From antler hunter to wildlife artist

Antler hunting is a hard occupation. For two decades, Jason House searched frozen hillsides of Wyoming from March to May looking for antler tines sticking out of the snow with a massive elk or deer antler hidden below. His passion for antler hunting evolved along with his appreciation of their sculptured lines into crafting unique art pieces from antlers.

At a recent art and hunting show I stopped mid-step and gawked at his luminescent reproductions of a massive mule deer skull and antlers. Next to it was a reproduction of giant bighorn sheep skull embedded in a chandelier. Next to it a reproduction of elephant tusks with transparent light glowing up and through them.

Each is a stunning pieces of modern art and decor not to be relegated to hunting cabins and attics. They are magnificent wildlife art to share with friends, family and colleagues. I stepped into his Creations in Antlers booth to learn more about how he creates his works of art.

Metal, light and sculptured wood are the mediums he uses to turn antlers and skulls into works of art. His reproductions of bighorn sheep skulls with a copper texture and a patina of emerald mounted on polished rustic burls are show stoppers. Definitely a welcome addition to any contemporary living space.

Displaying hunting and fishing art tastefully

Today’s tastes in natural arts are refined. Artists, collectors and hunters look for ways to artistically enhance natural beauty. This is where Jason’s wildlife and antler artistry shines. What he calls his Ice Creations, acrylic antler reproductions with luminescent light traveling into and through antlers, took half a decade to perfect.

His creations grace homes, lodges, restaurants and hotels through out Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Alaska. At Stonewood Lodge, he created the lighting decor for a 10,000-square-foot lodge in remote Alaska. All the materials were flown in. Two of the more than 50 items he created for the lodge were massive moose antler chandeliers measuring 8 feet by 5 feet weighing over a thousand pounds.

What Jason titles Creations in Metal are a custom cold metal-coatings he applies to skulls and finishes the art piece by adding a patina. The end product is a striking piece of art commemorating the animal, the hunt and the artist.

Currently, Jason is crafting a special artistic reproduction of moose antlers for a widow. Weeks after her husband died, a once-in-a-lifetime moose hunting permit arrived in the mail for him. She donated it to Hunting with Heroes, a Wyoming organization that sponsors hunts for disabled veterans. Jason guided the recipient of the tag, Army veteran Don Walk, to a bull moose of a lifetime. Jason made a cast of the antlers and is working on the artistic reproduction of the antlers to give to the widow to commemorate her donation.

Turning the corner on a small business

His business boomed when he began exhibiting at art shows like the Jackson Hole Antler Art Show, the Safari Club International Convention and the Wild Sheep Foundation Annual Convention. At each of these venues potential clients drift by looking at his custom casting of bear skulls, Marco Polo and Gobi argali sheep horns, desert bighorn sheep skulls. Word spreads about a new way to create art from a hunting experience. One hunter had him stylize the skull of a bighorn sheep; another wanted the antlers of a magnificent elk he took in Wyoming cast in acrylics with light streaming through them. A decor buyer for high-end, five-star resorts bought all of his art works at the end of this year’s Safari Club International Convention.

Today business is booming, gone are the days of grinding it out in 12-degree cold and frozen fingers looking for antlers. His studio Creations in Antlers studio in Greybull, Wyoming, attracts clients from around the west. His love for antlers and art turned into a lucrative occupation he once only dreamed of.

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.

Tight times for small local operators in Idaho’s river rafting industry

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River roared with spring flows as rafting outfitter Willis McAleese dissected the currents for his guides and showed them the best way to maneuver their rafts safely through the high water. White water rafting is an exhilarating sport and those manning the oars have to be highly skilled. This training trip is just one way outfitters throughout the west are getting ready for the spring and summer season.

But will there be enough clients to keep rafting companies afloat? Are white water and wilderness river rafting headed down the river-of-no-return or is it going to be the go-to vacation?

“This could be one of our toughest seasons on record,” said McAleese of Pocatello. “All of us in the industry are going to have to be creative and adapt to a new reality, highlighting that the rafting experience is the safe, clean, healthy adventure people love.”

From Idaho to Maine, rafting companies are working to make rafting safe and secure for families in light of COVID-19. There are an estimated 700,000 white water rafters and millions of leisure rafters enjoying the water each year in the U.S. It is one of the fastest growing outdoor sports.

Idaho’s outfitters and guides are monitoring government policy changes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and following state and federal mandates regarding COVID-19 and will utilize industry-approved testing. Their survival and success means keeping customers safe and confident that they can enjoy their rafting experience.

Rafting Middle Fork Salmon River Wilderness

The friends and family concept

Middle Fork Wilderness Outfitters is trying a friends and family concept on some of their raft trips to see if it gets potential rafters out of the house and on the river. The friends and family model involves setting up certain trips with a discount for families and friends. Knowing who you are traveling with is most important to some rafters despite the fact that most of their rafting trips consist of less than 20 guests scattered between four of five boats allowing for social distancing.

Middle Fork Wilderness Outfitters is implementing strategies to prevent any spread and outbreak of COVID-19. Health screening will still be required but an intangible level of security comes from of knowing who is on your trip in advance.

Good health practices key to success

COVID-19 has hit Idaho’s commercial rafting companies hard. Trips that normally fill by May have openings. Travel bans linger, putting families on lockdown reassessing spring and summer travel plans and recreational spending. That can mean more cancellations for outfitters.

The airline industry that transports many of Idaho’s aspiring white water rafters from across the U.S is struggling to survive. Some people are averse to the idea of traveling through airports and sitting in airline cabins is not appealing when their is concern that COVID-19 could make a comeback.

Mark Singleton, executive director of American Whitewater, says, “The COVID-19 pandemic is serious stuff. Make the health of others your No. 1 priority. Be part of the solution to keep the delicate balance that ensures river access.“

Good advice for Idaho’s multi-million dollar river rafting industry. Over 12,000 rafters went down the highly regulated Middle Fork of the Salmon River last year. Rafting clients come from all over the U.S. and world seeking the thrill of a trip down the massive white water of the Snake and Salmon Rivers or simply a day trip on the Payette River.

So how does a small family-owned rafting company like Middle Fork Wilderness Outfitters with roots to Pocatello survive the COVID-19 crisis? Provide a great product and think regionally.

McAleese believes there is a robust and untapped market in Idaho and neighboring states. An example is the family from Boise that recently booked a trip with him when their international rafting trip to Chile was canceled. Another big plus is that most of Idaho’s rivers are less than a two-day drive from all of the neighboring states. Riding in the family car is far less threatening than airports and airplanes in terms of disease contact.

The biggest plus for rafting

Rafting biggest plus is the outdoor experience and limited number of people contacted. Once on the river, contacts are minimal and the air is fresh. Compared to the potential exposure on a seven-day cruise filled with 2,000 people or a trip to Disney World with thousands of children, a raft trip is a boat ride in the woods.

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.

Discovering a new salmon fishing experience with famous anglers

Fishing with famous anglers and guides can be a bit intimating. I was along with Gary Loomis of G.Loomis fishing rod fame and expert salmon fishing guide Clancy Holt. They were opening up salmon fishing on a new hemisphere with amazing results, catching Chinook salmon weighing between 40 and 70 pounds. I was on the trip to write about them pioneering an untapped salmon fishery and to take photos. Luckily, long-time friend Clancy Holt put a fishing rod in my hand. Yes!

While fighting a big salmon, Gary Loomis commented on how amazing the fishing was and how untapped. Coming from one of the most experienced salmon anglers in the world, it was a tribute to the fishery. Where is it? Alaska, Russia, New Zealand?

No, it is in Patagonia, Chile, an hour and a half by air south of Santiago on the Petrohue River. The Petrohue River is a pristine river winding it way down from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Chilean salmon fishing

The first morning, Clancy Holt, Gary Loomis and I caught 11 Chinook salmon in five hours of trolling at the mouth of the river. Only two fish weighed less than 40 pounds. Loomis caught the biggest, which tipped the scale at 61 pounds, six were over 50 pounds and rest were between 40 and 50. It was the first day of five incredible days of fishing guided by Clancy as we explored the fishery for Southern Chile Expeditions.

Why this fishery now?

This fishery was in the making since the early 1980s when Chinook salmon eggs were imported from Pacific Northwest Hatcheries to start massive commercial salmon net pen operations in Chile. Chinook salmon escaped the net pens and over three decades began spawning in a number of rivers along the southern coastline of Chile and a new fishery was born.

The lack of access to major rivers is the major hurdle to fishing salmon in Chile. The second challenge is finding experienced guides with updated equipment. Fortunately, the number of guides — ranging from Orvis-endorsed guides, to independent outfitters and individuals advertising on the internet — have grown. Each year, the number of salmon fishing options continues to expand, providing anglers looking for an adventure salmon fishing trip the opportunity.

Southern Chile Expeditions pioneered the current fishery, hiring Holt and Loomis to help put them at the forefront starting in 2015. Yan Kee Way Lodge provided the infrastructure of lodging, guides and boats. The lodge’s trout fly fishing clients were already incidentally hooking Chinook salmon in the 40-pound range.

Chilean salmon fishing secondary

A salmon is netted in Southern Chile’s Petrohue River.

Holt was hired to guide anglers, train Chilean guides, find new fisheries and consult on equipment. That meant getting four new 17.8 Smoker Craft sleds with 60 horsepower Yamaha jet-drives set up.

Loomis was brought in to test the fishery and perfect the equipment needed. He is first and foremost a fisherman that designs and builds rods. Working with his new company, Edge Rods, he designed a new fly rod and conventional salmon rod that could handle salmon over 50 pounds. His new rods handled the abuse doled out by 50-pound Chinooks easily.

Great salmon fishing

My first salmon ripped out over 200 feet of line and was still going threatening to spoon my reel when Holt spun the boat around and followed the fish. It ran along the surface of the glassy bay waters then sounded going deep and circled back at us. I reeled, frantically loosing tension as the salmon passed under the boat and streaked away. Ten minutes, later the salmon was netted and released.

Loomis designed new rods for this fishery, which are probably the best made. Loomis’ Edge 9’11” rods handled the big fish with grace. Over the next five days of estuary fishing, we caught and released over 100 Chinook salmon.

Since I needed pictures for the magazine article, several fish had to come on board for photos. We were doing catch and release, which made bringing the fish on board for a photo and releasing them unharmed more difficult than expected. Getting 60 pounds of thrashing salmon into Loomis’ hands for a photo and then releasing it was a challenge. The best photo came when Clancy and I hoisted a 60 pounder on to Loomis’ lap soaking him. He smiled for the picture and swore to get even with us later.

It was a pleasure fishing with the best of the best. Holt easily switched from one technique to another to keep us catching salmon. Loomis told me more about rod making than I could absorb. Did I know it all started from his designing and making tank aerials?

For more information or to book your own trip, visit southernchilexp.com.

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.

Discovering a new salmon fishing experience with famous anglers

Fishing with famous anglers and guides can be a bit intimating. I was along with Gary Loomis of G.Loomis fishing rod fame and expert salmon fishing guide Clancy Holt. They were opening up salmon fishing on a new hemisphere with amazing results, catching Chinook salmon weighing between 40 and 70 pounds. I was on the trip to write about them pioneering an untapped salmon fishery and to take photos. Luckily, long-time friend Clancy Holt put a fishing rod in my hand. Yes!

While fighting a big salmon, Gary Loomis commented on how amazing the fishing was and how untapped. Coming from one of the most experienced salmon anglers in the world, it was a tribute to the fishery. Where is it? Alaska, Russia, New Zealand?

No, it is in Patagonia, Chile, an hour and a half by air south of Santiago on the Petrohue River. The Petrohue River is a pristine river winding it way down from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Chilean salmon fishing

The first morning, Clancy Holt, Gary Loomis and I caught 11 Chinook salmon in five hours of trolling at the mouth of the river. Only two fish weighed less than 40 pounds. Loomis caught the biggest, which tipped the scale at 61 pounds, six were over 50 pounds and rest were between 40 and 50. It was the first day of five incredible days of fishing guided by Clancy as we explored the fishery for Southern Chile Expeditions.

Why this fishery now?

This fishery was in the making since the early 1980s when Chinook salmon eggs were imported from Pacific Northwest Hatcheries to start massive commercial salmon net pen operations in Chile. Chinook salmon escaped the net pens and over three decades began spawning in a number of rivers along the southern coastline of Chile and a new fishery was born.

The lack of access to major rivers is the major hurdle to fishing salmon in Chile. The second challenge is finding experienced guides with updated equipment. Fortunately, the number of guides — ranging from Orvis-endorsed guides, to independent outfitters and individuals advertising on the internet — have grown. Each year, the number of salmon fishing options continues to expand, providing anglers looking for an adventure salmon fishing trip the opportunity.

Southern Chile Expeditions pioneered the current fishery, hiring Holt and Loomis to help put them at the forefront starting in 2015. Yan Kee Way Lodge provided the infrastructure of lodging, guides and boats. The lodge’s trout fly fishing clients were already incidentally hooking Chinook salmon in the 40-pound range.

Chilean salmon fishing secondary

A salmon is netted in Southern Chile’s Petrohue River.

Holt was hired to guide anglers, train Chilean guides, find new fisheries and consult on equipment. That meant getting four new 17.8 Smoker Craft sleds with 60 horsepower Yamaha jet-drives set up.

Loomis was brought in to test the fishery and perfect the equipment needed. He is first and foremost a fisherman that designs and builds rods. Working with his new company, Edge Rods, he designed a new fly rod and conventional salmon rod that could handle salmon over 50 pounds. His new rods handled the abuse doled out by 50-pound Chinooks easily.

Great salmon fishing

My first salmon ripped out over 200 feet of line and was still going threatening to spoon my reel when Holt spun the boat around and followed the fish. It ran along the surface of the glassy bay waters then sounded going deep and circled back at us. I reeled, frantically loosing tension as the salmon passed under the boat and streaked away. Ten minutes, later the salmon was netted and released.

Loomis designed new rods for this fishery, which are probably the best made. Loomis’ Edge 9’11” rods handled the big fish with grace. Over the next five days of estuary fishing, we caught and released over 100 Chinook salmon.

Since I needed pictures for the magazine article, several fish had to come on board for photos. We were doing catch and release, which made bringing the fish on board for a photo and releasing them unharmed more difficult than expected. Getting 60 pounds of thrashing salmon into Loomis’ hands for a photo and then releasing it was a challenge. The best photo came when Clancy and I hoisted a 60 pounder on to Loomis’ lap soaking him. He smiled for the picture and swore to get even with us later.

It was a pleasure fishing with the best of the best. Holt easily switched from one technique to another to keep us catching salmon. Loomis told me more about rod making than I could absorb. Did I know it all started from his designing and making tank aerials?

For more information or to book your own trip, visit southernchilexp.com.

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.

Choose an exotic fishing adventure

What kind of fishing adventure are you interested in? Given a choice, would you choose a high-cost lodge where you are catered to at $1,000 a day or a remote backwoods adventure where you cook on a wood stove for $75 a day? Take a look at the video and make a choice.

Trout Fishing: Chile Two Lodge

$1,000 a day: Yan Kee Way Lodge in Southern Chile

This place is amazing. Individual chalets, 4-star cooks, guides equipped with the best gear and the world-famous Rio Petrohue river to fish for rainbow and brown trout in an exotic location. Unfortunately, I was not fishing but on a writing assignment for Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine out of Seattle to chronicle the fishing adventures of expert steelhead guide and angler Jack Mitchell of eastern Washington.

The Rio Petrohue is famous. Flanked by snow-capped volcanoes and deep woods, it produces rainbows to 10 pounds, sea run browns to 20 pounds and Chinook salmon to 70 pounds. When we arrived, the river was high due to heavy rains, a volcanic eruption trickled silt into the river and the Chinook salmon run was late. Even a $1,000 a day can’t guarantee good fishing.

Jack Mitchell is an expert fly fisherman, and he drew on years of experience fishing the Snake, Columbia, Klickitat rivers for trout and steelhead. After a day of pulling streamers in eddies and casting dry flies to small pockets of water, it was apparent catching fish was going to be a challenge. His wife, Jennifer, also an accomplished angler, suggested fishing yarn under a strike indicator. It worked and instead of catching five to 10 rainbows a day between them, they caught 27 rainbows the next morning.

Where were the giant salmon and brown trout? Out in the bay, lodge salmon guide Clancy Holt and his client Gary Loomis trolled deep the river mouth and caught salmon to 70 pounds, but the salmon and browns had not yet entered the river where we could get a crack at them.

Chile fishing secondary

A group is seen fishing the Rio Potrohue in Chile.

$75 a day: Backwoods fishing adventure in Chile

Leaving luxury, I boarded an ancient plane for a two-hour flight 300 miles south to a backwoods lodge that promised excellent rainbow trout fishing. The manager of Yan Kee Way owned the low-cost fledgling Rio Paloma Lodge and was exuberant about the fishing. All I had to do was pay my airfare, cost of food and pitch in. All for $75 a day and the cost of a horse back ride to see a rare deer in the Andes Mountains.

The catch? The only the cook was at the lodge, he didn’t speak English and I would have to pitch in on the chores.

The plane landed in a defunct military airport, miles from nowhere and the cook/guide was not there to pick me up. An hour late, he rumbled up in an old pickup truck, hopped out and let out a burst of rapid-fire Spanish and motioned like he was casting a fly. Yep, this was my man.

The lodge was two hours over dirt roads and one temporary road block consisting of 100 sheep away. It is an old wood frame house with three tiny bedrooms, kitchen and a wood fired stove. He would guide and cook, and I would clean dishes, chop wood and fetch water.

The next morning, we were casting on a river out of a picture book. Tall pines, rippling water and trout breaking the surface. But the fish were not biting our flies. Late in the day, I broke out my little spinning rod and a No. 2 gold Mepps spinner. Three casts later, I landed a nice 2-pound rainbow. The cook was delighted. No catch and release here. This was dinner. The spinner worked magic on fish after fish.

Delighted at the great day of fishing, the cook arranged for a horseback ride into the mountains to see a rare and endangered deer. The year before, I spent nine days in the Andes Mountains in a pup-tent with a scientific team trying to locate and photograph one of these rare deer with no success.

Chile fishing secondary

An endangered Huemul deer is seen in Chile’s Andes Mountains.

As my horse swam the swift river to start the steep ascent into the mountains, I realized this was clearly not a tourist horseback ride. Four hours later, I swore I would never ride a horse again.

The endangered Huemul deer stood in a small ravine 100 yards away. A nice buck with forked horns. I snapped shots with my 600 telephoto lens. Not great shots but rare ones. We continued up the mountains for several hours looking for more deer then returned to an old sheepherders hut. Sore, hungry and tired, I dreaded the four hours more of trail riding to reach the road.

At the hut, to my amazement, the sheepherder pulled from his saddle bags a rack of lamb, started a fire and stuck the ribs on a T bar over the fire to roast. Once they were done, he rustled in his other saddle bag producing a loaf of bread and a six pack of beer. He handed me his knife to cut off a slab of roasting ribs, hunk of bread and a beer. Best mountain meal ever!

Chopping wood and washing dishes was a small price to pay for excellent rainbow fishing day and a horseback ride to see the endangered Huemul deer.

Choices

So which adventures would you choose? Luxury lodge or wilderness house with cook for a guide and a trail ride?

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.

Catch a tiger fish, hunt a Kudu and find a geocache in Africa

Geoff Hogander’s dream was to visit Africa; catch a tiger fish, hunt a kudu and find a geocache. When the opportunity came to join me on a hunt to South Africa with Harloo Safaris in Zululand and visit Tembe Elephant Park next to the Mozambique boarder he was all in.

Zululand in South Africa is tropical jungle country with rolling mountains, deep draws and rivers. The safari area bordered Lake Jozini, known for its superb tiger fishing. Our hunt was the first part of the trip, fishing second and Geoff’s geocache hunt and wildlife viewing in Tembe Elephant Park the wrap-up.

We booked the hunt for the end of May when kudu are in rut. Kudu are called the gray ghosts of Africa for their ability to elude hunters. Similar in size to our rocky mountain elk they are wary. The best time to hunt them one time is when breeding season is in full swing.

Geoff’s chance at a kudu came on day four of the hunt. Glassing a ridgeline a mile away he saw a single bull slowly working his way through the woods. It would cross an open area a half mile ahead where we could intercept it. Thirty minutes later our professional hunter, Niel Uys, had us in place and Geoff glimpsed the kudu moving along the edge of the clearing.

The massive bull crossed the opening 100 yards away and dropped with Geoff’s shot. We marveled at the long spiraling horns and it beautiful grey coat. It is truly one of Africa’s iconic antelope. Two days later we were enjoying Kudu tenderloin over an open fire at camp. They reminded me of mild, tender elk steaks.

Next door the Phinda Game Reserve was culling nyala. They are mule deer size antelope, sporting a shaggy dark gray coat, white strips and black spiraling horns they are exotic. Phinda’s game manager asked if were interested in hunting nyala.? You bet!

In Africa when antelope start to overgraze an area, game managers use hunting as a tool to save the habitat and provide meat for local tribes. The one drawback was lions. We needed to be very careful since this conservancy had a thriving lion population along with cape buffalo and rhinos.

Parking our Landrover in the early morning light the adventure began. Nyala live in dense cover along the edge of grasslands. The local game manager lead the way along trails weaving through dense cover. Luckily, lions do not like hunting in this type of cover. We were very cautious since we had seen a pride of lions when driving into the area.

The game manager knew exactly where nyala crossed the opening in the dense cover. Each of us made good shots and nyala and the animals were on the way to the butcher by noon. We enjoyed several prime cuts of meat for dinner. It was delicious.

Tiger Fishing Lake Jozini

Sprawling Lake Jozini bordered our hunting area and is a tiger fishing mecca. Tiger fish are fierce predators with razor sharp teeth and are sought after by anglers for their fighting ability. A member of the piranha family, their canine-like teeth can inflect serious wounds.

Fishing with sardines was the most effective way to catch the toothy fish this time of year. Niel, our professional hunter, had a supply in his freezer. An avid angler, he supplied the boat, bait and tackle, and took us to his favorite fishing spot. The 8-pound to 15-pound tiger fish were not biting now, but we would catch plenty in the 3-pound to 5-pound range. Only he would handle the fish. He didn’t want us going home minus fingers!

Geoff got the first strike and the line ripped off his reel as the tiger fish headed toward the other end of the lake. It turned out to be the best fish of the day. We took pictures and released it.

Our only problem came at the boat launch. A 4,000 pound white rhino, measuring 10 to 12 feet long and 5 feet tall at the shoulder, grazed at the waters edge. Geoff and I did a double take. A rhino grazing next to the boat launch ramp? Welcome to Africa.

Geoff’s Geocache

We traveled 150 miles north to the Mozambique border to Tembe Elephant Park. No trip to Africa is complete without getting a look at some truly wild country and elephants. Plus, Tembe held Geoff’s geocache.

The Tembe Tribe run the only concession in the 115-square-mile massive transnational Tembe Wildlife Park. Part of the legendary Ivory Route where the greatest tuskers roam, the park was set up in 1983 to protect migrating elephants between South Africa and Mozambique. It’s a wild and unique place. It’s on the low end of the luxury scale, on the high end of wild and one of the lowest-priced lodge experiences in Africa.

Each morning at 6 a.m. we loaded into a converted Landrover to slowly drive through thick sand-forest. Twice elephants materialized out of the impenetrable foliage halting our vehicle. They gave us a brief look and walked right by us disappearing into the jungle.

Geoff’s geocache was located under the step of one of the Tembe wildlife observation blinds. Geocaching is an international activity in which participants use their GPS to find a hidden container and it’s one of Geoff’s favorite sports. Once he found it, he carefully removed the ledger and inscribed his name and the date on it, completing a life-long dream of visiting and achieving a series of goals in Africa. Harry Morse

Find a video with this story at xtremeidaho.com

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.

Sailfish in Mexico beat ice fishing in Idaho

While fishing through an 8-inch round hole cut in ice on Chesterfield Reservoir, I decided Mexico and sailfish were calling. Two weeks later, my fishing partner and I were bobbing in the Pacific along a pristine section of Southern Mexico’s Pacific coast, 100 miles south of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico, in 80-degree weather.

We were on a low-cost fishing trip to a top-rated sailfish destination. Rustic is the best way to describe the area. Puerto Vicente has solitude, no fishing pressure and a reputation for good sailfish in April. It was ranked No. 2 in the world for sailfish by Salt Water Magazine. It features a fishing village with mud streets, no high-rise hotels, chickens walking the roads and no other gringos.

This area is named Costa Grande, Mexico, a 150-mile stretch of pristine coastline. It is remote and too far from Zihuatanejo and Puerto Vallarta for the big cruisers to make day trips; thus it is under fished. We seldom saw another boat. The only small harbor there is Puerto Vicente, where fishing guides pick you up in a well-used 1980 Ford F150 and you climb in, sit on a wooden bench seat for a rough ride over a potholed dirt road to the marina and an ocean adventure.

My fishing partner John Jennings and I fished out of a 20-foot fiberglass boat called a ponga with a 60 horse power Mercury outboard motor. We hooked up with a guiding outfit named El Bandidio Del Mar. Yes, that translates to Bandit of the Sea. They have a package deal of room, board, guide and boat. A no-frills boat with a bench seat for each of us and a canvass top to keep the sunburn down. This little craft would take us up to 15 miles off shore to find marlin and sailfish. Skeptical of the fishing gear we might encounter we brought our own rods, reels and lures. The guides caught or bought fresh bait before sunrise and out we went.

Three miles off shore, our guide Manuel spotted a sailfish on top of the water and the hunt was on. We trolled two giant lures and a live flying fish in the sailfish’s direction. The sailfish turned and raced toward John’s live bait. It batted the bait with its long sword-like bill before inhaling it. The guide hit the throttle gunning the boat forward and flipped John’s reel into free spool. Seconds later, he said “hang on” and engaged the drag on the reel setting the hook firmly into the jaw of the sailfish and nearly jerking John’s arms out of their sockets.

The lined ripped out as the 100-pound fish bolted away. Tucking the butt of his fishing rod into the plastic holder he had strapped to his waist he let the fish run until it jumped. Then he started pumping the rod up and down trying to gain back the line he lost to the fish’s initially run. No luck; it took off again, this time going airborne three different times. Thirty minutes, later it came to the boat its colors shimmered beneath the waters.

With a skilled hand, our guide grabbed the 200-pound shock leader and hauled the fish forward until he could grab the sailfish’s bill. It looked like a life-and-death struggle between the guide and the sailfish until the sail stopped thrashing and shaking stopped and could be lifted out of the water for a picture and released. No extra deck hand to help; just one guide and us.

For the picture, the guide seated John next to him on the back bench seat and hoisted the sailfish up on to John’s lap as he held the bill. A good shake and the fish could have knocked both of them back and into the water. I took a quick picture and the sail went back into the Pacific.

Pods of dolphins delighted us as they played under our boat. When we sped up to 20 to 25 mph, the dolphins kept pace gracefully leaping out of the water in front of us. The number of sea turtles was astounding; we saw 50 to 100 a day. Most were small — the size of garbage can lid — but we saw some big ones that weighed over 100 pounds.

That night at the waterfront diner and hotel, we toasted John’s sailfish and three other marlin caught and released by other anglers at the small lodge. All of us had strikes and bill fish on. We ate fresh dorado served by our host/guide’s wife and looked out over the small bay. The accommodations were Motel 6-style, but the beds were comfortable, no bugs and area quiet. Except for the rooster that crowed from 2 to 5 a.m.

Fresh-squeezed orange juice, scrambled eggs and a homemade roll got us going, and we loaded up the Ford and rode to the dock in the dark. Morning dragged by without a strike; then we had a double hook up. A pair of marlin came out of nowhere smashing our lures. Mine leaped and came off almost immediately; meanwhile John’s headed to the bottom of the ocean. The battle would last nearly an hour, tiring John out and bring a beautiful fish to the boat.

The marlin was not a big one by “Old Man and The Sea” standards — around 120 pounds — but it was a magnificent fighter. And you could not see land, only ocean.

Over the next two days, luck was with me. I landed two sailfish and a marlin each similar in size to John’s. Then the seas turned rough with 6- to 8-foot waves and whitecaps. We stayed inland and fished for crevalle jack, rooster fish and dorado in the lee of the peninsula. Schools of jacks stretching the length of a football field were migrating north next to shore and provided constant action.

The last night we had a lobster, a dinner to remember. It was Easter Day and bands play off in the distance, the sun sank into the pacific and we feasted. Good memories to savor especially since all of us in Idaho are sheltering in place, dreaming of favorite adventures.

For information on Bandito Del Mar Fishing, look it up on Facebook or visit bandidodelmar.com.

The best flight we found to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico, was with Alaska Airlines.

Salt Water Magazine featured this area several years back and describes the fishing and area.

Harry Morse is currently a freelance writer living in Pocatello. His articles have appeared in national hunting and fishing magazines. The majority of his career he worked for Washington, Idaho and California Departments of Fish and Wildlife as an information officer. He has travel broadly an enjoys photography, fishing and hunting.