Rodakowski’s Tips for Taking a Westside Blacktail

Dubbed the “grey ghost” blacktail have earned the reputation as one of the toughest big game species to hunt in the world. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

There are only a few magical days a season when mature blacktail show themselves during daylight hours and if you plan on having some success you need to make sure you are in the woods when these days happen. Every year people ask me what it takes to harvest a mature blacktail and why are some folks successful while others are not. Simply answered, you need to be out there with the deer when they are active and that peak activity usually occurs in late October through the month of November when the rut occurs. The rest of the time they are extremely nocturnal and you’ll rarely catch a glimpse of them during daylight hours.

September blacktails rub their velvet and transition to a more nocturnal pattern. (Troy Rodakowski)

The first cold snap of the season usually hits during the month of October and makes for some great hunting. By then the rain has dampened the forest floor and made for some very quiet hiking enabling hunters to sneak to tree stands, ground blinds, and elevated vantage points. Of course, finding trophy deer is not easy but with does beginning to come into estrus bucks will be more visible during daylight hours especially first thing in the morning and just before dark. During these times you’ll want to meticulously scan the densest cover with optics before giving up on a good looking location. The bottom line is that blacktail relish the thickest cover and they tunnel and weave themselves through it which enables them to go nearly undetected for much of their lives. As a hunter you need to put yourself in the cover or very near it to be successful. The biggest of blacktail won’t be too far from the edge of a field or clear cut and you want to take your time glassing these areas.

The Coast Range: Deer on the coast typically have smaller racks due to genetics, thick cover, and slightly less nutrients in their feed. There are exceptions to this rule though and larger deer can be found near old burns and logged locations that have opened up the canopies. These areas can produce some real monsters that score well into the 130 to 140 class. Hunters need to spend time near the perimeters of likely locations like this that have the lowest human activity. Tree stands or elevated locations that allow hunters to watch the thickest cover around these cuts can provide some excellent opportunities at bigger bucks. Large bucks often spend the majority of their time in thick cover and seldom step out into the center of the cuts in broad daylight. You can sometimes coax them out with fawn and doe bleats but make sure to use them sparingly. These calls can spike their curiosity and entice them to pop their heads out of the dense cover.

Public land hunting is becoming more difficult. However, finding road systems closed to motorized travel will help put you on deer. (Troy Rodakowski)

Valley Deer: Lowland blacktail thrive in small patches of woods near rivers and agricultural grounds. Access can be difficult though because most of these lands are private. If you can gain access to some of this ground, however, you might be surprised by how many blacktails roam these lowland areas. Deer numbers have slowly grown in many lowland locations and numerous farmers and private landowners have seen increased blacktail traffic and agricultural damage from the increase in population. Establishing good relationships with multiple landowners is essential in order to find trophy deer in these locations. Due to increased human activity deer here frequently move under the cover of darkness even more so than in the coastal clear cuts. Finding a place to hunt that’s close to home will be of great benefit for scouting and the number of hours that you are able to spend in the field picking apart these areas to pattern the deer. Binoculars and spotting scopes are a great tool here because of how open most of these farmlands are and you can increase your odds by scouting the cover in the intersecting areas between agricultural tracts. These lowland blacktails behave much like whitetails in the midwest. Hunt them like you would an ag-land whitetail and you’ll be in the game.

Rub lines and areas with multiple rubs are sure signs that a blacktail buck is in the area. Focusing on these places will tip the scale in your favor. (T. Rodakowski)

Deer in these areas will usually feed into the edges of agricultural fields at twilight and dusk. Plan to be in the field and set up before dark in the morning and an hour or two before dusk in the afternoon. Ground blinds and tree stand can be the ticket once a buck is patterned or a good field is located with a lot of deer activity. I have seen deer exhibiting rut activity in mid to late October or even earlier and I definitely hit the field early every year to get a handle of what the blacktails are up to. I’ve also seen a good number of bucks chasing does well into the month of December. Fellow blacktail hunter and ODFW biologist Brian Wolfer from the Springfield ODFW office prefers hunting when the bucks are most active during the pre-rut. “I have observed the most buck activity during the pre-rut in late October and early November when deer are chasing each other around,“ says Wolfer.

On dry years animals will gravitate to local water sources near irrigation ditches, slough bottoms, and ponds near river systems. Seasons with higher rainfall and early fall rains seem to encourage deer to rut much sooner and will also become extended into early December. Heavy rains will also push deer out of slough bottoms as they begin to fill with water. “We have been trying to get a better idea on migration and movements from collaring and collecting harvest data over the last few years,” adds Wolfer. Even though state game officials are learning more and more about blacktails these deer continue to remind us how mysterious and illusive they are.

Checking for fresh sign and focusing on those locations will put a hunter one step closer to harvesting a deer. (Bill Wellette)

Cascade Blacktail: Snowfall at higher elevations will push deer into migratory mode and with the rut progressively ramping up bucks will continue to breed does on the move. Deer here will travel greater distances in comparison to others at lower elevations. Snowline hunting is the norm for many late season hunters as numerous deer will drop in elevation with accumulating snow. Even though the snows usually push them down I’m amazed every year at trail cam footage and reports of large bucks taken in several inches of snow. There are some larger, mature blacktails that are much slower to migrate and can be found at elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 ft. through much of November. If you can be in the field in late October or mid-November when there’s snow on the ground the odds go up dramatically.

Once the weather changes deer will begin to migrate. The author took this buck on a late season hunt. (Troy Rodakowski)

Finding migration routes is helpful for high country blacktail but in the lowlands finding isolated hidey holes for these deer is the key and many hunters have had success, calling, rattling and hunting from tree stands in these lower areas. Bucks at higher elevation are quite difficult to pattern because they are on the move, especially late in the season as the weather and rut greatly affect their habitual patterns.

If you plan on hunting the general firearm season this year I highly recommend getting out there and doing your homework early to see where a buck might be hanging out. Chances are he’s not going to go far and if you’re in the field when rut activity starts ramping up he might give you an opportunity during shooting hours.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

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

Central Oregon High Lakes Trout and Kokanee Outlook

The sun shines on Diamond Peak that sits above Crescent Lake and the large expanse of the Diamond Peak Wilderness. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski 

Lake fishing season is upon us once again. Oh yeah baby…….crisp morning air, warm sun, great camping, barbequing and lots of fish for the cooler. That’s what many of us anglers look forward to come June. A few of us enjoy this time of year when we can get out of town, forget the daily stresses of work, and wet a line in the Cascade Lakes of Central Oregon. The 2017 season looks to be quite good with action peaking possibly a few weeks later than normal. Snowpack was above normal this season with many storms showing up well into the month of May. This year, anglers will need to keep a close eye on snow melt as well as boat launch and campground openings.

The Lake Review:

Crescent Lake is predicted to be slow early this year with some of the best catches of kokanee in June. Kokanee here will have better size than most other lakes around with most averaging in the 10 to 14 inch range. Of course, there is also some good lake trout fishing to be had here if an angler is patient and fishes some of the drop-offs near the bottom.

According to district fish biologist Eric Moberly of Bend, Oregon (541-388-6145) “Kokanee and trout fishing should be good during the 2017 season at Odell Lake.” The best time to fish here for kokes is at dawn and dusk. Most fish will range from 11-13 inches in size. Lake trout fishing should also be good here although Moberly is quick to point out, “Be careful when identifying the difference between lake trout and bull trout. Lake trout have a deeper forked tail with spots on their dorsal fins with white and cream colored spots on their bodies.” He advises to play it safe and release all fish without spots on their dorsal fin.All bull trout are federally listed as threatened since their numbers are extremely low. Any bull trout that are caught must be released unharmed. Also, be advised that fishing has been closed within 200 feet of the mouth of Odell Creek to protect these fish.

Lake trout are a popular species found in several of the high Cascade Lakes. (Troy Rodakowski)

When fishing at Wickiup Reservoir it would be smart to go after brown trout here. Kwik fish, Krock lures, Rapala’s, Wedding Rings, and flashers all work well at Wickiup. I prefer the willowleaf blade style in these locations. The lake is at 100 percent of capacity right now with most of the large browns are caught fairly early in the season. There are also some very nice sized rainbow trout available in Wickiup. “Target shallow water flats early in the season and river channels once the water begins to warm,” says Moberly. Kokanee numbers should be fair this year with many fish scattered early in the season. They will begin to school up near the creek channels once the weather warms in early June.

Even though brown bullhead have taken over many sections of the southeastern part of the reservoir largemouth bass can still be found amidst the many willow flats. Bass fishing should improve once the weather warms. There is no size or bag limit on warm water game fish here. Wickiup is located off of the Cascade Lakes Highway (NFR 46).

The author shows off a few kokanee and a brown from Paulina Lake. (Troy Rodakowski)

Paulina Lake is located in the Newberry Crater off of Highway 97 near LaPine. This lake provides a great opportunity for brown trout of all sizes. The best fishing for them is late in the day around the edges in more shallow water. Paulina is also a great lake for Kokanee with the early mornings usually providing the best action. These fish range in size from 9-12 inches. There is a five trout daily limit which includes kokanee of which one trout may exceed 20 inches.

East Lake, also located near Highway 97 and the Newberry Crater provides some very interesting opportunities for anglers. The lake is kokanee, rainbows, and brown to keep anglers busy. Fair to good catches of rainbows usually occur early in the season because of planting efforts by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Rainbows are stocked intermittently throughout the year, as well.

Rainbow trout are targeted by anglers throughout the Cascade zone using many methods. Fly fishing is one of the most effective. (Troy Rodakowski)

Finally, Crane Prairie Reservoir will offer great fishing for rainbow trout, brook trout, and largemouth bass. It is advised to limit your harvest of wild trout in this fishery. Hatchery fish are clearly marked with either a clipped adipose fin or left or right ventral clips. Fish will be scattered early with the best brook trout fishing available both early and late in the season. Moberly is also quick to point out that there are some very large kokanee here if an angler puts in some time with the right gear. Of course, dawn and dusk are the best times to fish for kokanee in Crane. Using small spoons and spinners work quite well here. Also, wet and dry flies have produced some good results for rainbows as has fishing night crawlers on the bottom. Anglers looking for bigger brookies should concentrate on working structure. There are also a few largemouth found here in the willow areas especially early in the season when the water first warms up.

The River Review:

Deschutes River, from Behman Falls upstream to Wickiup Reservoir should be fair for brown trout. Moberly points out, “that there will be good opportunity for hatchery stocked bows in the upper stretches.” From Billy Chinook Lake upstream to Behman Falls anglers should see fair fishing. Browns and red band trout are the fish found in this stretch of water. Look to fish in locations where springs enter the river. Anglers should have some of their best results from Steelhead Falls downriver.

The Crooked River below Bowman Dam has had some excellent fishing for red band trout the past couple of years. Numerous overnight and day use areas are available on BLM lands. The Chimney Rock segment of the Wild and Scenic Crooked River  is located about 15 minutes south of Prineville off of Hwy 27. With recent high water levels I expect the Crooked to fish better during the months of June and July after the flows drop down.

Most of these lakes and reservoirs have resorts available with several amenities including campgrounds, boat rentals, restaurants, and lodging. I highly recommend checking with the local resorts prior to heading to your final destination.

If you’re lucky enough to get into the Kokanee here’s one of my favorite all time recipes for cooking them up:

One of my favorite Kokanee Recipes (See Below)

Uncle Bob’s Grilled Kokanee

-Start grill on medium low to medium heat.
-Use cookie sheet lined with a layer of foil.
-Place Kokanee on foil.
-Set cookie sheet on grill. (The foil is to insulate the bottom of the fish from too much heat.)

Mix together the following……
20 % olive oil
40 % Teriyaki sauce
40% honey bbq sauce.
Stir.

-When Kokanee have cooked a few minutes, slip fork under skin, and remove top layer only. Do not disturb the bottom.
-Drizzle sauce mixure liberally on exposed fish.
-Shake on a little Johnnys seasoning and lightly pepper.
-Continue to grill at low-medium temp until fish is done.
-Serve promptly while warm.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

Tag Team Turkeys

The author and his father used many of the tactics discussed to harvest these two birds on opening day a couple seasons back. (Troy Rodakowski)

by Troy Rodakowski

The companionship of hunting with a friend of family member is half the reason we hunt spring turkeys. The other and most important half, however, is that working as a team is probably the best possible way to put some turkeys on the dinner table.

While hunting spring turkeys it is at times very beneficial to set a caller 10-15 yards or more behind a shooter. Why might you ask? That wise old gobbler will often hang up just out of range and if he feels the hen is still a bit further he might just break that magical barrier needed for your shotgun or bow.

Natural obstacles like creeks logs and other barriers can make turkeys “hang up,” and not commit to your set up. (Troy Rodakowski)

Another great benefit to hunting with a partner is the ability to sound like multiple turkeys when both hunters are calling. Getting gobblers fired up is a key to success in the spring and if you can sound like multiple turkeys a long beard is more likely to come in and join your party. Additionally, I have found it pays to have an extra set of eyes on that bird when you are stalking into closer range to make a set.

One year we had a bird across a canyon that wasn’t willing to come through the bottom to meet us so we took matters into our own hands. My buddy set up high all the while keeping an eye on him through the binoculars as I hiked closer to the bird. I was able to get fairly close to that turkey through hand signals from my partner as to the birds movements and whereabouts. I got setup, did a little calling, and the rest is history.

Birds often times do not like to cross creeks or thick obstacles such as logs or dense brush. Gobblers will pace back and forth along a creek or brush barrier searching for that hen that keeps calling to them. The best approach to this is to have the caller stay in place and have the shooter sneak into position near the brush line or creek channel where the bird is pacing. This has worked several times for me over the years!

Food Sources / Strut & Dust Zones: Find food sources, such as old oak stands with acorns, open fields with seeds and plentiful insects. Creek bottoms with snails and amphibious life are also hot spots. Turkey tracks are easily observed in soft soils during the early spring. Places where birds spend time strutting and dusting zones become prime areas to set up an ambush or catch birds moving. Often, birds will find old burns or slash pile remnants to dust in. Looking for areas where birds have scraped and taken dust baths can help point a hunter to an area where they will likely return.

If you plan on using decoys be sure to use dekes that look as realistic as possible. I like to save fans from some of my jakes to attach to various decoys to give them a more realistic look and I’ll paint faded decoys to give them a little brighter look. I’ll even go so far as to attach a jerk string or cord to one of my standing hens or jakes so I can give it some movement. This works pretty well on birds from a distance and has helped bag some birds for my hunting partners and I over the years. This is one trick where the buddy system really comes in handy!

Even the most wary gobbler can be fooled. You just need to know when and how to make the right moves on an old wise bird. (Troy Rodakowski)

Regardless of your approach using the “buddy” system in the turkey woods this spring can be very beneficial. I sure do appreciate the help a hunting companion and what’s even better is sharing that experience with a good friend or family member.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

5 Turkey Musts For This Coming Season

Make sure to have the scales tipped in your favor come this April and you’ll surely find yourself packing more birds out of the field. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

In general, extreme weather patterns are not beneficial for wild turkeys.  In particular, winters with deep snow at lower elevations can impact overwinter survival when turkeys can’t dig down for their favorite foods. “We have actually seen them stay in the roost for days at a time when snow is too deep to feed,” says Mikal Moore NWTF Biologist for the Pacific Northwest. The other big driver of turkey population’s dynamics is wet springs, which can inhibit hatching success.  For those poults that do hatch, protein-rich insects will be plentiful in wet years, a critical component of bone, muscle, and feather growth in young wild turkeys,” adds Moore.

The yin and yang of a severe winter in the Pacific Northwest may keep some from hunting turkeys while others will find success. My advice is that there’s never a better time than the present to pursue these handsome birds.

A spring gobbler searches through the grass for other turkeys while listening carefully for hens and keeping an eye out for danger. (Troy Rodakowsk)

Over the years I have made plenty of mistakes and learned some valuable lessons when hunting turkeys. Here are a few tips of what not to do on opening day to help you be a more successful turkey hunter.

1.) Don’t expect to pull into a place that you have seen turkeys and find them in the same location during season. This has happened to me a few times and is a lot like going to a job interview without your resume. Locating a prospective spot, not taking the time to scout it out and still hoping for positive results just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, most of us have been in this position at least once, had a lack of time to spend in the woods prior to season and hurried out on opening day only to find disappointment. The lesson here is get out before season, get out often, scout and you will be rewarded with more birds for the freezer.

2.) If you hear a gobble don’t get excited and over call. Hunters need to remember that it is natural for a hen to go seek out a tom. We as hunters are trying to convince these birds the opposite of what comes naturally to them. When first encountering a bird I like to gently test him out with just some light yelps and purring. If he doesn’t respond then hit him with a couple cutts and cackles to see if he will shock gobble.

I like to mimic what a hen is saying. If she yelps at you yelp right back with the same tone and cadence. If she cackles and cutts make sure to do it right back at her, make her mad, you are there to steal that gobbler from her.

3.) After a long morning, find a tree, take a short nap, get a bite to eat, drink some water and relax. I have harvested countless birds in the afternoon and just prior to sunset. Many hunters get frustrated and call it a day after hiking a few miles without hearing any gobbles or even seeing a bird. Remember, most of the breeding occurs in the morning within the first few hours after fly down. Gobblers urge to breed and their potency is higher during the morning hours and they will usually, try to locate a receptive hen immediately after fly down. Afternoon hunts are great because many of the hens will return to their established nesting sites to lay and incubate eggs. This leaves Mr. Tom lonely and in search for any hens that are still wandering about and feeding.

Gobblers are smart. Getting one to make a mistake isn’t always easy. (Troy Rodakowski)

4.) Be prepared to cover lots of ground. Nesting hens usually stay within a radius of 1 mile spending the day feeding, laying and sitting on eggs. Gobblers on the other hand can cover ground often times wandering up to 2 miles from their roosting site looking for receptive hens. Hearing a gobble over a ridge doesn’t mean you will find that bird in the original location that he sounded off from. I remember one year I contacted a bird and ended up killing him 3 miles from where I had first heard him. Wear good base layer clothing and plan on sweating a little.

5.) When hunting from a blind make sure to know what stage of the breeding cycle the birds are in. Don’t “over –do” your decoy spread and make sure not to over call. Larger breeding groups of turkeys and birds at fly down are very vocal but solo gobblers are not always keen to radical calling techniques. Infrequent calling and silence can be exactly what a bird is looking for as it stirs their curiosity and seems more natural especially later in the day when birds are a somewhat less vocal.

Troy Rodakowski is an award winning outdoor writer based out of Western Oregon.

The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Sea Lion’s Invade Lower Columbia

On the heels of a record smelt run in the Columbia River there’s a new record, of sorts, being set by California Sea Lions on the lower Columbia River. Yesterday there was an astonishing 1420 sea lions hauled out on the floats of the East Mooring Basin in Astoria, Oregon. It’s the highest number of the furry pinniped’s ever encountered in the marina and biologists, as well as anglers, are hopeful the sea lions are heading downstream instead of upstream.

Here’s a shot from Q float in the East Mooring Basin. There’s 529 sea lions on this float alone. I’m not certain how these folks plan on getting to their boats…yikes!

Astoria - California Sea LionsRob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

New Kwikfish Colors That Rock!

Luhr Jensen came out with a handful of new color schemes for their ever-lethal Kwikfish last year that flat out tore up the coastal salmon for us last fall.

The three K-15’s on the left in the photo below worked great for both kings and silvers last fall and Luhr Jensen just released the new color on the right in both purple/pink and purple/blue. It’s a twist on the old #748, a.k.a. the “Gay Boy”, that was so lethal for fall salmon. Kings, silvers, and chums absolutely tore that plug up for  many years.

This new color scheme will no doubt get pummeled by salmon the same way the old #748 got schwacked.

Here’s a little different look at the new plug colors rigged up with Mustad open-eye Siwash hooks. Ten to fifteen years ago I would shy away from  larger plugs any time there was a single barbless hook restriction in place because you would miss so, so many take downs. With the new Mustad open-eye Siwash hooks, however, the hook up percentage on singles is much higher. These wicked-sharp hooks on LJ’s new plugs is a lethal combo!

Proof is in the puddin’!

We’re expecting the first big deluge of the fall this coming week, which means the rivers will come up substantially. When they start dropping though…it’s time to bust out the Kwikies because the Washington coastal rivers are going to be polluted with salmon. Guides like Joseph Princen from JP’s Guide Service are already catching limits of chrome kings daily and with a little rain the fishing is only going to get better.

Thanks for stopping by and best of luck to you on the water this fall. Rig up some of these new Kwikies and go get’em!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Fishing Pink Rubber Worms for Steelhead

The 2012-2013 Steelhead season has, as we’ve discussed on “The Outdoor Line”, shaped up to be a big fish year. Both hatchery fish and natives alike have made more than one fisherman perform a double take because of their eye-poppin’ size.

Check out some of the mondo steelhead we’ve taken time to post up in our “Heavy Metal 2013” photo album over in the Outdoor Line fishing forums. These are just some of the big fish we’ve been exposed to via friends and followers of show.

Without a doubt, it’s been impressive thus far. The exciting thing is we are actually now on the door-step the time when a good number of our large, and I mean LARGE, native steelhead enter our rivers.

On some of our favorite rivers some sections are regulated “artificial lure” only, which means no bait. On other rivers it just makes sense to use certain artificial lures because they flat out work.

One choice that many anglers seem to be drawn to is the well-respected “Pink Worm”, or Count Wormula as Endsley likes to call it. The rubber worm for steelhead has been proven time and time again and for good reason.Big steelhead love the worm!

When most anglers think about fishing a soft plastic worm the first thing they try to figure out is how? “How do I rig it or even more-so, how do I fish it”?  Well, here are a few simple options to give you some things to think about.

The first thing to understand is that “not all worms are created equal”. To be more specific, some float, some do not. Some are actually considered neutrally buoyant. They also come in several sizes lke 3 inch, 4 inch, 5 inch, and even 6″ worms are common. Also, pick a color, any color or even multiple colors. Lastly, what kind of tail do you prefer? Straight, paddle, curly…I think you get the point. As you stand in the isle at your favorite tackle distributor take some time, read the package, and if all else fails ask for help.

Now that you have your worms selected lets take a look at “How-to-Rig”. One of the easiest ways to present a worm is to simply drift fish it. You have a choice, worms that float or at a minimum are neutrally buoyant. You’ll definitely want to run a neutrally bouyant worm with a corky or cheater on your leader to give it some floatation. You can also put one on with your buoyant worms as well for more color, but it’s not necessary for buoyancy.

You’ll want to use a long needle or a worm/bait threader to pull your pre-tied leader  through the worm. You want to start a few inches from the tail and thread the worm onto the needle all the way through to the top. Placing a good plastic or glass bead down the leader on top of the hook, helps prevent the hook from being pulled into the worm and tearing it. You can also use something called a sequin. Sequins are those reflective do-dads used in costumes and found at most craft stores. These are actually a great choice as well.

This rig works great for drift fishing; however my favorite method for my worms rigged in this manner is “float dogging”. Of course I’ll run it with my stick lead and the only change I am making is to use an artificial lure vs. bait like I normally do. One thing to keep in mind, you’ll want to run an 18″ to 20″ leader so as to keep your buoyant worm down in the strike zone.

Here is another option and in my opinion the easiest way to rig a worm. If you can tie a leader on under a float, then you are 3/4ths of the way there.

I usually go with a 2 foot or 3 foot leader tied to a size 1 hook. This presentation works best with 3 inch worms and usually no larger than 4 inch. Place just a few split-shot on your leader to get it down under the float a bit faster and your leader is ready. Simply hang the worm on the hook at about the mid-way point, and your set. This is known as “whacky style”.

It can be flat-out deadly and I’ll fish this in most areas where I would also fish a jig. It’s a great way to present a worm suspended and creep it along structure, such as wood. I also like the fact that if I want to change out to a different color or style, it doesn’t get much easier. Remember that a buoyant worm isn’t necessary, as we want to make sure the worm is suspended under the float.

Similar to the wacky style and also fished under a float, is an inverted presentation. You have a couple options. Buoyant worms can be fished with a bullet sinker on a bead on top of the hook. Using the bait threader, this time you slide the worm on from the top first and only go about 1/3 of the way through. At this point you want to push the needle out through the side. As you thread this worm onto the leader, the leader will come out the side, allowing the worm to bend over and create a lot of movement when hanging upside-down.

If you use a non-buoyant or neutral buoyant worm, you can add a few split shot to the leader, again to get it down under the float. These also fish very well in water ideal for jigs.

“Got jig heads”? Yep, just that simple…. put a 2 inch or 3 inch worm on a jig head, suspend it under a float, and you are fishing a pink worm. Don’t be afraid to use these little guys to dress up some of your big steelhead jigs, as well. If you are looking for a big profile with a lot of action this just might be your ticket.

As my buddy “William” has been quoted in saying, many, many times…..”What isn’t tried won’t work”.

All I know is that several years ago I rigged a pink worm on a leader, with a series of beads and a Spin-n-Glo. My intention was to fish it on a bait diver. The first time I did this I was in a buddy’s boat. He put out a plug, I put out my worm and bait diver. In about 3 or 4 minutes we had a violent take down, and it wasn’t on the plug. I grabbed the rod, put a little pressure to it and POW….. the fish was gone. I reeled in and brought back my bait diver and half of the 5′ to 6′ leader. I could tell I must of had a nick or a knot or some defect that caused the leader to break.

The bottom line is that it worked and it worked well. I will use it on occasion when the conditions are right. You fish it as you would a plug. I rig the worm so as to increase the action. Again, using the bait threader I start a few inches from the bottom. Threading up towards the top and pop the needle out about an inch from the end. This little end of worm pointing slightly down below the beads and Spin-n-Glo actually act like a bit of a rudder in the water and creates additional movement on the worm. You are basically backing this crazy moving worm down right at the fish on a 5 foot to 6 foot leader. This particular rig is a little more involved but it can work very well.

There ya go, a number of choices and options on how to rig and fish a pink rubber worm in hopes of banging a huge wild steelhead this spring. There is still plenty of winter-run season left. Go get yourself some worms, get them rigged up, and go out a catch a big chrome nate. Just make sure you send us a picture of that “Heavy Metal Monster” here on our FORUMS page, under “Fish Reports“. Or feel free to post it up on the Outdoor Line Facebook  page.

Good steelhead fishing to you!

Duane Inglin
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

For the Love of the Game!

By Josiah Darr

Mountain climbing…. Back to the roots

When I was a wee little lad, barely cutting my tiny teeth in the world of steelhead fishing, I used to see the armada of drift boat launching at various points in the river and think to myself that there wasn’t anything better being in a drift boat. Of course I had only been in a drift boat a few times at that point in my life and I was barely old enough to drive. Plus pushing carts and carrying out groceries at the local Fred Meyers between baseball practices put me a long way from ever owning a boat. Hell, I couldn’t even afford a Sevlor blow up rubber raft that was sure to drowned me if I’d owned one. It’s probably better that I didn’t. So, to quench my thirst for the pursuit of the flawless electric flashes I’d felt so few times in my adolescent life, I took to the bank.

Summer, spring, winter, or fall…it didn’t matter. All that mattered was if it was a steelhead!

Never catching jack squat!

I started my banking career in a tiny unnamed creek that I don’t believe is even open for steelhead fishing anymore. Of course that wasn’t due to my steelhead fishing prowess. I didn’t catch jack! What I did do was learn how to fish. Where to put my body to cover certain pieces of water. How to raise and lower my rod tip to get the perfect drift through a likely looking spot. I learned the art of falling in while crossing more times than I care to elaborate on, but I learned every day what to do and what not to do.
I’ll never forget the first time a pitched too much pencil lead, a corky that looking back was way too big and bright for the size of this creek, and a cluster of eggs the size of my 14 year old balled up fist, into a swirly hole along side of a bridge abutment.

My friend Dan and I stood there in amazement as a flash like neither of us had ever seen came firing out from the shadow underneath the pillar, scarfed my eggs and disappear down a rapid before either of us knew what to do. The line came tight, the fish freaked out, Dan and I about peed ourselves and the fish was gone in a matter of a tenths of a seconds. It was over before it barely ever started, but that single unidentified flash lit a fire like a ember falling in an old hay loft. It was on…. I was hooked and I wasn’t going to stop until I felt that rush over and over again or until I wasn’t fun anymore…. That has never happened.

It was never about the number or the size. It was always about how much fun I was having.

The College Years

Besides being the most fun I ever had with my clothes on, and occasionally off, college was the perfect time to be completely irresponsible and use Uncle Sam’s dime to fish and much as humanly possible. Teachers didn’t take attendance, classes weren’t graded on participation and there was no mom and dad to give me that, “You should be doing something more productive with your time” look when I ditched a class and headed for the river. It was awesome.

It was the college years where my steelhead fishing skills were honed. They weren’t exactly razor blade dangerous, but I could pop a balloon or two if they held still.

With the limited success came learning…. I just got one. Or better yet, I hooked five today. What did I do to make that happen? What were the conditions? What day of the year is it?  What did I catch them on? The mental Rolodex of fishing information started to build and steelhead fishing became more of a math problem than a fishing trip. “If water level “A” + time of year “B” +  sand shrimp tail and a pink pearl corky “C”  all come together it should equal = steelhead “D”. That might have been the only math problem I learned in college, but unlike the ones that were taught in class, this one I was going to use over and over again for the rest of my life.

The more practice and the more techniques learned, the more arrows I had in the quiver.

Buying a Boat

It wasn’t long once I figure out how to earn a few bucks, I bought a drift boat. And the rest, as they say, is history. All the learning and tromping up and down moss covered rocks and the countless endos into root wads, sticker bushes, branches or whatever else God and left to soften my dismounts had finally been worth it. All that work climbing and learning and backlashing into tree behind me was over. Now I could float these mountainous raging rivers through the pristine glory that is steelhead water. I could position the boat where ever I wanted and cover every spot from the perfect angle time and time again until I was certain I’d caught every scaly critter in a run. I could float for miles at a time covering dozens and dozens of likely looking spots with the easy of simply pulling on the oars. I could….. wait…. All my friends are fishing…. Damn it!!! I’m just rowing!!! I’m back to never catching anything!!! This sucks!!!

Always a Brides Maid, Never the Bride!

The Guide Life

To rid myself of all the ungrateful friends and all the awesome times we had hanging out on the river, I got my guide license so I could fish with people who had more money. Of course I didn’t know them from Adam, but who cares? I was getting paid to fish. It seemed like a great idea at the time, and looking back it still was.

I’ve relearned more about the passion of the chase and the desire to learn and experience something I’ve done so many times. It’s awe was often lost on me and watching other people experience is brought it back for me. It’s that gleam and excitement that every guest bring to the boat with them that reinforced my love game. There’s nothing like it. It’s the greatest sport in the world.

There’s chance, there’s practice, there’s patience, there’s heartbreak, there’s pain and there’s love. Pure, unadulterated, unblemished, inspiring, life changing, love. A love that is hard to find or duplicate at any corner of the earth. A love that is so overwhelming it can steal a man’s mind for years and years even if he’s only felt it once for merely a second under a bridge with Dan when he was 14 years old.

I said I’d stop chasing steelhead when I stopped feeling the rush…. It still hasn’t happened.

…because watching someone else get the fish of a lifetime, is better than getting it yourself. Especially when that someone…. is your Dad.

Josiah Darr
The Outdoor Line “Young Gun”
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

My Top 4 Breakfast Joints

Maybe I was thinking about this because I just polished off my boring breakfast of oatmeal and fruit. At the ripe old age of 41 I’m trying to watch my diet a little closer these days, but don’t think for one furry second that I’ve forgotten about the memorable morning meals I’ve had at these four brekky joints.

Someday and someday soon I’ll once again find myself staring wide-eyed at the menu at one of these places…wife permitting. These restaurants know how to turn what is normally the most boring meal of the day into a breakfast you’ll never forget. That’s why they made the top of my list.

Without further adieu…

Mckay CottageBend, Oregon
The first time we visited McKay Cottage for breakfast in Bend, Oregon I ate so much I could hardly shuffle out of the place. There’s so many tastie dishes on their breakfast menu that my wife, her best friend Brandy, and I decided to order breakfast “family style” so we could sample as much of their grub as we could.

We greased up the skids before the main course arrived with mochas from the espresso bar and a plate of fresh raspberry scones from McKay’s awesome bakery. Most people would have called in quits there, but I had my sights set on a full blown Thanksgiving style, lay-on-the-floor-with-my-pants-unbuttoned food coma.

It wasn’t long after we ordered before the kitchen door flew open and hot plates began to hit the table. Our outdoorsy and fit waitress presented us with Smith Rock Benny, pumpkin pancakes, Joe’s Special scramble, and a breakfast burrito before hustling off to keep up with the orders. How these waitresses stay in such great shape with all this awesome food around is beyond me. I was sitting with two ladies that also eat like birds and my food coma dreams were about to come true.

Breakfast was nothing short of oh-mazing and my plans for an active day in the Oregon outdoors quickly evaporated. Mass rump was destined for a couch. I’m ashamed to admit that I watched football the rest of the day. Next time I’ll go hiking girls…I promise!If you visit McKay Cottage plan on getting there early and bring an appetite. Don’t forget to try one of their scones while you wait!

Duck Brand Hotel and CantinaWinthrop, Washington
My wife and I make frequent trips to Winthrop, Washington to hike, hunt, and relax in what can only be described as a little slice of Montana. When we’re there we always make a point to visit the Duck Brand Hotel and Cantina for a Mexican style breakfast. The Duck Brand has seating inside the main restaurant and plenty of outdoor seating so you can enjoy the warm Eastern Washington mornings out on the deck.

The breakfast menu here has a Mexican twist and most of the dishes come with a side of black beans, which is a different but totally awesome addition to breakfast.

My favorite breakfast thus far at this place is the Eggs McDuck, but the Huevos Rancheros is a very close second. Unlike my visit to McKay Cottage I leave the Duck ready to clamber up any of the scenic ridges in the Methow Valley.

I like breakfast joints that are hustle-bustle and the Duck Brand doesn’t disappoint. Spoons clanging into coffee cups, short order cooks hollering at waitresses, and lots of outdoorsy folks waiting to fuel up for the day. It’s busy for a reason…the food is yummers!

Blue Star Cafe-Seattle, Washington
I was going to keep this list to just my favorite small fishing town breakfast joints, but I simply couldn’t resist adding the Blue Star in Seattle’s Wallingford District to my list because of it’s totally ri-donk-ulous breakfast menu. The Blue Star is also a bar, so you can grab a Bloody Mary and watch football pre-game shows before the Smokey Mountain scramble or Eggs Seattle arrives.

The Smokey Mountain Scramble is one of the most memorable egg dishes I’ve ever inhaled. It consists of as many eggs as you’d like, pepper jack cheese, and Little Smokee sausages. Pure genius!

Or if you’re in a more eclectic Northwest’y mood you can order the Eggs Seattle, which is smoked salmon on an English muffin with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. This one’s also a dandy!

There can be a long wait on weekends at the Blue Star so get there early. The wait, however, is well worth it!

Forks Coffee Shop-Forks, Washington
The Coffee Shop’s montra is “Nobody Leaves Hungry” and that ain’t no bull. Both fisherman and loggers alike need to prime the pumps early in the morning for a long day in the woods or on the water and the breakfast plates here are served accordingly.

I can polish off a lot of brekky before hitting the water and I’ll be darned if the servings here don’t test me every time.

My favorite brekky chow here is the Sol Duc scramble, which consists of veggies, country sausage, and hash browns scrambled together with eggs and served with toast. Douse it with Tabasco sauce and you’ll be ready for a day of steelhead fishing on one of the many nearby rivers.

Most of the locally famous Forks river guides meet their guests at the Coffee Shop in the morning, so if you want the latest fishing intel this is the place to be before the sun rises on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

If you’ve got a favorite breakfast spot that I should be checkin’ out please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m always on the hunt for good fishing…and good food. Adios muchachos!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com