5 Quick Tips for Trophy Steelhead

Rob Endsley with a Trophy Steelhead

by Jason Brooks

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

Use bigger gear to fight bigger fish-Jason Brooks

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

Pink worms are very effective for big fish-Jason Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoked Salmon – A Simple and Delicious Recipe

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

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

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

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

pin_bone_plier

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

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

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

smokedfish_water

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

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

fish_brine

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

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

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

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

masterbuilt_smoker_web

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

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

smoker_chips

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

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

salmon_peppers2_web

Packaging the Smoked Fish

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

salmon_peppers3_web

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

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Early Winter Steelhead Have Arrived!

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

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

Early Winter Steelhead – They’re Here!

by Jason Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer

Luhr Jensen Tech Tip – Using the Jet Diver

Our good friend Carmen Macdonald at Luhr Jensen just produced a great video describing how to properly rig and use a Jet Diver. These divers are widely used in salmon and steelhead fisheries throughout the northwest, the Kenai River, and Alaska’s Nushagak River. If you’re serious about salmon and steelhead fishing you’ll at some point need to use one of these great divers.

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

It’s Here – Daiwa Lexa Line Counter!

By Rob Endsley

lexa_line_counter

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

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

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

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

lexa_line_counter2

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

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

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

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

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
www.theoutdoorline.com

5 Tips for Catching Trophy Steelhead

 By Jason Brooks

IMG_6813-001-2

With longer days and warmer weather the winter steelheader knows this is the time of year for big fish to arrive in our rivers. Those that might have not caught a truly large steelhead will learn a few lessons as soon as they hook the fish. Unfortunately this is not the time to learn those lessons. And if you have caught that magical fish of a lifetime then you might want to remember these lessons as well before you head back to the river.

The author about to release a wild steelhead, keeping it in the water at all times-Jason Brooks

The author about to release a wild steelhead, keeping it in the water at all times-Jason Brooks

Go where the big fish are.

By doing a little research or hiring a reputable guide you can find a handful of rivers that produce big steelhead. Don’t think you can just head to any old steelhead stream and catch a giant fish, even if rumors abound that a twenty pound fish came out of “hatchery brat creek”. Wild fish need wild places so head to a remote section of the Olympic Peninsula with a handful of river maps in your tackle box.

Rivers with wild fish are in wild places-Jason Brooks

Rivers with wild fish are in wild places-Jason Brooks

Leave the bait at home.

This time of year and the rivers you will target should have a run of big wild fish which means we need to protect them. By using techniques that don’t require bait you are more likely to not mortally hook one of these majestic fish. But by all means use scents when it’s legal to do so!

It might seem strange to not use bait but use scents, however it’s how you use the scent that makes the difference. I rub Pro-Cure Super Gel’s on my leaders as well as smear it on my plugs and spoons and soak my slinkies in Pro-Cure bait oils. The idea of using scents is to have it disperse downstream of your presentation so the fish is anticipating something coming and also entice the strike.

Using scents can entice a strike-Jason Brooks

Using scents can entice a strike-Jason Brooks

Knotless nets and fish stay in the water.

This is almost a no brainer with Washington’s regulations though I still see the green or blue nylon knotted nets in drift boats. Those nets literally rip the slime off of the fish which compromises the fish’s ability to fight off bacteria and infections. Along with using a soft knotless net you should keep the fish in the water at all times. Sure I see the photos of one fin in the water to “keep legal” but really the head of the fish or at least the gills plate should remain in the water. And be careful of hand placement as putting pressure under the pectoral fins can compress the steelheads heart.

Use a knotless net when practicing catch and release-Jason Brooks

Use a knotless net when practicing catch and release-Jason Brooks

Bring a camera!

A real camera, not your cell phone. You finally land a fish of a lifetime and it’s now time to preserve that memory or even use the photos to make a replica mount of the fish. Take a lot of photos from all sorts of perspectives, including close up shots and use a “fill flash” to lighten shadows of ball caps. Along with the camera make sure to take measurements of your fish so you can do the math calculations on just how big your fish really was. Here’s a formula that’s been developed by biologists to determine the weight of a wild steelhead:

Girth Squared x Length/775

Use a camera to capture the fish and angler to share the memories-Jason Brooks

Use a camera to capture the fish and angler to share the memories-Jason Brooks

Upsize your gear.

If you are still using 8 or 10 pound test leaders and 12 pound mainline you will really wish you weren’t the second you realize you have a monster steelhead up and running. Truly big fish are not as leader shy as some hatchery brats. And big fish means big gear. As soon as we get a warm spring day I switch all of my mainline to either 15 pound monofilament or 20 to 30 pound braid. My leaders are at least 12 pound test and a buddy of mine uses 20 pound test when we fish a certain river on the coast known for log jams and huge fish. I also trade my lightweight side drifting rod for my fall salmon rod. I keep a finger on my line to help feel the bite but I want the backbone of the medium to medium heavy action rod to turn that big fish away from the logs and rocks and hopefully force it in to the bank. Plus the sooner you can land a big fish the sooner you can let it rest and get it back into the stream. Fighting a steelhead to near exhaustion is no different than bonking it on the head with a stick.

Use the right gear and bring in the fish before it reaches exhaustion-Jason Brooks

Use the right gear and bring in the fish before it reaches exhaustion-Jason Brooks

Good luck and go find that steelhead of a lifetime!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer

Keys to Successful Bank Steelheading

Bank angling for winter steelhead, a Northwest Tradition

by Jason Brooks

Bank bound anglers often feel they are at a hindrance to those floating buy in drift boats or having the wake of a jet sled slap the shores as they zoom by. But just because one is on foot doesn’t mean they are at a disadvantage as long as the bank angler utilizes some basic knowledge and prepares for the day of fishing. Here are a few keys to becoming a more successful bank bound steelheader.

Hooking and fighting a fish from shore can be very fun and productive

Hooking and fighting a fish from shore can be very fun and productive

Know the river and the land that surrounds it. With the internet and Google Earth as well as many other mapping systems like Hunt by “onXmaps”. A little research before you head to the water will benefit the angler on foot. Access points to some secret holes or runs can be found by simply clicking through the county auditor’s website and learning which bank areas are open to the public and who might own the private lands to ask for permission. River’s change course each winter with the heavy rains but Google earth will show you the bends and long straights with a tail out.

After you have done a search and found several access points to a river you want to fish, it’s time to put the boots on the ground. Take an entire day to explore the river and check out all potential access points and areas to fish. The first time you visit a river it should be to explore. Even if you find that secret run or deep slot, fish it for an hour and then make yourself move on and keep looking around. You will thank yourself the next time you drive to the river and find a person in your best spot and then not have to go try and find a new one as you will already know where to go.

Fishing the bank is very rewarding

Fishing the bank is very rewarding

Once you learn a river or two or three…you get the idea, then it’s time to get smart about your gear. When I bank fish, and yes, I still like the ease of hiking into a river and fishing instead of fighting the lines at the boat ramps. I usually take two rods, both are the same though. The idea is to have a back-up rod and reel outfit in case your primary one breaks, it happens, as my car door is notorious for eating rods in the parking lot. My “go to” steelhead outfit is a 9 ½ foot medium to light action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel spooled with 20 pound braid. This set-up allows me to fish multiple ways and a variety of water conditions.

Hooking a fish from the bank, nothing feels better

Hooking a fish from the bank, nothing feels better

The tackle box is where you can really get into trouble when it comes to bank angling. You need to pack just the right gear and right amount and carry it all throughout the day. This is where using a universal rod and reel like the one mentioned above really pays off. I will pack six spoons, three in ½ ounce and three in ¾ ounce so I can adjust to water speed. Since I am fishing braid I also bring along four adjustable ½ ounce floats, six or more jigs, a dozen “yarnie” pre-tied drift fishing leaders, another dozen leaders just plain, some pink worms and a few bare jig heads. I am not a big bait fishing fan when bound to the bank as you then need carry the bait and keep it fresh, but I do carry scents, such as Pro-Cure Super Gel in Anise, Sandshrimp, and Salmon Egg. By using the yarnies with scent I am essentially using a standard bait drift fish rigging. Don’t forget the swivels and weights, I prefer slinkies in various shot amounts depending on the water conditions. All of this goes into a backpack and takes up little room and is lightweight.

Grant Blinn with a shore caught steelhead about to be released

Grant Blinn with a shore caught steelhead about to be released

With the above mentioned rod and reel, and gear I can fish several methods and all water conditions. From throwing spoons, drift fishing yarnies and pink worms to float fishing jigs and “whacky” rigged worms and even a spoon under a float in a boulder garden, as well as bobber-dog a long run. I have stood at the top of a seam and bobber-dogged until my line on my spool was down to the last wrap. Now that it working the water!

The author, Jason Brooks, with his son Ryan and two winter steelhead on the bank

The author, Jason Brooks, with his son Ryan and two winter steelhead on the bank

Strap on the boots, check the river levels and head for the bank. By preparing and being armed with knowledge of the river you will be more successful. Just don’t smile too much as the boats go by, knowing they have to fight the lines at the launch.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

The Versatile Drift Boat

by Jason Brooks

If you ask me what is the most versatile watercraft to pursuit salmon and steelhead I would have to say it’s the drift boat. With its distinctive up curved ends and flat bottom designed and built to float in skinny northwest rivers it also handles bigger waters such as mainstream rivers, estuaries, and bays. Add in the fact that they are extremely economical with very little maintenance and it’s no wonder that their popularity is making a huge comeback.

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing  day of fishing -Jason Brooks

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing day of fishing -Jason Brooks

It all started on the McKenzie River in Oregon, or at least that is the legend of where the drift boat originated. In fact some people still call them McKenzie drifters, or just plain McKenzie boats. First made of wood the early boats proved to be useful for getting down a river. If you hit a rock or damaged the hull you could patch it with some basic hand tools, back when most people actually still used hand tools and made a lot of their own boats. Nowadays with modern fabrications the wooden boat is all but gone, though you can still find them for sale on Craigslist. They are more for nostalgia as wood boats are a bit heavier and tend to not row as easy. So the modern argument for this old design is fiberglass or metal when it comes to hull materials.

Aluminum boats are thought to be "cold" -Jason Brooks

Aluminum boats are thought to be “cold” -Jason Brooks

I see it posted several times on internet forums, usually around the time the Outdoor Trade Shows or Boat Shows start up. Someone will get the itch to buy a drift boat and ask fellow fishers what they should get, a “glass” or metal boat. I sit back and read the replies from the internet experts until I can’t take it anymore and chime in my opinion. I start by saying that if the person who is thinking about buying a drift boat has never rowed one to first take a guided trip. It is well worth the money to see if you really want to invest in one of these boats. This usually leads to my next bit of advice, take it or leave it, but I think anyone who wants to get into their first drift boat should buy a used one. Now, before the advertisers of this site get too mad, I am only advocating this for the first time buyer, as soon enough the person will want to upgrade and look to have a boat manufacturer make a custom boat for them.

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

Here is my reasons why you should consider used for your first drift boat and why a guided trip is a must prior to the purchase. If you have patience and look at sale sites for any length of time you will find those ads by people who offer up a practically new boat for half the cost. Ones where the person decided to get a drift boat and spent the money only to float a river and find out that rowing can be harder than it looks. Either it scared them to have no control over the fact you have to go down the river, or they were too sore to care to row ever again. Also, drift boats hold up pretty well, even boats that have some road rash or a few dents float just fine. You can find really good deals on boats that are 10 years old or older, and really the design of the boat hasn’t changed in 50 years so age isn’t much of a factor. The main difference between a new boat and a used one are options. When buying used you are stuck with what the previous owner purchased. This can work in your favor as a bare bones boat is lighter and easier to row than one that has lots of bells and whistles.

New boats are nice and once you own a drift boat and become proficient at rowing one you will get the itch to order your own boat. This is mostly because each person is slightly different when it comes to fishing styles. I like to drift fish and float eggs under a bobber, but another buddy of mine likes pulling plugs and throwing hardware. So for me multiple rod holders, bait trays, motor mount, and other accessories are a must. For the guy who likes to pull plugs you want it set up with pole holders, a heater for those cold days where the front passengers are just sitting idle watching the rod tips thump.

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it's cold -Jason Brooks

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it’s cold -Jason Brooks

This brings us back to the argument of “glass” versus metal. I really don’t have a preference but I do own a metal boat and one of my buddies owns a fiberglass boat. Both are great boats and ironically my boat actually floats higher in the water than his does. Most think that the material matters, and to some degree it does, but so does design. His is a 16 foot by 48 inch bottom. Mine is a 16 foot by 54 inch bottom. That extra width at the bottom of the boat is what allows mine to float or draft higher and slip through in shallower waters and makes it react to rowing a bit quicker. His is “warmer” as my metal boat becomes an ice bucket during those early spring steelhead trips.

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Okay, if you just read all of this and are scratching your head at what the heck I am talking about; “how it rows, reacts faster, floats higher”. Here is what drift boaters are talking about. The boat is designed to float with very little displacement, or otherwise known to float high in the water by its flat bottom design. With the stern and bow raised is allows the water to push the boat up as the water flows underneath. As you row backwards you pull the boat up and away from where the bow is pointed. If the boat is heavy or narrow and sits lower in the water there is more drag or resistance and you need to row harder, either faster or by digging you oars deeper into the water. Fiberglass boats are slick and have less coefficient of friction on the bottom because of the materials they are made from. Fiberglass that is coated with a gel coat has very little resistance in the water, where metal boats have tiny grooves or pores which tend to cause more friction in the water. To overcome this metal boat owners put a coating on the bottom of the boat and with new Kevlar materials these coatings can stand up to a few years of use. But they must be up kept, one of the downfalls of a metal boat. Fiberglass boats do wear out and can have soft spots or leaks from hitting rocks or gouges from sliding over gravel bars.

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

All drift boats have some basic maintenance requirements, but not many. This is another bonus for owning one these boats. If you put a motor on one you must also license it. Keep the motor off and stay away from Federal or navigable waters defined by the Coast Guard and there is no need to license it in Washington (check your local laws). With the motor you can easily fish close to shore in bays and estuaries and also motor up the deep holes and slot in rivers to float them again. But one of my favorite reasons to own this versatile boat is that it is quiet and allows you to really pay attention to fishing and relax while floating down a river.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

 

Successful Steelhead Fishing

By Jason Brooks

The cold days of January creates clear waters on the drop and for the steelhead angler it is time to hit the rivers. This time of year brings in fresh fish that are nickel sided and black backed ready to bite. Mixed in the bag are hatchery brats and wild fish, both are a quarry anglers dream about and prepare for. It is this preparation that makes the difference from a day spent on the river hoping to hook a fish and a day on the river catching a lot of fish. Here are a few tips and pointers to rekindle the winter steelhead excitement and help you put more fish on the bank.

Steelhead Fishing in the Snow, photo by Jason Brooks

Steelhead fishing in the winter means fishing in extreme elements. (photo by Jason Brooks)

A guided trip is always worth the money. Not only do you get to use the industries top equipment but also learn from those that have already been out fishing the rivers. A prime example is Eli Liske of E&S Sportfishing (www.essportfishing.com or 253-332-1240) who’s been out fishing for several weeks now and lately has been catching steelhead on just about every coastal river he can get his drift boat down.

This brings up another point and that is with each rain the rivers change. Guides have a network of information on which rivers are fishable, which ones have hazards, and which ones are not worth your time. Eli had a day off this last weekend so he took his son, Aiden, out to yet another river known for big wild fish and they were rewarded with a few nice fish including one that took a plug. If you want to learn a new technique or just improve your fishing by learning advanced methods then hiring a guide will increase your knowledge in quick order.

Aiden Liske with a plug caught winter steelhead, Photo by Eli Liske

Aiden Liske with a plug caught winter steelhead. (Photo by Eli Liske, E&S Guide Service)

The internet is friend and foe all in one stroke of the keypad. If you like to frequent fishing websites and chase internet reports then you might become a little frustrated. But if you use the internet for things such as river flows, google earth maps for access, and recipes on bait cures then you will be rewarded with more time to fish and success on the river. The thing to remember on using the internet is to use it as a tool to learn as well as for entertainment, such as YouTube videos, scenic photography, and post of other angler’s adventures. More than once I have had a hateful reply to a blog I wrote because it gave away someone’s “secret” fishing hole, yet if I wrote about it then it wasn’t a secret because obviously I found it. If you do have a true secret spot then don’t share it, not even the photos.

J.R. Hall with a southern Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead. (Photo by JR Hall)

J.R. Hall with a southern Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead. (Photo by JR Hall)

Bank bound anglers are fairly restricted to both access to the river as well as techniques used. If you are a bankie then learn to fish smarter. Know the river by exploring it and all the access points and know which techniques will work and which ones won’t. This can be due to several limiting factors such as water conditions, bank conditions like overhangs or boulders to stand on, and even other anglers in the area. Reiter Ponds and Blue Creek are good examples. These areas are mostly fished by anglers floating jigs tipped with prawns, and a few drift fisherman. Don’t go there expecting to swing spoons or spey cast streamers.

Another friend, JR Hall of JR’s Steelheading Adventures (www.steelheadnwynoochee.com or 253-320-8806) on his days away from guiding is often found walking the banks of one my favorite rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. We both own drift boats and I asked him one day why he was bank fishing. He simply stated that sometimes he just likes to not worry about a shuttle and the hike along the river, spey rod in hand, allows him some solitude. This river has great bank access and he lands multiple big fish each trip with nobody even knowing he is fishing as his rig doesn’t have a trailer and there are day hikers in the area accessing the National Park.

Photo 4 by Jason Brooks

To truly be successful as a steelhead angler you must understand that winter steelheading is more than just filling the freezer. Yes, there are terminal and hatchery fisheries like those on the Wynoochee and Humptulips (both are doing well since the New Year began by the way) where you can catch a few steelhead and more than likely take home a limit for the smoker or barbecue.

But as our winter starts to warm into spring and the big wild steelhead enter the waters take a time to reflect back on this fish’s life. A journey full of challenges that it must overcome to make it back to the spawning grounds. If you are honored to land such a fish then take care of it with proper handling and releasing of the fish. It will return yet another year and reward the successful steelheader once again.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

7 Ways to Piss off your Guide!

Wanna piss off your next hunting or fishing guide? Here’s a few tried and true tactics that work every time:

The Low-Holer

There are very few things that will piss of a fishing guide more thoroughly than a Low-Holer. A Low-Holer is the customer that plays stupid but their true intention is to learn a guide’s favorite fishing hole  and then low-hole them days or weeks later. A perfect example of this is spending a day on the water with a river guide and then launching early and beating the guide to their absolute can’t-miss spot the very next day. If you really want to be known as the ultimate douche bag on the river…do this!

Showing up at Camp out of Shape

I honestly don’t see how big game hunting guides can consistently get their guests into trophy game animals when most of them show up to camp so out of shape that they’re winded just getting out of the truck. There are so, so many people that really “want” a trophy class animal and truly think they deserve that animal because they shelled out thousands of dollars to hunt with the best guide on the planet. They’ve done their research, found the highest density of trophy game animals on earth, and booked the best guide in the area to help them fulfill their destiny. There’s only one problem…they haven’t set foot in the gym or on the mountainside in years and they think exercise is pushing a pen across the desk. Sorry pal, but you still have to hike your ass off and in some cases run your tail off to make it happen out there in the hills. If you book a trophy hunt do yourself, the guide, and the animal a favor and get yourself in a small modicum of shape long before the hunt starts. Most off all your guide will appreciated it.

Proficiency with Your Weapon

Here’s another conundrum that hunting guides have to deal with – the customer that arrives at camp with a rifle that’s never been sighted-in or a bow string they’ve only plucked but a few times. They’ve communicated to their guide countless times how proficient they are with their weapon. When the time comes to harvest the game animal of a lifetime, however, they’re all over the place.  Most hunting guides will have their guests sight their rifle in before a hunt begins to make sure the rifle is on target and also to see how the hunter reacts to their firearm. This can usually be achieved on the range in just a short time. Getting comfortable with a bow, however, takes many long hours of practice. Get the work done ahead of time and you won’t get “the look” from your hunting guide. The animal deserves this respect also.

Don’t Listen

There’s little worse than the customer that does the exact opposite of what their guide tells them to do and then wonders why they don’t have anything at the end of the day. If you’re guide has a good reputation for getting people into fish or tagging out animals there’s a darn good chance they know what they’re doing. This is generally why women catch more fish on guided trips than men…because they listen. Some men are more concerned with rattling their sabers and sparring with their guides to show them up while the wife is listening intently and catching all the fish.

Damn I’m great…Just Ask Me

They’ve got the perfect cast, the finest of gear, they can hit a gnats ass at 2,000 yards blindfolded, and they’ve harvested the largest specimen of every single living creature on the planet. The DIGJAM is the self-appointed ideal human being. There are some legit DIGJAM’s out there, but they are few and far between. A guide friend who happens to be an ex-Navy Seal took a guy fishing for a few days in search of a world record chum salmon. The guy had broken line class records, world records, casting records, and DIGJAM records all over the world. In the end the guide didn’t get paid and said DIGJAM artist probably shouldn’t set foot in that river valley again. This cat was the perfect combination of DIGJAM and Pay-You-Later. No bueno!

Pay You Later

Most guides that I know live month to month and certainly aren’t guiding because of the money.  They are “living the dream”, so to speak. The deposit you sent in for the trip covers most, but not all of the expenses it takes to run the trip and receiving the final portion of the trip payment barely put’s them into the black. If you leave them with “hey, I’ll get a check in the mail right away” at the end of the trip your guide’s brow will furl and you’ll probably get “the look”. Don’t get lumped in with DIGJAM and Low-Holer…pay the guide their due.

Showing Up Late

Believe it or not ten minutes can spell success or disaster on most hunting or fishing trips on America’s public lands and waterways. This is particularly true on coastal salmon and steelhead streams when the rivers are super low and gin clear and the fish are spooky. If you show up 30 or more minutes late on a day like this your guide will fake like everything is ok, but the little voices in their head are saying “Told you so!” when hole after hole produces nothing. If the guide is new to the business they’ll act like everything is hunky-dory and it was just a “tough day”. Fish with a guide that’s been around for years and I’m afraid those voices in their head will be voices in their mouth. Do yourself a favor and show up on time or even better, a little early. Your guide will appreciate and you’ll hook a few more fish.

These are just a few things you can do to throw your guide into a tail spin. There’s plenty of things that a guide can do to piss off their customers too, and I’ll crank out a short list of those things soon. In fact, you can take some of the items listed above and simply turn them around and they’d fit nicely in the “7 Ways to Piss off a Customer” list. I’ll get to work on that one right away!

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