Kokanee and Walleye Head Up the Best Prospects for Spring

Lance Effrig hefts a two-fish limit of kokanee taken on Lake Chelan. (photo Dave Graybill)

By Dave Graybill 

A couple of years ago I said that Lake Chelan for kokanee and Banks Lake for walleye would share the spotlight for spring fishing in our region. Well, last year the fishing at both of these lakes was even better than I had anticipated. This year I think that they both will be even better.

Let’s start with Lake Chelan. Hang on folks. It’s going to be a kokanee fishing party at Lake Chelan. Fishing for kokanee was good last season, with limits of 12- to 14-inch fish very common. The fishing didn’t slow down and limits were being taken throughout the winter on Chelan. Even better news is that the fish are bigger. Kokanee of 13 and 14 inches dominated the catches this winter, with some 15-inch fish sprinkled in. By late spring and summer we should see many kokanee of 16 inches and even larger being taken. Things are looking up for a spectacular season for kokanee anglers on Chelan.

The wind was howling but the kokanee were biting near 25 Mile Creek on Lake Chelan. (photo Dave Graybill)

I was out in January with Lance Effrig, of Washington Guide Services, and we got 20 fish that day, and even hit a quadruple once. A few years ago this would have been unheard of, but now it is expected on Chelan. We got our fish above the Yacht Club and at a variety of depths. When we hit the quad we had a rod at 125 feet, another at 100, one more at 80 and the last at 60. They all went off at the same time!

Effrig is a man of my same bent. He fishes Kokabow Fishing Tackle pretty much exclusively. These blades, spinners and squid rigs are deadly. I haven’t seen a blade with as much “kick” as the Kokabow, and the kokanee seem to like the spinners and squid rigs about equally. Effrig trolls fast, especially when looking for fish. He will cook along at 1.8 to 2.0 mph at times. He uses a 20-inch leader as a result. I myself usually troll at 1.5 to 1.7 and use a 14 inch leader. Both of us tip our hooks with stained shoe peg corn. We both will start out with a different blade on each rod and then switch until if we think the kokanee are preferring one color over another.

This is a winning combo for kokanee on Lake Chelan: A Kokabow blade and squid, tipped with stained corn. (photo Dave Graybill)

I got this 22-inch walleye on a recent trip to Banks Lake, on a green and blue butterfly blade. (photo Dave Graybill)

I have fished as far up on Chelan at 25 Mile Creek to find kokanee this late winter and as the water warms the main schools will head further down the lake. By late April and May anglers should be finding them in the area of Rocky Point and the Blue Roofs. Soon after that they will be off Chelan Shores and Lakeside Park.

In the early season I expect the main schools to be found around 100 feet down. Later on they will be available in shallower depths. Last season I was fishing with 3- to 4-ounce lead balls on a sliding rig and got limits doing this.

Hang on folks. It’s going to be a kokanee fishing party on Lake Chelan this season!

The walleye fishing on Banks Lake got a later start than usual. It froze from one end to the other and didn’t clear off until April. When the ice did clear off the fishing was great. This year it didn’t freeze and there were limits of nice walleye being taken in February. I expect the walleye fishing to be something special this season.

So far the fish have been deep in the chilly water on Banks. Anglers were pulling worm harnesses or Slow Death Hook rigs down 50 feet. The fish will be moving into more shallow water soon, and these same rigs will produce good catches. I have had great luck already this season with the new Butterfly Blade from Northland Tackle. This blade is nothing like anything else on the market and I would fish it either on a worm harness or a Super Slow Death Hook. For Banks I suggest using blades in shades of blue.

Another really fun and effective way to catch walleye on Banks is with crank baits. My brother Rick and I had many days on Banks when we limited trolling cranks. If you haven’t tried this before better give it a go this season. Get yourself a selection of Flicker Shads and Shad Raps in a variety of colors that dive from 8 to 20 feet and troll them at 2.0 to 2.2 mph. Put them at 75 to 100 feet behind the boat and hang on! When they hit these plugs your rod really bends.

Anglers will start fishing Banks behind Steamboat Rock, and then as the water warms move onto Barker Flats. The fishing inside Devils Punchbowl can also be good in the spring. The walleye will be found off the edges of the weed beds, picking off small bait fish. This can be frustrating, as you will be picking weeds off your baits constantly, but it is worth it.

Trolling worm harnesses and Slow Death Hook rigs will often be the best approach in the early season. The spawn should occur in late April or sometime in May, depending on water temperature. After the spawn the fish will be hungry and aggressive. Crank bait fishing will kick in then and boy is it fun.

Anglers should expect to catch walleye of over 17 inches this season. There should be quite a few fish over 20 inches this year. My daughter caught a 30-incher in Devils Punchbowl in early June two years ago, so some really big walleye can come from Banks Lake. Some of the shallow bays, like Jones, can be productive with crank baits, even in the early season, and the north end, where the canal enters Banks can also be a place to find good numbers of walleye.

There is a lot of water on Banks, so there is plenty of room for lots of anglers. The most popular launch is at Northrup, which has two docks and lots of parking. Don’t forget to have your Discover Pass.

I had a great time on Banks Lake last year, so expect to see me when you’re out there!

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

 

Backcountry Gear Starters

Gear to get you started hunting the backcountry

by Jason Brooks

For the backcountry hunter and hikers there really is no “off season” but instead the “adjustment season”. When the snows are too deep to get safely into the high country then it is time to organize and critique our gear. Veteran backcountry explorers know that mending, cleaning, and evaluating gear is an important part of success. For those that are new to the backcountry game this is the time to research and gain knowledge on what you really need in the high country. Here are a few tips to get a novice started as well as reminder for the experienced backcountry hunter to go thru their gear and purchase any necessities for the coming season.

Tents and tarps should be lightweight shelters to get you out of the weather-Jason Brooks

Shelter

Probably the most important gear is your shelter and it can vary depending on the season you plan to hunt as well as where you prefer to hunt. For hunters that find themselves along the Cascade crest or high elevations then rain and even snow is not uncommon during the early September “High Hunt” in Washington. I’ve spent so many nights in a “bivvy bag” during a rainstorm that I now prefer to put some extra weight into my pack by using a three season, two-person tent. When I am joined by a hunting companion we split the load and I carry a three-person tent and they carry other shared items.

Teepee’s and “hot tents” are becoming very popular in the backcountry these days, as well. These lightweight nylon tarp shelters are easy to pitch and when combined with a titanium stove you can stay warm during the surprise snow storm and dry out after an afternoon rain squall. One drawback is that most models don’t use a floor as this adds a lot of weight.

Campfire cooked trout is a delight in the high country-Jason Brooks

Food

Back in the “good ole’ days” the MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat, perfected in the finest kitchens the U.S. Military could find, at the lowest bid of course, meant we gorged on high calorie, high sodium, food that would live well past our lifetime. They are heavy and produced a lot of garbage with their packaging. Since then freeze dried meals started showing up in our packs and now there are many supplements we can add throughout our day to increase our energy. Check out some of the products by MtnOps. And when it comes to coffee, it’s hard to beat a fresh brewed cup and thanks to some innovative processing and packaging Ascent Packs from Dark Timber Coffee makes it easy to have a morning cup of coffee in the backcountry.

If you like to enjoy your catch or harvest while in the backcountry, it’s hard to beat some campfire trout or coconut oil sautéed grouse. To bring along some spices to flavor your harvest you can package them at home in plastic drinking straws, bend over the ends and secure them with tape or rubber bands. They are lightweight and waterproof. You can use this idea to keep matches dry in your pack too.

Dress in layers of quality clothing to stay warm, dry and safe-Jason Brooks

Clothing

Technology, fashion, and practicality have really helped the hunter who heads to the high country. With new materials like microfiber, nylon, fleece, and Gore-Tex those that head to the backcountry can lighten their load by not having to carry too many extra clothes. The company motto for Sitka Gear really rings true, “Turning clothing into gear”.

Layering is the most important survival “tactic” we can use and it starts at the trailhead. Pack away the outer shell and any cold gear, so not to sweat too much as you hike. Once you stop it’s time to add a layer. The fashion world might seem like an unlikely place for hunters to find clothing but in reality it reminds us that sometimes the natural world provides some of the best clothes. A fur hat on a cold and windy Montana mule deer hunt keeps you warm.

When it comes to your laying system, be practical about it. Instead of buying a heavy winter coat that a hunter would use in a tree stand in Wisconsin, buy a lightweight waterproof shell, a fleece jacket, a wool shirt, and some micro-fiber undershirts. You will stay much warmer and you can lighten up as you hike and adjust for sunny days or a sudden snow storm. Wool is truly your friend in the backcountry and remember “cotton kills”. Stay away from cotton clothing, especially “Long Johns”, t-shirts and jeans. Not only is it heavy but it also cools when wet and it will lead to hypothermia.

A lightweight and compact all-in-one stove, like the Stryker, is a must have-Jason Brooks

Cooking Stoves

The thought of eating a cold lunch always bothered me. Several years ago I started carrying a lightweight stove with me all day. Back then I used the MSR “Pocket Rocket” and then made the move to an “all-in-one” system with the Camp Chef Stryker. When sitting on a ridge it sure is nice to have a hot cup of coffee or some hot oatmeal for lunch. During a rainstorm I often crawl under a tree and have a hot meal. It’s hard to start a fire under such a tree without causing concern of a forest fire, even when it’ snowing and the fire would consist of one tree.

But the all-in-one system allows me to heat water quickly and have a meal with no fire needed. The Stryker has a built in igniter and the butane canister nestles into the cup along with the burner and stand. One major advantage to carrying a lightweight stove during the day is that you can lighten up your lunch weight with dried foods and if you have a water source nearby you don’t even have to carry extra water. More than once I have found myself on the trail back to camp well after dark and stop along the way to eat dinner. When I finally make it back to camp I go to bed without having to stay up late to eat some calories.

Little comforts like a hot meal on a cold night make it possible to stay in the backcountry for long periods-Jason Brooks

Comforts

You would be surprised how a small item that takes your mind off of things helps you extend your stay in the backcountry. Though these “comfort” items add weight they are as much needed as a good tent or sleeping bag if you plan on a long trip, especially a solo one. I prefer to take a paperback book or the latest issue of my favorite hunting magazine. A hunting buddy of mine carries a small 35mm film canister with some dice. Another carries a deck of cards. You can pass a thunderstorm inside of a tent with these items, or if awakened by something going “bump in the night” they can get you back to sleep. One last item that is my absolute “must have” in my backpack for comfort is a small MP3 player and headphones (ear buds). It is extremely lightweight and last days on a single charge. This past fall while packing out my elk from the Idaho backcountry it took me four trips with heavy loads on my back. The last trip I was skipping along past camp to the meat hanging tree and the guys couldn’t understand where I got my energy from. I was listening to my favorite music and happily hiking along not even feeling the weight of that bull on my back.

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

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

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

Catch More Salmon in Low Water

by Jason Brooks

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

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

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

Downsize your baits when the water is low-Jason Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blog Writer

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

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 fo
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

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

Brook’s Top 5 Trout Lures

By Jason Brooks

Nearly 2.3 million catchable sized trout have been recently planted in lakes all across Washington. 

Now that opening day of the lowland lakes fishing season has passed the crowds are starting to subside but the fish are still readily biting. I spent this past weekend on one of my favorite lakes with great success. Here are a few lures that worked for us that will work for you too!

A feisty trout is a lot of fun to catch-Jason Brooks

These are my top five lures for getting these early season rainbow trout to bite:

-1/4 ounce Silver UV Cripplure by Macks Lure
-Brown Smile Blade Fly by Macks Lure
-Black and Silver 1/4 ounce Roostertail by Yakima Bait Company
-F4 Flatfish by Yakima Bait Company
-Kokanee Cut Plug by Brads

The Author’s top trout-catching lures-Jason Brooks

I’ll either flat line the spinners and spoons or I’ll place a  ¼ ounce to ½ ounce split shot a few feet in-front of the other lures to get them down a bit. When you’re fishing any of these lures for trout be sure to troll slow.

To rig the new Kokanee Cut Plug tie two size 8 Gamakatsu painted octopus hooks and then slide a rubber bobber stop by Beau Mac on the leader, which comes with a small bead. The bead acts as a bearing for the cut plug and really lets it spin freely. By using the rubber bobber stop you can adjust the set-back of the hooks to catch those short-biting fish. And last but not least be sure to add a bunch of scent to the cavity of the Brads Super Bait. The scent cavity is designed specifically for adding scent and it works great!

Rigging the new Kokanee Cut Plug-Jason Brooks

Using a Super Gel or bait oil by Pro-Cure attracts trout that might otherwise not want to move around in the colder water. Top-producing Pro-Cure scents for me are Rainbow Trout, Crawfish, and Trout and Kokanee Magic.

Adding scents to your lures increases your catch-Jason Brooks

There are 2.3 million reasons why you should hit your local lake for trout in the coming weeks. The opening day crowds are gone and there are still plenty of hungry fish around.

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

How to Rig the Gibb’s Hali Hawg

Adding a Gibb’s Hali Hawg grub to your halibut rig can make a big difference when you hit the water in search of flatties this spring. They swim, wiggle, glow, and give an added measure of attraction when you’re ringing the dinner bell on the ocean floor.

In this Gibb’s Delta video longtime Vancouver Island charter captain Trevor Zboyovsky from No Bananas Charters shows how to rig a Hali Hawg grub with two “J” hooks to hammer Pacific halibut. Hali Hawg grub’s are manufactured with a hole thru the center that makes rigging them on a halibut leader really simple and effective.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
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