Crappie fishing 101: Springtime is crappie fishing time

I was about to panic.

I love the spring in Idaho. If you’re an outdoorsman how can you not love it?

Bear hunting, turkey hunting, mushroom hunting, whistle pig hunting and crappie fishing is in full swing.

And I was stuck over in South Dakota for six and a half weeks — and then came down with COVID-19.

I’m probably exaggerating a little but it was cold and somewhat snowy up until I flew back home. I got to Idaho and everything was green. I felt like I’d lost one and a half months of my life. One day it was still somewhat winter and then suddenly I woke up in Idaho and we were on the tail end of spring. If I missed crappie fishing, I’d die! Katy and I had gone crappie fishing before I’d left but it had been about two weeks too early so we’d only caught a few.

So, I was afraid the crappie had already spawned and moved out but I had to run try ‘em. My daughter Kolby had just healed up from COVID-19 so she said she wanted to go with me. I had a few hours of writing to take care of and since it was Memorial Day I told her we’d leave at noon and hopefully the crowds would have thinned out a little by then and we’d fish until dark. Turned out to be a good call.

Due to minor complications we didn’t arrive at the lake until 3:30 p.m. Things started off a little slow. We were catching enough to be happy and at this rate would end up with a decent mess of fish but we had to get things sped up so we jumped and tried one of my old reliable hot spots.

We pulled up to my hot spot but no bueno. I always slaughtered the crappie there but something had happened. OK, back west I had a few spots, we’ll go hit them.

I have a little jon boat with a trolling motor so we don’t move too fast so we were fishing as we moved to our new location. There is a flat spot that I never fish because it’s no good but for some reason we hit it. We got a decent one. In all my articles I tell everyone if they catch one to stop and jig because crappie are schooling fish. Where you get one there’s more. So, I decided to follow my own advice even though it looked like a dead spot.

We caught a couple more. Then it got hot. I don’t know if we had found a spot packed with crappie or they had moved in as the sun went down but it was crazy. The last hour we literally had a hit every cast.

Usually when we start fishing, I’ll put a different colored jig on every now and then and we’ll go with whichever color they’re hitting best. The last few years we’ve been doing good on black/white or red/white tube jigs so that’s what I put on Kolby’s line. I decided to put on a Lake Fork Trophy Lures 2 1/4-inch Sickle Tail Baby Shad. After 45 minutes, I’d caught six and Koko had only caught one or two. I told her we were switching hers to a Lake fork jig. Right away she started smoking them too.

Also, usually I’ll put a couple of split shots six inches above the jig. When I changed Koko’s jig, I removed her split shots. Lake Fork makes the best plastics. They have slots cut in the tail so any movement causes the jig to quiver realistically.

Here’s what was working for us. They were spawning so we’d cast right up close to the shoreline. We’d lift our rod tip and then reel in slowly as we let it back down. You don’t want to reel too fast.

Crappie are called “papermouths” for a reason. They have really soft mouths that can easily rip out so be gentle when working them. Don’t set the hook. Just lift your rod tip and reel steadily to keep pressure on.

The bigger (heavier) they are, the more likely they’ll rip off when hauling them into the boat. So I net all of mine. I haven’t documented it but I bet you’ll lose 15 to 20% if you try to lift them in so that’s why I use a net.

Kolby and I both wondered, did the fishing get hot because the sun was going down or had we just missed this little crappie stronghold when we went by the first time? I don’t know but I think we’re going back again near dusk and try to do a repeat.

If you haven’t been out crappie fishing this spring, then you better get out fast and get in on the fun!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

Ground squirrel hunting

Ground squirrel hunting is a blast and a great way to get kids into hunting. Elk hunting can be tough some years. You get up well before daylight and don’t get back to camp until well after dark. By the third day, you’re so sore that you can’t even move and some years if you see an elk you’re lucky, especially now that Idaho is overrun with wolves. And you’re really lucky if you even get a shot every three to five years.

So for a kid just starting off, elk hunting is not the hunt to take them on — unless you want to scar them for life. That’s why I say ground squirrel, aka whistle pig hunting, is a great hunt for a beginner. (Their actual name is Townsend’s ground squirrel).

To begin, they get a lot of shooting. On a good day, I’ll get 400 to 500 shots. Secondly, they don’t have to be quiet. I remember deer hunting as a 7-year-old. In those days, they didn’t make cold weather clothing for kids so you were freezing and Dad wouldn’t let you make a move. If you had to scratch, you had to slowly move your hand up and scratch yourself. And you couldn’t make a peep.

On a whistle pig hunt, that’s not the case. A kid can move around and talk. Of course, you don’t want to talk too loud or do calisthenics, but still, you have a lot more freedom. Let’s be real. A kid wants to shoot and the whistle pigs oblige.

While hunting them, you’ll see some cool stuff. One time while I was shooting and a badger ran out and grabbed my whistle pig. Another time, an 87-year-old buddy hit one and I said, “You got it!” Right while it was bouncing around a hawk swooped down, grabbed it and took off. Then I said, “You had it.” Many times while shooting, hawks will land out in front of you and pick them up.

Whistle pigs and badgers can totally destroy a pasture if they aren’t thinned out. They will make a pasture useless for grazing cattle and you’re sure scared to ride a horse across the pasture or he may step in a hole and break a leg and flip and hurt you to boot.

Most of your shots will be within 75 yards, so a .22 is a great rifle to use. The Ruger 10/22 is great because of the after-market 25 round clips that are offered. I love tricking out Ruger 10/22s to make them more accurate, which helps since whistle pigs are so small. You can also hunt them with your bow to sharpen up your archery skills.

.22 shell prices have dropped and are once again affordable, or another good option are airguns. I’m about to start testing a Umarex Hammerli 850 Air Magnum, which is a break-barrel .22-caliber airgun. That should work perfectly. Plus, with an airgun the bullet won’t skip across the prairies as bad which makes it a perfect choice for a kid to learn with.

Another fun option that I’m going to have to check out is the Umarex Air Javelin. It is an air archery option. It is like an airgun that shoots arrows. How cool would that be to hunt whistle pigs with?

On these hunts, it is a good time to teach your kids about the need to watch the background so a bullet doesn’t skip across the prairie and hit someone. They need to always be watching to make sure that someone didn’t drive up behind where they’re shooting.

It is best not to touch them or if you take your dog with you not to let him eat one. Many times they carry the plague, which you don’t want to catch. Which brings up the point that shooting them helps thin out the population which in turn helps prevent the plague, which in turn actually in the long run helps preserve the population.

Moral to the story: Get out of house isolation and go isolate out on the prairie and have a fun day of shooting with your kids.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

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.

Baking homemade bread

I’m about recouped from the coronavirus, and after nearly three weeks food is starting to sound good. Out of the blue it hit me that some homemade bread would really be good.

When Katy and I first got married we’d make sourdough bread every Sunday afternoon after church. Back in 1972, Sports Afield ran a long article on making sourdough. They listed out numerous ways to make your own starter. I still have that article but now I mainly use a yeast package.

I’ve made loaves of bread in the artisan-looking lump (like a cow patty) on a baking sheet. You can add in fresh chopped garlic, olives and all kinds of herbs or vegetables.

But my favorite bread is just a plain loaf of bread. I’ll mix my flour (4-5 cups) with a ½ cup of sugar and a package of yeast. Then mix in your water and work it until it is of the right consistency. Then put the dough aside and let it rise. Katy will cover the pan with a damp rag and place it in a warm oven, which will speed up the rising process. But don’t have the oven hot or it will kill the yeast. Or you can set it up on top of the fridge and let it rise.

In an hour or two it should be working. When it has almost double in size break off enough to fill a bread pan about three-quarters of the way. Work the dough just slightly and put it in the bread pan and let it rise again.

OK, I don’t know why but one twist that will make the bread taste 10 times better is to bake it in a Lodge cast iron bread pan. It’s to die for. Cook at 350 until it is almost a slight golden brown on top. Right before it starts browning, I’ll cut a few slices of butter and grease up the top and then finish baking.

When done, pull it out. Usually with a butter knife you can run it around the edge of the pan and it will literally fall out. We eat it hot right out of the oven.

One other item you’ll want is a serrated bread knife. If you try to use a regular butcher knife it will smash the loaf. I got a Spyderco bread knife and love it. Cut slices and smear with butter and get ready to gorge. We’ll eat this alone for a meal a lot of times. It is amazing how awesome just a plain slice of bread smeared with butter is.

And use real butter. Katy read somewhere that margarine is bad for you but butter is good. I’m all for that theory and will not investigate the validity at all.

And yes, if you have a sweet tooth you can use the same dough to make cinnamon rolls. Just roll out the dough on the counter. Sprinkle on brown sugar and white sugar and cinnamon. Roll it up and let it rise. When it has risen slice into rolls. Lay the rolls on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Let them rise again. Sprinkle more brown sugar and white sugar on top and place in the oven preset for 350. Pull out when done and lather butter on top.

Now I’m hungry for some homemade bread. Happy eating!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

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.

Morel mushrooms: Manna from heaven

In the midst of the COVID-19 scare there is one spring highlight that didn’t fail to occur. Morel mushrooms! Morels are the best food that nature has to offer and now is the primo season. I have been out of state and dying to get back home to go mushroom picking. Katy had to teach the first day back but she was off Friday so we took off for my secret spot.

We didn’t find as many as we would have wished but still got enough for a good mess. They were all nice and firm and in good shape. So if you are reading this article you need to hurry up, finish reading this article and jump in the truck and head for the mountains. It is primo time.

To prepare the mushrooms gently rinse and then slice in half lengthwise. Put in a bowl with salt water to kill any bugs and refrigerate overnight.

The other day I covered how to hunt them; today let’s go over my favorite recipe. You can make mushroom gravy, scramble with eggs, etc. but frying them is the ultimate. Beat two to three eggs with about ½ cup of milk in a bowl. Drain the water off of the rinsed mushrooms an hour beforehand. Throw the drained/sliced mushrooms in the egg batter and cover with batter. Pour some flour on a plate. Roll the mushrooms in the flour.

On the stove be preheating a skillet with about a half-inch of grease to medium heat. When hot (sizzles a drop of water) lay mushrooms cut side down in the skillet. Fry to a golden brown and flip.

OK, I have to digress for a minute. If you have a thin-walled skillet anywhere in your kitchen gingerly pick it up with two fingers so as not to defile yourself. Walk out to the trash can and throw it away. Buy a cast iron Lodge skillet. They are the best for frying and evenly disperse heat while cooking.

When golden brown (not too brown) remove and lay on a paper towel-lined plate. I lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper when frying but not too much. Let everyone season to their tastes. I use Tony Chachere’s original seasoning.

ENJOY!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

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.

Hunting wild mushrooms

Right now is one of the best times of the year: morel mushroom picking time! It is a short season, so you want to make sure that you don’t miss it. In Nebraska and Iowa, it is somewhere around the middle of April. Up in the mountains, I do good around the first or second week of May, and they start popping up after that as you go up in elevation.

There are a lot of edible wild mushrooms, but I only can identify a couple. A few years ago, I thought, “It’s crazy to spend all that time walking around and only be able to identify a few varieties. Why not take a class so I could come back down from the mountains with more?”

I attended a mushroom hunting class. They told me that after I had completed the class that I’d feel comfortable picking at least 10 different varieties. By the time I completed the class, I still only felt comfortable picking the same couple.

Here’s the deal. Morel mushrooms are the best tasting food in the world, but if you screw up and pick the angel of death, well, let’s just say that you and God had better be pretty good friends. In a nutshell, one little snack is not worth dying over, so the first few times go with an old timer. Today I’m going to cover how to find morel mushrooms. I’m not going into how to identify them; find a trusty old timer and have them coach you.

Where do you find them? A lot of writers confidently say something like, “Go to the woods and look around dead logs.” I’ve got news for them. The woods are full of dead logs and you don’t find a morel at every one. While you can find some around logs, not every log has morels. I’ve hunted morels for more than 40 years. By now, you’d think I’d have it down pat and could give you the “Five Steps to be a Morel Mushroom Hunter.” The problem is I can’t.

But let’s go over a few things that I have learned. In Nebraska and Kansas, I find them on sandy river banks. I’ve made hauls out on islands and in the woods along the river. Again, not in wet turf but kinda sloping drained areas.

In the mountains, I’ll find them on the uphill side of old logging roads and in slight drainages that have some spread out vegetation but not thick grass. I’ll find them in brush piles. My old hunting buddy Roger Ross says he likes to look around Tamarack trees.

Sometimes they’ll be found around fresh (from last fall) caterpillar tracks. It seems like torn up soil promotes their growth. If you find some, look downhill. The spores get washed downhill. One year after a fire, I found a bunch like this washed down a draw on a mountainside.

If you found some last year, go back there this year. It’s not a guarantee every year but almost. I have one spot that I find them at almost every year, but not last year.

They are really temperature and moisture dependent. When the weather finally turns warm, if you get a rain and a warm night it seems like they pop up overnight. A few years ago, I was talking to a Forest Service employee, and we were talking about mushrooms. She brought up the thought of taking the temperature of the soil when you find them. Then just this week I read an article and the writer said when the soil hits 50 degrees, they start growing. Maybe so.

The absolute best place to hunt them is in places where there was a forest fire the previous year. There was one place where I could fill two 5-gallon buckets. Under a lodgepole pine that was laid down, I found 17. In one area I could have covered with a 10- by 12-foot tarp, I picked 162.

Real pickers use a mesh bag so the spores can drop out. They also use a knife to cut them off at the ground.

When you get home, slice them lengthwise and gently rinse and put in a bowl of water with salt to kill the bugs and set over night in your fridge. Dip in beat eggs and roll in flour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper or my favorite is Tony Chachere’s seasoning and fry to a golden brown.

Morels are the best food in the world!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.