Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Strange Fish in Utah

Over the years, I've really grown to enjoy the diversity fly fishing in the Northwest has to offer. So when my wife and I made plans to visit our friends Camron and Kylee in Utah, I made sure to capitalize on some "different" angling opportunities.
"Where should we try fishing?" Camron asked before our trip.
"I'm easy, but I'd kinda like to do something different; something I can't do up here." I replied, hoping I wasn't being too picky.
"We could try for pike at Yuba. Or tiger muskies at Pineview?"
"Now were talking! That sounds fun!"
My wife and I made our way down to Utah, and 5am the next morning, Camron and I were tip-toeing around the house gathering our things for a morning of chasing tiger muskies at Pineview. Camron had never caught one, but knew where to go. Tiger muskies have so many sharp teeth in their mouths, that fishing with a steel leader is a must. I couldn't find my spool and Camron didn't have any. Luckily, Kylee had some beading wire, so we tied up a couple make-shift leaders and we were ready to go.
We made it to the lake, walked down to the water and slowly waded in. There were a lot of sticks and aquatic plants to hide a large tiger musky; this bay looked very fishy. We began casting our large, flashy streamers to every potential luring place of a large predator.
I placed a cast in between an island of moss and a group of sticks. Out of nowhere, a large fish charged my fly and inhaled it! I set the hook and the fish flew out of the water. A tiger musky!
"Camron! I've got a tiger musky!" 
"Ryan, you dog! I can't believe you got one!"
The fish kept trying to wrap me around every stick in the neighborhood, but my eight weight came through and Camron scooped the fish in the net. 
It wasn't the largest tiger musky in the lake, but a tiger musky nonetheless!
We released the fiery fish and went back to prospecting for more tiger muskies. Camron led the way as we worked around the small bay. There were plenty of potential lurking places, but as the morning progressed, we eventually gave up and switched gears. Camron had caught numerous mirror carp in the past at Pineview, blind-casting leeches. I decided to try that tactic.
I slowly stripped my black leech along and sure enough, a fish grabbed. I was quite surprised when I set the hook and a very large goldfish came thrashing to the surface.
Camron came running over to help me land the strange looking fish. 
Mirror carp are similar to common carp but only have scales in a few places; not the prettiest fish. 
I sent the large, ugly, stinky fish back to the muddy, slimy depths it called home and went back to blind casting. Several minutes later I heard a shout from Camron.
"This fish took a small minnow pattern. These things really are aggressive." Camron said, as his mirror carp made another long run.
"I wish all carp were this aggressive!" I replied, as I got ready to net the fish.
After a long battle on the 6 weight, the carp finally came to the net.

After releasing the fish, we went back to blind casting for more carp. My next fish was not a heavy, powerful carp, but a crappie! 
Camron answered back with a monster of a largemouth bass.
My next fish was a yellow perch.
Pineview was sure giving us some diversity. After a couple more hours and only a few more bass and perch to hand, Camron and I called it a day.
We had a great evening and following morning visiting with Camron and Kylee, but Katie and I eventually had to make our way back to Boise. With a few hours to spare, the fish in Hagerman would recieve our attention. 
The first stop: the carp hole. Katie had a lot of fun this spring catching her first carp and she was eager to catch another. We snuck into position and began casting.
There was no shortage of carp today; we could see dozens cruising near the surface just waiting for a delicious Halloween leech.
It didn't take long before Katie was flexing back on the fly rod with a large, orange lipped fish on the other end.
The fish almost broke her off on the sharp rocks, but some quick angle changes with the rod kept the fish in our control. Eventually she tired out the carp and we scooped it into the net.
We sent the chunky fish on his way, and after 45 minutes and 3 more hook-ups, we decided to head to the trout fishing spot.
I was amazed that there wasn't anyone in the trout fishing spot. After all, it was a Sunday. We snuck down to the water and Katie began casting. She was into a trout in no time.
She landed a small rainbow trout and went back to pursuing the bright yellow golden rainbow trout. Katie had yet to land one in the several times we've chased them. Katie's next cast was perfect, and the golden sucked in her bugger! Unfortunately, she wasn't able to get a good hook-set and the golden got away. There was still a couple goldens in the pool so she kept at it. I was instructing her on how to properly jig her bugger, when a golden charged out of nowhere and grabbed my fly. I made the mistake of setting the hook and stole one of her goldens. 
Katie was not happy with me and her disdain for me only increased over the next half hour as she caught several "regular" rainbows and no goldens. Eventually we had to make our way back home, but Utah and Hagerman had treated us well. It had been a wonderful trip and I had added two new species to the list!





Thursday, September 8, 2016

Chinook Salmon 2016

After a successful salmon fishing trip in 2015, I was more than eager to return to the river in 2016 to fly fish for chinook salmon once again. My good fishing buddy Camron was also ready to jump on board. Camron had fished for salmon in Idaho several times and had yet to land one. We planned a couple days, and as fate would have it, 5 am I was picking Camron up at his house.
By 8 am we were cruising downstream on the river, headed to the spot we had caught fish last year. Unfortunately, Camron works a "real" job and could only get Friday off. This forced us to fish Friday and Saturday, just like all the other "normal people". As we drove downstream, it was obvious we wouldn't be alone on the river. RV's and trucks occupied nearly every pullout and wide spot on the road. Some fisherman chose to park and even camp half off the road and half on! 
Despite all the people, we kept driving to our spot. Upon arrival, we rigged our rods, wadered up and made our way down to the river where we would cross.
The crystal clear water looked gorgeous and the porpoise of a large, bronze chinook salmon broke the still, quiet morning silence. Camron and I looked at each other with eyes as wide as an owl. We couldn't get our lines in the water fast enough! But like most salmon and steelhead fishing, after several hours and no hooked fish, our excitement level had dropped substantially.
"Gosh, these buggers are hard to catch!" I said, reeling in my setup and then sitting on an uncomfortable rock. "We've seen them porpoise from time to time in the hole but none seem to be interested in our stuff."
"I thought you had this salmon fishing down, Ryan!" Camron said half jokingly, trying to make light of the poor fishing.
"Sometimes I don't think I know anything," I replied, shaking my head. "Let's go back to the truck and make some lunch."
After lunch we decided to take a drive down the river and look for some other places to fish. We ran into one of my friends, who had also not seen much action. We fished a couple spots with only a whitefish to hand.
We decided to return to the morning fishing spot and finish out the day there. Last year, we caught all of our fish from 5-8 in the evening when the hillside had shaded the water. We crossed back over and began to methodically cover the water.
Just as Camron and I began to cast, a salmon porpoised in front of him.
"Get him, Camron, get him!"
Camron had made a perfect cast to intercept the fish. If a salmon decided to take my fly at this point I wouldn't even know, because my eyes were on Camron's indicator instead of my own. Camron's indicator took a plunge and Camron pulled back on the rod like a professional bass angler.
"FISH ON!" Camron yelled with pure joy.
"Nice!" I replied, quickly reeling in my line.
The salmon came thrashing to the surface, and just as it turned to dive back down to the depths the hook popped out and flew back in Camron's face.
"Dang it!" Camron shouted at an even higher volume than his previous "fish on" exclamation.
"Sorry man, that's a bummer," was all I could find to console the now moping Camron.
Despite the bad news of a lost fish, hooking any salmon brings a renewed excitement and energy to the river, and I was now casting with all the more optimism. 
There should be a salmon right.....There! My indicator sunk below the surface and I set the hook. The object gave a little, just like a fish. I was almost about to yell fish on, when my "fish" lost all life and slowly began to drag towards me, materializing into a stick. 
"Camron, get the net!" I yelled, as I hoisted up the 2 foot long stick.
"I'm on it!" Camron replied, going right back to fishing.
We continued to fish hard the rest of the day with only another whitefish to hand. How a 10 inch whitefish fits a 1/0 hook into it's mouth is a mystery to me.
These salmon were proving to be a lot more difficult than we wanted. But we had most of the next day to make it happen and a new day brings with it new excitement. Finding a place to pitch our tent was another challenge in itself. Tomorrow was Saturday and the vehicles had begun stacking up on the river like we wanted the salmon to be stacking up. Every pullout had several vehicles in it and we had to drive nearly ten miles away before we were able to find a place to pitch our tent a safe distance away from the road. The hunt for big fish will sometimes take even the most crowd tolerating fly angler to his limits. Hopefully tomorrow it will be worth it...I thought as I drifted to sleep.
We rose early the next morning and found ourselves back at the same hole. Once again, a porpoise of a salmon brought our sleeping minds wide awake. I made a cast to intercept the fish, and as luck would have it, my indicator went down.
"FISH ON!" I said with a big smile.
"Sweet!" Camron said reeling in his line and grabbing the net.
The fish ran and almost took me into my backing before slowing down. The hole we were fishing had plenty of large boulders that the fish was trying to wrap me around. But I kept the rod high and in full flex to muscle the fish towards me. After a decent battle, Camron scooped the fish into the net and we were on the board.  
I was very happy to see a wild fish in the river. Last year we had only caught hatchery fish, and don't get me wrong, I enjoyed eating them, but the thrill for me lies in the catching of these fish, not the eating.
"Just think Camron, most of the people on this river would be disappointed to catch a wild fish because they couldn't keep and eat it."
"It's a different crowd up here man," Camron commented, shaking his head.
We sent the 27 inch fish back to the depths and celebrated by quickly getting our lines back in the water. We fished hard for the next several hours before deciding to explore some more of the river.
We immediately began to regret our decision to leave our nice quiet spot when we saw how many people were on the river. It was even hard to drive down the road without hitting someone. Most holes had a dozen vehicles in them and numerous people standing in the road watching the others down on the river fish.
"Jerry!" Camron yelled as we drove past a crowd of people standing around.
"Did you know one of those guys back there?" I replied, chuckling.
"Nope, just thought one of them looked like a Jerry." Camron replied, as we both laughed.
We rounded the corner and approached another group of guys standing around drinking beer.
"Jerry!" Camron shouted from inside the vehicle just loud enough to get a few of the guys attention to turn and look as we drove away. Camron and I busted up laughing.
There were so many people on the river that finding a spot to fish was getting depressing, and shouting "Jerry" lightened the mood.
We stopped at a promising spot and to our surprise, no one was there. We crossed the river and got into a more favorable position for an effective drift.

When fishing for salmon, you want to find areas that funnel the fish. That way, you know where to cast to intercept every fish that swims through that area of the river. This spot had a perfect funnel and a deep slot to make them feel safe as they traveled through.

Camron got into position and a porpoise of a very large bronze fish got us giggling with excitement. It only took 15 minutes and Camron was into a fish.
"Nice, Camron! Keep him away from those big rocks. He'll try to get you stuck!" I said, as I grabbed the net.
Camron was putting the muscle on this big fish as it dodged back and forth in the heavy water and dove from rock to rock.
"Get even with him and angle your rod downstream." I said, as the fish pulled towards a large boulder.
"Crap, I can't stop him. He's too strong!" Camron said, as the fish rounded the backside of a large boulder and began to swim upstream on the opposite side, pinning Camron's line under the rock. Camron's line went slack and the fish was gone.
"Ugh!" Camron slapped his rod down and big fish depression set in.
"Sorry man, it happens. They are just strong fish and you're going to lose some." I said, slowly collapsing the net and setting it down under a bush.
A large fish continued to porpoise on the opposite side of a very "snaggy" large rock. It seems the fish and the rock were in the tackle business together because every time we tried to get a drift to that fish, we would snag on the rock and loose our whole setup. We eventually moved on to another spot after we had lost enough gear to make us sick. 
The day was fading fast, so we drove upstream to one last spot before it was time to head home. This area also had a funnel-like slot that we suspected all the fish would choose to travel. Sure enough, after a half hour of fishing, one fish exposed himself and we knew where to cast. I continued to cast to where I had seen the fish rise and eventually hooked him.

I suspected I foul hooked him by the way he fought. Every time the fish swam away I could feel the kick of his tail. I knew it would be a long hard battle, so I doubled the rod over and gave the fish all I had. This way, the fish would either break off or the battle would be quick and less stressful for the fish. The first was the case, after a few minutes the fish popped off.
Camron continued to pound the water as I took a break. A fine specimen of a frog was also taking a break near me and allowed me to get very close to him for a picture. I knew if I was taking pictures of frogs, I was done fishing. After Camron had admitted defeat, we packed up and headed home.  
It had been a great trip and we learned a lot. We found some new water to fish and also came to the realization that weekends were just too busy. Unfortunately, Idaho was making Camron earn his first chinook salmon. The blank stare on his face as we drove home told me he was already scheming for next years revenge... 




Sunday, September 4, 2016

My First Mule Deer

As summer draws to a close and the air cools, it's hard not to think about the upcoming fall and what it brings. I find myself daydreaming of cold, crisp mornings and the smell of pine and sage. The anticipation of what the hunt may bring and the reward of the hard work it takes to climb mountains and hunt big game. I imagine myself "billy-goatin" up steep Idaho mountains and finding that secret, big buck hangout where there are so many large bucks, It's a tough choice which one to harvest. I also find myself remembering past hunts and their exciting moments.

The year 2013 was especially good to me, and I owe all of my success to the Von der Heide's, my (now) in-laws. I was a total rookie. The previous year, I nearly slept through my opportunity to shoot a decent whitetail deer. Luckily, I was awoken by my brother-in-law and was very fortunate to take this deer. But that's another story entirely. 

When the fall of 2013 rolled around, I could hardly wait for the general deer season to open. We had our season planned out; try for mule deer early and if we didn't succeed, go North for whitetails. Rick, my father-in-law, decided we would hunt an area where he had some success in the past.

Rick and I headed up to the mountain the evening of opening day. We parked my truck at the bottom of the ridge we planned to hike down the next day. I grabbed my gear and jumped into the truck with Rick and we continued on up to the top of the mountain where we would set up camp. I remember the tamaracks and aspens giving the hillsides a sense of warmth with their oranges and yellows. We found a suitable spot for camp, set up the tent and made dinner. We planned to be hiking down the ridge before light the next morning, so we would get to bed early this night.

The next morning, we found the woods covered in a thin layer of frost. It's always tough to dress for the day when you're hunting in the early fall. Freezing temperatures in the morning and warm afternoon temperatures make dressing yourself in the morning a pickle. Layers are the key, so I wore lots of them. We began our slow, methodical descent down the ridge. We tried to walk as quietly as possible, but the changing season had caused many plants to turn colors and drop their foliage, littering the woods with crunchy leaves. A stealthy approach would simply not exist today.

We decided to take a peak on the more open hillside to our East. We crunched our way through the brush and popped out near the open, where a crash and a couple thuds diverted our eyes to a fleeing doe. Our guns were up immediately in case a buck was with the doe. The doe appeared to be alone, so we worked our way back to the center of the ridge. We found a trail that made quiet walking easier. We noticed a more open area below us where we could now see approximately 200 yards. We slowed our pace to scan for deer. There! 150 yards below us I spotted the gray shape of a mule deer in the open. Rick and I immediately crouched a little, going into hunt mode. Our eyes focused like lions searching a herd for a potential victim. The butt of a mule deer disappeared behind a large tree and clump of bushes, grabbing the attention of my straining eyes. I wasn't able to catch more than just the butt, however two deer were still in the open. One looked like it might have some small headgear, so we inspected with our scopes.
"2 point," I whispered.
"Yeah, and the other is a doe." Rick muttered behind the scope of his rifle.
"There's one behind that tree, but I didn't get a good look. Did you see it?"
"No, I only saw the two."
The two deer in plain view were now agitated and briskly headed for cover. I'm sure our whispering was no match for the large ears of a mule deer.
"That one behind the tree is still there. It hasn't come out." I said, looking into my scope again.
"Let's just wait a bit. Maybe blow that grunt call again, see if it walks out?"
I blew the grunt call a couple of times as we sat on the sloped trail. I'm not a good shot from a standing or kneeling position, so I put the bipod of my rifle out and got into a comfortable, steady position. If the deer behind the tree walked out, and was a nice buck, I wanted to be ready. We continued waiting for a few minutes before another deer approached from the right.
"It's that 2 point again." Rick exclaimed. "The grunts must have brought him back to investigate. You could shoot him. That's meat in the freezer."
"I want to see what that deer behind the tree is."
Our view of the open area where we saw the deer

The 2 point eventually wandered off to the left and out of view. I hoped that the deer behind the tree hadn't snuck away. We waited for maybe another 5 minutes before movement caught our eyes near the tree. A deer appeared and began to walk directly away from us. Even to the naked eye, we could tell it was a large buck. My heart went from 60 beats per minute to 160 in one second.
"OOhhhhhhh... BIG BUCK." Rick whispered and quickly looked through his scope.
I already had the crosshairs on him, studying him as he strutted farther away. He appeared to have a great 4 point typical frame rack on his head. A dandy deer by anyone's definition. My excitement was nearly uncontainable as I tried to focus on my breathing. The buck was walking directly toward a large tree. If he turned to the right, he'd give us a broadside shot. If he turned to the left of the tree he would disappear from sight. The moment of truth was approaching, but I was solid. The buck turned to the right. BOOM! I pulled the trigger as his body became broadside to us. He collapsed in his tracks, directly in front of the large tree. I began to shake with excitement and shock of what had just happened. I stood up and hugged Rick, while still keeping one eye on the downed deer at the bottom of the hill. 
"I was just about to pull the trigger when you fired." Rick said, shaking his head.
"Oh man. Well I knew if he went to the right I had him. If he went to the left it wasn't going to happen. I'm glad he went to right."
"I was going to shoot him in the neck if he started to go to the left. I wasn't going to let him get away."
We continued to keep an eye on where the deer went down. We could see the bushes moving a little still, so we waited a while longer before approaching him.
"Rick! My first mule deer!"
"He's a nice one. That's a great buck for a general hunt".
We began to walk down the trail towards the deer. The bushes were no longer moving but I had my gun up in case he got up. We approached the downed deer and it was apparent that he had passed. We took many photos and admired the great buck. His antlers were very symmetrical and each point was very long.


We quartered him up, loaded the meat on our packs and got ready for the real work.
"Shall we pack him back up to the suburban? Or should we hunt our way down with him on our backs?" Rick asked.
We had only gone down the ridge maybe a 1/3 mile from the top and my truck was probably 2 miles down the ridge.
"I think we should hunt our way down that ridge so you can get a deer. We might as well keep hunting," I said confidently.
"Ooo-Kay." Rick replied.

We set off down the ridge with heavy packs, keeping an eye out for deer. We decided to veer off to the right to make the trip a bit shorter. The hill began to steepen as we descended further. There was no obvious trail either and the hillside was littered with deadfall. We were trying to find the side ridge that would take us directly to my truck and we believed we were on the right one. My pack was really starting to feel heavy; the shoulder straps digging in with each footfall. I was carrying a hind and front quarter, the back-straps and neck meat, as well as the antlers and cape. I was very thankful that Rick was there to help me carry the rest, but I was now regretting our decision to hike down the mountain instead of up.

As we continued down the hill, we began to see less and less deer sign. We still hadn't found a great trail that lasted more than 50 yards either. The slope of the ridge was still incredibly steep and my shoulders and hips were really starting to hurt. I was definitely earning my first mule deer. To top things off, we were approaching what looked like an impenetrable wall of tall brush. Rick was even starting to complain a little as we looked for a better way around the brush. With no trail in sight, we decided to go straight through the thicket of alders. BAD IDEA! Once we started through it only got thicker. I was crawling over branches and sticks, walking through spider webs and being whacked in the face by every other branch. The antlers of the deer were getting hung up in the sticks as well, making our trek through this brush patch pure misery. But all I had to do to make things better was turn my head and look at those antlers, putting a big smile on my face.

The brush patch eventually led to a creek where we were able to hop from one rock to another for a short amount of time. Then we ascended onto another ridge and continued our steep journey down to the road. It seemed like eternity, but eventually we popped out onto the road where we took a much needed 20 minute break. It was now 4:30, and it had taken us over 6 hours to descend about 2 miles! I figured the truck had to be downhill from us and only around a couple more bends. I told Rick I would walk down the road and bring the truck back up and get him and my deer on our way back to camp.

I set off down the dirt road with renewed energy. I no longer had 65 pounds on my back and I was walking on a nice gradual downhill road. I expected to see my truck sooner than I did. In fact, when I finally got to my truck and drove back up to Rick, it was a total distance of 1.3 miles; hardly around the next bend!

After loading up the deer, we headed up to camp where my brother in law Trevor, would meet us that evening. It was sure fun to show off that deer to Trevor when he arrived. The next day we hunted down the same ridge. We spotted numerous other deer, but no shooter bucks. That first mule deer buck now sits on the wall and every time I look at it, I remember that great hunt.