, rocky reefs. There is a small area on the west side of the river where boats will troll for salmon just above Wanapum Dam, and a few will even fish the east side of the river below the Vantage Bridge. This is near the junction for the road to Mattawa. There is a launch in the town of Vantage, and at the State Park on the west side of the river below the Vantage Bridge.

The next major fishing locations for summer-runs and sockeye are on the Columbia at Wenatchee. There are good areas to find Chinook scattered “between the bridges” on either side of the river here. There is excellent access to the river via improved launches. One is at the base of Orondo Street, and is free of charge. Another is at Confluence State Park, where a Discovery Pass and launch fee is required. Walla Walla Point, below the mouth of the Wenatchee River, is one of the best-known fishing spots for Chinook. Sockeye and Chinook are also taken below Rocky Reach Dam. When the fish are really pouring through this area and over Rocky Reach Dam there are many kings and sockeye taken above Rocky Reach. Anglers launch at Lincoln Rock State Park (Discovery Pass and launch fee required), which is on the Douglas County or east side of the river, and run over to troll the west shore along the highway to Entiat and Chelan. In recent years the fishing for Chinook has been very good for summer-run salmon off the mouth of the Entiat River.

I struggle to hold up one of the two kings that Shane Magnuson and I landed at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

Rapidly becoming a favorite of salmon anglers, particularly in the early season, is Chelan Falls. Located just below the Beebe Bridge, with PUD parks with free launches on both sides of the river, this spot is loaded with kings. Success has been very good here in recent years, and there is lots of good water for trolling Super Baits behind flashers on downriggers or with lead balls. One of the reasons that Chelan Falls has become popular is the high ratio of hatchery origin fish in catches. This is due to the net pen releases of smolt in the Chelan River channel. Another benefit of fishing this area is that it is about a 15- to 20-minute run up to Wells Dam. When sockeye are returning in good numbers, the fishing is very good, particularly in the big eddy on the north side of the river right below the dam.

Wells Dam is an excellent place to fish for kings. Anglers will troll off the bar below the dam and the big eddy on the opposite side of the river also produces very good catches of salmon. There is an excellent launch accessed from the highway that leads to Pateros. Some sockeye are taken above the dam and fishing for Chinook is very good when big numbers of fish are crossing over Wells Dam.

The crown jewel of salmon fishing on the upper river is the Brewster Pool, where the Okanogan River enters the Columbia. The Okanogan is a shallow, slow moving river and in the summer it gets very warm. When it enters the Columbia it creates a “thermal barrier” that keeps the salmon from moving up into the Okanogan. Kings continue to move up into the Brewster Pool from the lower river and stack up in the colder water of the Pool. Thousands of fish are milling around in this area, and are easy prey to anglers. Sockeye also prefer this colder water and join the kings in their wait for temperatures to drop in the Okanogan before they make their way up the river and on to their spawning grounds in British Columbia.

I love this shot of an angler scooping a nice king from the water at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

This thermal barrier is one of the reasons that the Brewster Salmon Derby, which takes place the first weekend in August every year, is so popular. The success rate for anglers that participate in this derby is the best for salmon derbies anywhere. To learn all about the derby, visit www.brewstersalmonderby.com.

Something that salmon anglers should know that makes this particular season special on the upper Columbia is that it is the first return of four-year old Chinook salmon that were released from the Colville Tribal Fish Hatchery at Bridgeport. These will add to the numbers of fish available to anglers in the Brewster Pool and on up the river where they meet their final barrier on the Columbia River, Chief Joseph Dam. Summer-run Chinook season is a selective fishery, with barbless hooks required and wild fish must be released. Not only will the fish returning to the Colville Hatchery add to the numbers of fish in the Brewster Pool, they are all adipose fin clipped, keepers. The opportunity for catching a king and keeping it is significantly higher this year in the Brewster Pool and the river up to Chief Joseph Dam. There is the potential for a rule change affecting the Brewster Pool that may make fishing here even more attractive to anglers. Watch the department’s web site for this change.

The techniques that are used throughout the Columbia River, in all of the locations I have mentioned don’t vary much. There are some that stick to the tried and true plug cut herring, and those that really know how to properly cut and prepare herring have success. By far the most popular method being used at this time for catching kings is with the Super Bait. Some use the old, banana-shaped style and more and more anglers are using the newer plug cut version. Super Baits come in wide variety of colors, but some of the more popular are the Hot Tamale, Lemon Lime and Rotten Banana. There are others that work very well, so have a good selection when you hit the water. The advent of the Super Bait made it possible for anglers that had no experience with herring to become successful salmon anglers, and has increased the sport catch on the upper Columbia considerably.

Super Baits are designed to open on a hinge and are stuffed with tuna fish. The lure has vents on the sides to allow the scent of the tuna to leech out. Anglers prefer oil-packed tuna and then apply scent and mix it. There are a variety of scents available and one of the most popular in our area is made by Northwest Bait and Scent. These are based on the formula originally developed by my brother Rick Graybill many years ago. There are a number of scents that can be mixed, even in combination with others to create an irresistible attractant to salmon.

These are trolled behind a flasher, and most anglers are using the ones made by Pro-Toll. The fin on the bottom end of the flasher allows the flasher to turn at even an slow speed and it also gives a consistent action to the flasher. It is recommended that at least a 42-inch leader be used from the flasher to the bait. This set up can be trolled on downriggers or with lead balls. When trolling with flashers behind downriggers, put the flasher 12 to 15 feet behind the ball. Trolling speed will vary with river current, but flashers with Super Baits can be trolled over 2.0 mph. Many anglers like to see a one second throb on the rod when trolling flashers. Most anglers prefer rods of 10 ½ feet with large capacity-line, counter reels for consistent placement of baits behind the boat.

When targeting sockeye, anglers scale down their tackle. Lighter rods and reels and lines are all used. A typical sockeye set up is a small dodger and short leader to double hooks which are closely tied together. Bait is allowed on the Columbia and jarred shrimp are very popular. On the Brewster Pool it is typical to start the day at 20 feet deep and drop down as the day brightens. Many place their dodgers just 10 to 20 feet behind the downrigger ball. Trolling sockeye set ups on lead balls is becoming popular, too.

I have produced several videos on both Chinook and sockeye fishing on the upper Columbia. I would suggest that you visit my web site at www.fishingmagician.com and go to the Fishing TV Page. By going to the archives and looking for videos posted in June and July you will find many devoted to salmon fishing. You can also do a search at www.youtubedavegraybill and find all the videos I have produced.

I am really looking forward to this year’s salmon season on the upper Columbia. Although other seasons have been disappointing on the river, this one could be outstanding for those who fish above Priest Rapids Dam.

Dave Graybill
Outdoor Line Blogger – North Central Washington
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle