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

One week, two tags!

As anyone who has hunted for big game in Washington can attest, filling your deer tag can be challenging. Notching your elk tag in Washington is even harder. Accomplishing both of these tasks in a week? That takes a pile of preparation, a realistic opportunity and to be completely honest, one whale of a lot of luck!

The first stroke of luck came in the form of the Skagit Valley Quality Bull tag that I’ve been applying for since the Bush Administration.. . Once that bit of luck was in pocket, another bolt from the blue was in store as my good friend Steve Stout who lives in the unit also was drawn for the hunt and was as fired up as I to start scouting! This hunt opened on the second weekend of October so my September which is usually spent chasing coho (but we won’t go there..) was spent on glassing, bugling and rifle range time.

Robbo has an unbelievable talent for spotting game and is putting them to use as the misty early arrival of fall envelops the north Cascades. On this day, I was given an opportunity on a magnificent bull and missed. I sincerely believe that a day will never go by for the rest of my life without me thinking of that moment.


I would hunt for nearly another week before getting another opportunity and this time there would be no miss. This tremendous 6×6  was standing among his harem of cows and fell so quickly after the shot that he simply disappeared and scared the heck out of me until I saw him lying there and WHAT A GREAT FEELING!!!


Getting that massive bull out was not all that bad thanks to the Can Am Defender Max XT1000 4-seater ATV. The built in front end winch and tilt box worked hand in hand to slide the big ol’ bull right in!


The antler mass of this elk is quite impressive and most I’ve talked to place this specimen in the 320 inch class. My second Washington State 6×6 and easily the largest of my life.


After delivering the bull to the butcher and shaking my head over the 487 pounds of hanging weight, my hunting season was already a success by any measure but, I was not done. My black lab Bailey was not-so-patiently waiting for me to finish up big-game so she could terrorize the pheasant release site roosters. So, over to Whidbey Island we go and sure enough the pheasants cooperated!


Our host on the Whidbey Island hunt was my friend Bob Maschmedt who just happened to pack a couple of slug-ready shotguns and suggested we go looking for an Island Blacktail. It was a GREAT suggestion as the first place we looked, here’s a nice 2×3 that was way more interested in his does than he was in me!


Bob Maschmedt and I are all smiles as now I’ve filled two tags in the same week and it’s back to the butchers with a fat blacktail buck!


All told, the butcher got a hefty 607 pounds of venison in the space of one week. Without question, it was the certainly a magnificent big-game season and certainly a strange feeling to be tagged out in mid October but I’m ok with it!

Now it’s back to the drawing board, starting back at “zero” on the elk-tag drawing points but as long as I can buy a tag, I’ll be putting in for WDFW Special Permit hunts and who knows? I guy can get lucky two years in a row…right?…Right???

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

D.I.Y. European Skull Mount

The first time I decided to do a European skull mount it was a long and very stinky process. It was so disgusting that I vowed to never do another one on my own. Yuk!

You can send your mount to a beetle shop that immerses the head in a box full of meat-eating beetles that devour every ounce of meat, tissue, and cartilage off the skull in a very short amount of time. It’s a great option but you’ve got to either ship the head or have a shop within driving range of your home. Not a good option for me.

The following process is how I went about making my most recent skull mount of a beautiful Montana mule deer. All in all I had about two full hours into this process and the final product will look excellent on the wall of my office.

First I cleaned the skull with a pressure washer much like Mark Kayser does in the video below. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s since his days hosting a hunting show for Truck Vault and I followed his video to a “T” to get my deer skull fully cleaned.

I used a big Honda 9 horsepower pressure washer to clean the skull to my liking. This took about 45 minutes and it helps to have very high pressure for this process. You’ll want to tape the base of the antlers to keep from removing the coloring away from the antlers in that area with the pressure.

skull_mount2_webThe skull mount after pressure washing. Ready for step 2!

skull_mount_webNext I brought a large pot of soapy water to a boil and immersed the head into it. Drop the temperature down on the water and simmer the skull in the soapy water for around an hour. This brings out any grease that is left in the skull and helps eliminate discoloring later.

This is when things get kinda weird in this whole process. Head to the nearest beauty supply store and pick up an 8 ounce bottle of Salon Care Volume 40 Developer Creme and a packet of Salon Care “Quick White” powder lightener. The lady at the beauty supply store asked me what I was using it for and since the whole place was packed with ladies I simply answered, “Uh…I’m working on a little project.” You can probably get away with 4 ounces of this stuff, but I went with 8 to be on the safe side.

Mix the two ingredients together in a bowl and then use a brush to completely cover the entire skull in paste. It doesn’t exactly smell great so it’s best to do this outside in a ventilated area. Get as much paste into every corner of the skull as you can.

After your done with this wrap the skull in plastic stretch wrap and place it in front of a space heater. Rotate the skull a couple of times in an hour period. Pull off the wrap and rinse the skull in warm water to get off all the bleaching goop. If the skull doesn’t whiten up to your liking hit it with another coat of goop and go thru this process again.

I performed this final process twice and the skull turned a nice, crisp white.


Two notes of caution when doing this. First you want to make sure you wrap the bottom of the antlers with tape during the pressure washing process or you’ll blast off the staining on the base of the antlers. Also be very careful not to get any bleaching compound on the base of the antlers or it’ll effect the stain on the antlers, as well.

Now that I’m done preparing my European mount I just need to build a custom wooden base to hold the mount. I’m thinking a hardwood with a dark finish would work great to accent the skull.

If you really want to get fancy with the final product, however, you could ship your skull mount off to Jana Waller at Painted Skulls. She does some amazing artwork with skulls!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle


Any Time is a Good Time to Chase Wild Steelhead

Do you ever run into a situation where you are looking to find information on how a river is fishing? I do, and sometimes you just need to decide to make your way out to the river and get a report yourself. This is the situation that fellow Outdoor Line “Young Gun” Joseph Princen, Phantom Custom Rods owner Kris Jellesed, and I were faced with early Monday morning. Ideal conditions were all around us on many rivers but we were in search of much more than a limit of hatchery fish. It may seem a bit early for the chase of natives to begin for most but the search for a trophy with the anglers involved in this trip never stops.

After making a three hour plus drive to where I had landed a 21.5 buck last year in April, we began our journey. The area on this morning was completely void of any other anglers which makes you think “has the river changed since last year? Is it safe? I wonder if there are any obstructions I cannot navigate through safely?”

I do not recommend to anyone blindly floating a river but in the quest for being a hero risks must be taken. As we ventured out on the “steelie green” water we noticed that the water was about 500 cfs lower than our previous float, but the obstacles and sections of river where fish were caught last year were remembered.

On the right side of the river about an 1/8 of the way down the float Joseph recognized a rock shelf that had deep slow rolling water which produced a fish last year. This time was no different. With a three plug rod spread and a K-13 Kwikfish attached to all of them the slow back troll began. Right after the boat had passed a large boil and the plugs began to track straight again…..BOOM…FISH ON!!!

I took control of the oars as Joseph grabbed his rod and the fight was on. The 13-14lb chrome hen gave us a great fight that lasted about 6-8 minutes and then came to the boat as I gently netted the fish. I rowed to shore quickly to begin the revival and the snap a picture but before my camera was out of my bag the feisty native slipped out of Joe’s hands and slowly disappeared into the emerald water.

Anglers remember this! Steelhead pair up, so if a female is caught there should usually be a larger, more aggressive male nearby. Repeat the process that was used to hook fish number one and it should yield the same results.

With all of minds thinking the same thing we began to slowly back troll again with my rod on the far right closest to the rock shelf and again…..BOOM….FISH ON!!!

I had thought that the fish had come off after about thirty seconds but of course she was just running with blinding speed right at the boat. After that she took about 40 yards of line of and then I began the slow retrieve to bring her back to the net. As I lifted the head and Joe scooped her into the net the hook of course fell right out. The power of a steelhead is amazing!

Personally, I have landed many fish on plugs over the 20 pound mark and I have not until this day seen a hook bent back 30 degrees by a 14lb fish. Joe rowed to shore as before and we snapped a couple of pictures for the fish album, I revived and released the beautiful creature, then we began to move down river to another section of water that had similar features.

As we approached the long back troll slot which produced my 20 last year and gave birth to the Dubb Club it was a very slow to get a fish to take. When back trolling a section of water be sure to completely cover the water until the plugs reach the tailout and start striking bottom. Seconds away from instructing Joey and Kris to reel up, the left rod in front of Kris went off….FISH ON!

This situation was a little different due to the fact the fish came off after about 30 seconds but again in the same type of water we had already hooked fish in earlier that day. Recognizing the water you need to produce fish is very important, so when you find fish continue to work that same type of water effectively.

Knowing that time was not on our side and that a very long moped turnaround was ahead of us we decided not to run the plugs again and move down river. During our push toward the takeout Kris hooked a very nice fish on a pink worm that came off due to the speed of the boat moving down and the fish running  up.

This is a very hard situation to control but if you can gather yourself after the excitement of hooking up, dig the oars very hard and try to stop the the boat without throwing anyone off board. Going 2 for 4 is not a stellar day by any means but searching and finding wild fish on a river with no reports is a wonderful feeling. The opportunity for success is always there, all you need is the confidence in yourself and your fishing abilities to make your day memorable.

Good luck and tight lines,

Lael Paul Johnson, a.k.a. LPJ
Outdoor Line “Young Gun”
710 ESPN Seattle

Talkin’ Big Chinook

By Tony Floor

What is it about big salmon?

I mean big salmon in the 25-50 pound class that brings an angler to the pinnicle of happiness.                                                                                                                                                                                                As reported in this column, I’ve invested around a half century chasing chinook and coho salmon                                                                                                                                                                                              in Pacific Northwest waters, not including Vancouver Island and SE Alaska. I have come to the                                                                                                                                                                                         conclusion, as elusive as big fish can be, they are cool.

Part of my job, as the Director of Fishing Affairs for the NW Marine Trade Association is
to manage and execute the NW Salmon Derby Series. There are 16 salmon fishing tournaments
in this year’s 8th annual Derby Series, which means hanging out at events which are founded
upon a contest of catching the largest chinook salmon (predominately fin-clipped hatchery pro-
duced) or in some cases, coho salmon. This awful work task allows me to witness some real
beauties, I’m talking big fish here, and grins synonomous with winning the lottery. For these
anglers, big fish are way cool.

At this time of year, I don’t focus on the chances of catching a very big fish. Afterall,
winter-spring blackmouth traditionally range in the 8-12 pound class, perfect for my barbeque.
A couple of weeks ago, fishing off the west tip of Orcas Island, a big blackmouth buried my rod
tip and the game was on. For this cat, in 34 years of winter-spring blackmouth fishing from
Sekiu to Olympia, I have broken the 20-pound class once, out at Coyote Bank, boating a
21 pounder. My lips did not meet for three weeks.

As I am doing the Tony do-si-do around the back of the boat, from one side to the
other, I am concentrating on the punching, counter-punching as the tug of war ensues. I
began to be thinking about a big wild chinook, bearing an adipose fin, requiring release.
Yet, I am wishing for a release into the cooler. With most big chinook salmon, they tend to
use their heavyweight advantage and stay down. The counterpunch is steady pressure,
constantly aiming the rod tip at the fish and making sure you are on top of the fish, versus
the line angling underneath the boat and the fish being on the other side. So far, so good.
My analogy is similar to a boxing match. The first 12 rounds belong to the fish. The last three
rounds are mine, meaning I increase the pressure as I interpret the fish tiring and coming to
the surface more regularly. Patience is important and remember, never attempt to net a fish
before it’s time. It’s time is defined as the fish being on the surface, and your partner with
the net is ready to drop the net under the fish, entering the net head first for the final play.
Game over.

No adipose fin and welcome aboard. Prepare for a one way trip to Olympia. Back on
the scale on Henry Island, a hefty 27 pounds. My lips havn’t touched since.

Granted, I have been fortunate to hook and land king salmon, during the summer
months of 50, 47, 45 and 40 in nearly a lifetime of saltwater fishing in Washington. All of
those jumbo king salmon came from Willapa Bay in the last 20 years. I can distinctly remember
every one of those big kings resulting in fantastic memories and stories repeated too many
times. But this Orcas Island fish was special, in mid-March and completely unexpected giving
me a new sense of the thrill of salmon fishing at this time of year.

And, it was just a week ago, at the Anacortes Salmon Derby when the top three
winners, each holding their 18-pound and change blackmouths, grinning in the winners
circle out of 1100 anglers. The biggest of the three paid out a cool $15,000. I understand.

On the end of the first day of fishing, I talked with Jennifer Payne from Friday
Harbor, who was distraught over what she thought could have been the winning fish on
the end of her string, only to lose it during the battle at the boat. Sometimes, seeing a big
fish at the boat or at the net, and have the fish successfully cruise away is a suffering similar
to removing a finger with a butter knife. For the angler, and the fish, there will be another
day. And, I hope for Jennifer Payne that the sooner she gets her worm back in the water,
the better the chance of doing business with Mr. Big again.

At this writing, we are only a few weeks away for the announcement of the new
salmon seasons effective May 1, 2011 through April 30, 2012. In discussions with WDFW
salmon biologists, this year may be the year of big chinook. Remember, chinook salmon,
sexually mature at ages three, four and five. Most of Puget Sound king salmon are three
and four year fish, traditionally , with more abundant five year old kings indigenous to
coastal rivers including the Columbia River. My trapline indicates good numbers of big
kings returning to Washington this year, meaning five year olds in the mid-20’s to high
30 pound class. Five year old kings over 40 should not be completely uncommon.

Ever heard of big fishitus? There is no cure but rest assured, it is not fatal. And, it
can be contagious, attacking all degrees of rational thinking. Don’t bother calling the doc,
as there is no known cure. The treatment? Yeah, go fishing and don’t fight the feeling!

Despite this La Nina fall, winter and spring, I am encouraged about spring and
summer fishing options in the months ahead. During this last month of winter-spring
salmon fishing, I’ll be headed back to the Islands and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca
as often as possible, weather permitting. April can produce surprising results.

Next month, I’ll take an in-depth look at our summer salmon fishing options as
I develop my battle plan based on abundance of salmon by area and time. In the meantime,
see you on the water!

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Buzz is Back with an Oregon Mule Deer

 Buzz Ramsey with his 2010 Oregon Mule Deer 

The most recognizable salmon and steelhead angler in the Pacific Northwest and the front man for Yakima Bait Co. was just here around two weeks ago with a moose from Northern BC and here he is again, this time with a mule deer taken in Eastern Oregon's Fossil Unit. Notice the ballistics chart taped to the stock of Buzz's rifle. Details, details!

In his words:

"After passing up several bucks during our seven-day Oregon Mule Deer hunt, and no shot available on a dandy 5X5 we saw the very first day, I finally spotted this buck across a canyon at 259 range-finding yards. The outside width of the rack measured 21 inches. Although we got the head out the same day, it wasn't until 2 days later that Wade and I went back to bone the deer and back pack it the 3 miles to the rig. My son Wade passed up a nice 3X3 later the same afternoon I got my deer but, likely due to it being even farther from the rig, ended up tagging a spike deer the next day that was much closer to the road. We were hunting the Fossil Unit SE of Condon, Oregon."