Category Archives: Reader Trophy Tales

Play By Play From A Hart Mt. Antelope Blind

UPDATED SEPT. 20 WITH A POSTSCRIPT ON HOW TROY’S PRONGHORN SCORED.

Tuesday morning, Sept. 13, there were a couple emails from Troy, one of my Oregon writers, in my inbox. I’d asked him if a higher resolution image was available for a Cascades bull elk article he sent in for the October issue, but no such luck.

Then the Willamette Valley hunter casually noted his location.

TROY: Funny, I’m sitting in a blind e-mailing you from antelope grounds.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

ANDY: Stop it, seriously?

TROY: I know LOL … I’m just passing the time. Quiet right now.

That’s right, I recalled. Earlier this year, Troy drew into a Hart Mountain pronghorn antelope tag, one of the most — if not THE most — coveted and rare tag in the Beaver State. An entire generation of future hunters can be born, grow up and graduate high school before you might get drawn for it.

Ever since, Troy’s been calling biologists down on the national wildlife refuge, where friends of mine work, and recently made a trip there to check out the country outside Lakeview for the Sept. 10-16 hunt.

And what did Troy see that morning?

ANDY: Well, your “blind” is obviously not a tree stand — describe what you see around you.

TROY: Sitting in some tall grass near coyote dens surrounded by sage about 400 yards from a nice water hole. Had antelope around me all morning couple decent bucks. Antelope headed down the ridge now for water. Rut is in full swing with bucks chasing does, snort wheezing at each other and driving subordinate bucks away. The air is crisp with the fresh smell of sage after an evening thunder boomer. Antelope paradise! Truly a great place to be.

THE VIEW FROM THE ANTELOPE BLIND.

ANDY: Any other hunters out there, or do you have the veld to yourself?

TROY: Most other hunters are gone. Filled their tags already. Buck coming in, gotta go

CHECKING OUT A HERD OF FIVE DOES AND ONE BUCK.

ANDY: What sorta thunderstick you hauling around?

TROY: Shooting a .308 Husqvarna, 165-grain Hornady ammo. Just had a nice 14-incher come by at 100 yards. Debated shooting. Been doing a lot of debating on this hunt. It’s tough to make a choice in an antelope mecca!

Hart Mountain is, of course, that great upthrust slab of basalt looming over the playa of South-central Oregon. The refuge was created in 1936 by executive order of President Franklin Roosevelt to protect what remained of a once-larger pronghorn population.

HERD OF PRONGHORN ON HART MTN., A PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN BY MY FRIEND GAIL COLLINS OF THE U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE.

These days, managers oversee a far wider range of critters and habitats, but amongst hunters, it’s known as one of the better spots for large pronghorns.

ANDY: What kind of buck is it going to take for you to pull the trigger?

TROY: Something unique or something that has a good story behind it. It’s all about the experience here. Eighteen years in the making, I surely can be patient at least a few more days.

"LOVIN' IT," SAYS TROY.

ANDY: Are you there with your dad?

TROY: Here with my pops and my 141/2-year-old German shorthair.

ANDY: Bailey, right? You were worried last fall that you didn’t have much time left with him …

TROY: Yes, Bailey. Thought I was going to lose him last fall. He’s blind, arthritic and been on a lot of hunts with us — not only bird, but big game.

ANDY: That’s pretty cool. So what’s the plan then? Hunt till late morning then back out in the late afternoon, or do you stay out right through the day?

TROY: Hunt the morning from sunrise til 10 a.m. Head back out in the evenings. It has been a really great trip so far.

ANDY: It really sounds like it — you’re living the dream of thousands of Oregon hunters right now, plus are afield while some of us are cooped up in our offices.

TROY: This is where we all want to be. Many hunters wait all year for these moments. You would love it, man!

You ain’t a’kidding about that.

As it stands, we’re at T-31 to the start of rifle deer season in Washington, a countdown that began the instant I returned from the Okanogan after the second weekend last fall.

Ever since and especially these past few weeks, my thoughts have been on the backside of the mountain and bowl I “discovered” last fall. Found lots of sign and openings there, and I may press even further back into the dark timber and creek drainage below the saddles we hunt but never descended into.

Never been to Hart Mountain either, but it feels a bit like it this morning.

TROY: Further updates from the Southeast Oregon desert to come!

THE AFTERNOON HUNT COMMENCES

TROY: With God above and Ol’ Glory we enjoy some shade and relaxation in between trips to the hunting grounds. Back to the field for the afternoon hunt.

ANDY: Good luck!

PRONGHORN CAMP.

TROY: As I hunt this evening I wonder. I wonder why haven’t I shot a buck as of yet. Answering my own question came quite easy as I’m out here staring at a very promising build-up of a thundershower. Once I bag my prize it’s over! Half a lifetime of waiting, hoping, wishing and dreaming for this experience. Gone. However, I remind myself the best is yet to come and when it is finally complete, though a bit saddening, I will truly be satisfied with this amazing experience. More from Hart Mt. tomorrow!

CLOUDS BUILD OVER HART MT.

THE MORNING HUNT

TROY: After a night of restlessness and telling myself that I would shoot a particular buck I have been seeing for three days, I passed again this morning.

Why?

I don’t know.

Maybe, I just wanted to see him one more day.

Had another 13-inch buck walk past at 19 yards. Great shot with a bow. As for the hunting this morning I think that as close as I’m going to get to an actual antelope will be 19 yards — except this baby yearling buck that just walked past to say hello.

A "BABY" 'LOPE LOPES BY THE HUNTER'S BLIND.

THE AFTERNOON HUNT

TROY: Andy, after a long day afield I have to say that once a person watches large numbers of pronghorn they all start to look the same. Numerous bucks between 12-14″ with the larger maintaining the largest groups of does.  However, there are a few goats that are a bit bigger.

We had a couple rain showers here today and the hunting has been excellent with highs near 80 degrees. Rut activity has been very active in the early mornings with lows near 40.

I’m ready and eagerly anticipating some good speed goateroni and jerky for the coming fall seasons afield. Looking forward to a great evening hunt! More to come from S.E. Oregon.

THE MORNING HUNT

Troy’s back in his blind this morning, on the second to last day of his antelope hunt.

DAWN IN THE BLIND

TROY: Got a good show from what I believe to be the Oregon Air Nat Guard yesterday evening. They must have been training over the SE desert region of Oregon. Looking forward to a good hunt today!

ANDY: I’ll bet the stars down there are just amazing. Amy and I woke up late one night while we camped at the mouth of the Columbia before Labor Day and were awed by what we saw. Just don’t see that in the city.

TROY: Yes, everything is amazing, including the hunting. The scenery is spectacular, the smells, the wildlife — worth the wait. You and Amy would surely love it. I need to see about pulling the trigger!

ANDY: Yeah, get to work, would you?!?! You’ve only got about 15 hours of afternoon and morning hunting before your time is up!

TROY: Exactly. Time to get serious!

THE FINAL DAY

This morning finds me frantically editing stuff for the October issue of Northwest Sportsman, fall issue of Alaska Sporting Journal, grooving to too-bouncy beats on YouTube and stinky (no shower this morning, didn’t want to wake Amy and the boyz).

It found Troy back afield around Hart Mtn. on the last day his pronghorn permit is valid for.

He’s been there all week, putting in his time “wading the desert” as our contributor Duane Dungannon phrased the search for a buck antelope in this wet year rife with younger animals, but also just enjoying his time outside with his dad and longtime hunting companion, Bailey, his pooch.

This morning I received another update from Troy, a joyous one.

TROY: 30 degrees this morning. Last day of hunt put a 500 yard stalk on him at sunrise. 150 yard shot put him down. What a hunt. More to come!

TROY BAGS HIS PRONGHORN!

ANDY: Nice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Congrats, man!

TROY: Thanks. I’m very happy!!!! What a great experience!

ANDY: Thanks for sharing it with us, I appreciate that — now get to cleaning that bad boy!

TROY: Will do. Glad we were able to share it. Cleaning in progress! Prongeroni!

ANDY: Oh, man, that stuff’s gooooooooooooood! Amy’s uncle got an antelope last season in Central Oregon and we gobbled sticks and sticks of it at her folks’ annual family Christmas dinner — I think I had more prongeroni than anything else that night!

POSTSCRIPT

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, Troy sent me a posthunt follow-up email:

Good Morning Andy,

Back home after a great time in the desert. Hung that meat and it got down to 28 degrees (perfect) then threw it on ice.  Pulled camp and drove to Hart Mt. headquarters to sign out after the hunt. A man walked across the parking lot and through the back door as I searched for the sign-out roster of hunters — it was gone.  The man then appeared out of the back room with the clipboard and said, “You looking for this?”

I replied, “looks like you were expecting me.”

He said, you’re the last one to leave.

Lucky me, I got to see how everyone faired while signing out. There were 31 hunters, 29 of whom filled their tags with one hunter not showing up.

The largest buck was 16 inches.  Mine measured out at 15 2/8 and should score around 76 B&C.

Visited with the fella there and found out that your friend Gail had been there earlier that morning giving a small presentation on Hart Mt.’s large mammals. Would have liked to have met her and visited.

It was a good drive home except for blowing a tire about 20 minutes from Burns, Ore. Luckily, Les Schwabs doesn’t close until 5 p.m. on Saturdays and out blow-out happened at about 4:20.  They saved us from a long night!

Anyway, back in the office today and back to the grind………………Jonesing for some hunting!

Later, Troy

P.S. Oh, and my Blackberry is on the fritz. Quit working once I got home.  Probably too much dust from the desert!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Got a great Northwest trophy tale to tell? Email it and pics to awalgamott@nwsportsmanmag.com!

Nearly 35-pd. Rainbow Landed In SE ID Lake

UPDATE AUG. 2, 2011: Genetic testing found this fish to be a rainbow-cutthroat hybrid. IDFG also aged it at 6 years old. For more, see this story.

A rainbow over 14 pounds heavier than the standing state record — and bigger than any other U.S. record, it appears — was landed in Southeast Idaho this week by a Pocatello angler.

Mark Adams, a 41-year-old Union Pacific locomotive engineer, caught the 34.74-pound trout out of American Falls Reservoir on the Snake River Monday morning.

MARK ADAMS AND HIS NEARLY 35-POUND RAINBOW TROUT. (DAVID TEUTSCHER, IDFG)

The initial investigation by David Teuscher, the regional Idaho Department of Fish & Game fisheries manager in Pocatello, is that it has triploid-like sex organs.

Triploids are fish that have been sterilized during incubation. Instead of producing eggs or milt, the fish puts its energy into eating and getting big. Idaho has largely switched to planting triploids since the early 2000s to prevent hybridization with native cutthroat trout.

“I looked at its gonads and they were underdeveloped and characteristic of a triploid female. But we’re going to verify that,” Teuscher says.

He overnighted DNA material to IDFG’s genetics lab to make a final determination.

ADAMS' TROUT ON THE TAILGATE. (DAVID TEUTSCHER, IDFG)

However, whether it’s a rainbow or sterile rainbow won’t matter for the record book, Teuscher says, pointing out that the standing record, a 20-pound, .02-ouncer caught in 2009 is also probably a triploid.

Washington also bundles its rainbow and triploid rainbow records together. The high mark is a 29.6-pounder caught in 2002 from Rufus Woods Lake, where the trout are grown commercially but released intentionally and unintentionally.

The largest U.S. rainbow trout on record is a 33-pound, 1.6-ounce specimen caught in the big-fish water below Lake Koocanusa in Montana’s Kootenai River in 1997, according to a compilation at Landbigfish.com. A Saskatchewan lake has yielded at least two triploids in 40-pound range, including a 48-pounder in September 2009.

Initially Adams thought he was into a carp, according to a news report. It took him a quarter hour to land it. A friend urged him to get it weighed.

“They just realized what they had, put it in a cooler and raced to the nearest certified scale,” Teuscher says. “We verified the weight.”

At 41 1/8 inches long, the fish is proportionally more like a regular rainbow than the football-like profile of triploids.

“It’s a beautiful fish on top of being that huge,” says Teuscher. “It’ll be interesting to see what the genetics work tells us.”

And it will be interesting to see if American Falls puts out any more whoppers.

A headline that ran last year with a pic of the standing record, Michelle Larson-Williams’ fish, says it all: “More monster rainbows likely remain in the American Falls Reservoir and Snake River.”

Teuscher says IDFG has been tracking catches there since the early 2000s. They began to see a number of 4- to 7-pounders one year which translated into 7- to 10-pounders the next, then 13s and in 2009, three over 19 pounds.

“I don’t know how much bigger they’ll get,” says Teuscher. “This might be it.”

But he allows that water conditions at the 56,000-surface-acre — “It’s so huge that a fish can swim around in it for 10 years without being touched by an angler,” he told the Associated Press — relatively shallow irrigation reservoir look good going into winter.

“We’re set up for more things to come,” he says.

The fish’s otolith, also submitted for testing, will reveal how old it is.

A press release will likely be issued later this week or early next after genetics testing comes back, Teuscher says.

ANOTHER VIEW OF ADAMS' FISH. (DAVID TEUTSCHER, IDFG)

The largest trout ever caught in Idaho was a 37-pound Kamloops-strain rainbow from Lake Pend Oreille in 1947. The largest hybrid rainbow-cutthroat was a 24-pounder, also at LPO. The largest char was a 57 1/2-pound Mackinaw caught in 1951 at Priest Lake.

A Very Large Walleye Caught

Talk about the power of positive thinking: Wayne Heinz gave you tips for catching a state-record walleye in our March issue of Northwest Sportsman, and then last weekend nearly landed it himself.

In that issue, the Richland, Wash., writer interviewed fellow Tri-Cities anglers Mike Hepper — he of the standing state mark — and his friend Del Bareither about how they target trophy prespawn sows on the Columbia and its sloughs.

Even gave us their hot-spot map.

With its sources, Q&A format and Heinz’s unique writing style — he won first place for magazine hunting stories in the regional writers association’s awards banquet earlier this month — it’s easily one of my favorite articles of the year.

WAYNE HEINZ AND HIS TROPHY WALLEYE. (WAYNE HEINZ)

Since then, the region’s experienced late winter, late-late winter and, for good measure, late-late-late winter. Temperatures have been 5 to 6 degrees below normal, retarding the spring Chinook run, and Heinz says the big river itself is just 54 degrees out in the middle … not too far off the prime range for walleye to start thinking about shacking up.

So last Friday afternoon, after working on another story for an upcoming issue of Northwest Sportsman, Heinz thought he’d try his hand at landing a whopper.

“Why? I really thought I could do it,” says the author of How to Catch Salmon, Sturgeon, Lingcod, Rockfish, and Halibut Along the Pacific Coast.

Up to this point, the biggest walleye he’s ever landed went 12 pounds.

He dunked his boat in and headed for a backwater not far below the mouth of the Snake River.

After last week’s much-needed sunshine, the water temperature in shallow, rocky-bottomed Casey Slough was around the 70-degree mark, and Heinz thought he’d start out catching some smallmouth. They’ve been fishing well, though the local rivers are all in flood mode.

He picked up his “wimpy spinning rod” loaded with 6-pound line, a 1/4-ounce jig with 5-inch black-with-red-flake curl-tail worm and cast onto a murky reef that’s about 100 feet offshore.

Reeled in, cast again, and dagnabit if he wasn’t snagged up just like that.

Some days are like that.

But this is also the McNary Pool, home to some very, very large walleye. Heinz points out he was fishing just a mile from where Hepper caught his 19.3-pounder back in February 2007, and in that March issue he reported that in January Hepper had landed an 18.3 and Bareither a 17.4 in the reservoir.

“You keep your rod tight, just in case,” he says.

Indeed, head shakes told him he wasn’t latched onto a sodden log or the Ice Harbor Member of the Saddle Mountains Basalt flow, rather something alive. And big.

“Once I saw him, the sweat poured off my brow,” Heinz recalls.

Except for another boat a couple hundred yards off, he was all alone.

“My partner cancelled out,” he says.

The large fish twisted and torqued his bass rod, diving underneath his own craft three times before he could net it.

“I missed him twice,” Heinz says.

So there he was standing at the gunnel with an undersized aluminum net needing some sort of divine piscine intervention.

“‘Fish gods, make him dive into this net,'” Heinz says he said. “Sure enough he goes into it.”

But the walleye was so heavy that he worried the net handle would have broken had he tried to lift the fish out of the water.

So Heinz reached down and grabbed both sides of the net, as if he were bringing a crab pot aboard, and yarded the monster into the boat.

“It’s all belly. I’d say it’s a 13- or 14-pound walleye with 4 or 5 pounds of eggs,” he says.

He says it taped out at 34 1/2 inches long and 21 1/2 inches around. Online weight calculators yield a host of figures all the way up to just south of 20 pounds, and his scale rang it up as 19.6 pounds — three-tenths of a pound above Hepper’s.

“At that point I thought I had the state record,” Heinz recalls. “That was it, I was done, I gotta get to Safeway as fast as I can.”

He quickly adds that he didn’t have much faith in his Berkley scale, though.

The nearby boat had a Rapala scale, and on it the fish went 18.4, he says.

The final weight on an Albertson’s scale was 18 pounds, 4 ounces, Heinz says.

We’ll never know how big the walleye really was the moment it came aboard.

“It milked eggs and bled all over the boat,” he says.

But it may have been the biggest in the region of the year.

“I’ve heard of the occasional 13- to 15-pound fish,” says Jason Bauer of Northwestwalleye.com, “but have not heard of anything close to 18 this year. Lots of rumors were swirling around a Moses Lake fish, but that was debunked weeks ago.”

It seems odd that a hen would be carrying its eggs so “late” in the season, but Heinz points back to the cold water out in the mainstem. Perhaps river temps had risen enough to trigger the fish to move shallow and spawn.

And perhaps if he’d had company, things would have turned out differently, but alone and excited about his bleeding catch, he thumped the fish.

“Looking back, I regret killing it,” Heinz notes. “There’s no glory in runner-up.”

But it does add to the glory of Northwest walleye fishing.

“It shows the fishery we have — it’s world class. Nowhere else can you do this. Nobody is going to match Columbia River walleye fishing,” he says.

Dunge-zilla

Come back from a fishing trip and you never know what will show up in your email’s pot — take Dunge-zilla, the crab caught earlier this summer near Sequim Bay by Steve McCully.

The McLeary, Wash., man, who just signed up for a subscription to Northwest Sportsman magazine, forwarded me a shot of a crab that weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces after he cooked it for dinner.

STEVE McCULLY'S MONSTER DUNGENESS, WHICH HE SAYS WEIGHED 4 POUNDS, 10 OUNCES AFTER COOKING. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Was it a state record?

“We’ve got them up to 200 pounds … just kidding,” says Rich Childers, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s statewide shellfish manager.

As far as he knows no such mark exists in Washington, but he allows that McCully’s Dungie is large.

“Yeah, that’s a good-sized crab he’s got there,” Childers said this morning while looking at a jpeg of it at his Hood Canal office. “That’s probably a 9-, 91/2-inch crab.”

The minimum size for keepers in that area is 61/4 inches across the width of the carapace.

Childers says biologists see quite a few 71/2- and 81/2-inchers, less above 9 and the occasional 10.

“Rarely you’ll get one that goes 101/2 inches,” he says.

For McCully, there really was never a question that the crab easily met the size limit. In fact, they all did that day.

“I’d think the average crab I got from that pot that day was 21/2 pounds,” he says.

He weighed the big boy on a scale he uses to make sausages.

“Sixty-two years old and it’s the biggest Dungeness I’ve ever seen. I was just looking to cook him up and eat him,” he says.

McCully describes himself as semi-retired and will be heading out into Washington’s now-wetted woods for tomorrow’s bow deer opener, hoping to come home with the fixin’s for venison summer sausage.

But right now the focus is on one hell of a crab cake.

“Sure was a great meal!” he adds.

SnoCo Angler Lands 76-pd. Kenai King

The fishing hole wasn’t paying off and the guide was getting antsy.

“‘Let’s reel in and go to a different spot, this spot sucks,'” John Nordin of Lake Stevens, Wash., recalls him saying while fishing on the Kenai River in mid-July.

So Nordin, who runs an investment company, began bringing in his K-16 with a sardine wrap.

But he didn’t get far.

Ten cranks in and something big grabbed the plug.

Something way, way, way bigger than any of the salmon Nordin had previously fought on the Snohomish, or the 33-pound king he once landed at Sekiu.

It took him 30 minutes and a half mile of water to wrestle the huge fish to the boat.

“That fish kicked my butt,” he told the Lake Stevens Journal. “My heart was pumping so hard, I didn’t want to loose it. I was drained at the end, I couldn’t believe it. I did everything my guide said to do.”

JOHN NORDIN'S MONSTER KENAI KING. (JOHN NORDIN)

He was fishing with Fenton Brothers Guided Sportfishing.

Once the king was in the boat, he had it weighed on a riverside scale. It pegged the monster at 76 pounds, he says.

It also was 53 1/2 inches long and 34 inches around.

“They say it was the biggest this year,” says Nordin.

He attributes the hookup to “a little extra wiggle” in the plug as he reeled it in.

A taxidermist took the skin for a mount.

It was Nordin’s first trip up north, a weeklong fishfest that also saw he and former classmates of his from Lake Stevens High School catch sockeye until their arms ached, lots of rainbows and several other large Kenai kings.

But none the size of Nordin’s.

“It sets the bar for the guys to beat next year,” he says.

Yeah, we’d say so!

Possible World Record Koke Landed At Wallowa

A truly humongous kokanee weighing at least 9 pounds, 7.8 ounces was landed at Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Lake yesterday, nearly 2 ounces more than the standing world record and almost 11 ounces heavier than the new state record set just last month.

Ron Campbell of Pendleton, Ore., landed the fish while trolling just after daybreak.

“This one here, it tore me up. Pound for pound on light tackle, that was a thrill … That was a handful,” he says this morning.

RON CAMPBELL AND HIS HUGE KOKANEE, CAUGHT AT WALLOWA LAKE JUNE 14, 2010. (RON CAMPBELL)

Also tearing him up, his phone, ringing in with calls from tackle manufacturers, taxidermists, TV shows and reporters. The standing world record is a 9-pound, 6-ounce kokanee, caught by Norm Kuhn in June 1988 at Lake Okanagan, British Columbia.

“It’s not certified, but it’s going to be the new world record,” says Campbell, hard at work this morning figuring out the forms to make it all official.

A private fire investigator who works across the West and Hawai’i, Campbell did not reveal the exact setup that landed the fish.

“It was pretty standard gear that I was using,” he says. “I think the fish could have been caught on anything — Wedding Rings, Apexes, hoochies. There’s no big secrets on this one.”

Secrets or not, kokanee gear makers have been filling the pages of Northwest Sportsman with advertisements linking their tackle with the unusual number of record fish to come out of Wallowa over the past year.

Last July, Jerry Logosz caught a 7-pound, 1-ouncer on a red Apex Kokanee Killer behind a Shasta Tackle Sling Blade Dodger which Gene Thiel topped with a 7-pound, 8-ounce koke jigged up in February.

Wan Teece bumped Thiel off with her 8.23-pounder caught in March on a Mack’s Lure Wedding Ring Double Whammy Kokanee Pro tipped with maggots.

Then that fish was aced out by Bob Both‘s 8-pound, 13-ouncer in May. Both’s bit a Wedding Ring/Smile Blade/corn/Bolo Blade setup.

Interestingly, Ron Campbell’s brother, Larry, of Cove, Ore., previously owned the state record for kokanee with a 5.19-pounder caught at Wallowa back in 2000.

Both bros were on the water yesterday too.

“I cruised past him and said, ‘Well, there’s your new record,'” recalls Ron. “He goes, ‘Holy …”

RON CAMPBELL, LAKESIDE WITH HIS RECORD KOKANEE. (RON CAMPBELL)

But catching the 27-plus-inch-long fish so early meant the local grocery stores and their state-certified scales were still buttoned up for a couple hours.

When Campbell did get the fish into Safeway in Enterprise and the Joseph Family Foods, he got conflicting weights.

However, 9 pounds, 7.8 ounces is actually the lighter of the two marks, according to state fisheries biologist Bill Knox. The higher was somewhere around 9 pounds, 10 ounces, he believes.

Knox was outside Sunday morning when he got the news.

“I was mowing my lawn when someone came and hollered at me, ‘Some folks are looking for you!” he says.

He still doesn’t want to be pinned down on whether Wallowa’s kokanee are as big as they’re gonna get.

“I don’t know if it’s over yet. (Ron Campbell) claims he had a bigger one on the week before, but lost it,” Knox says.

Campbell says that in recent weeks he’s landed a 7-3 and several in the 5-pound range.

He’s aiming higher too.

“Oh, yeah, I’ll be right back up there. I don’t know where the peak’s going to come at Wallowa. Only time will tell,” he says. “Who knows — that’s the thing about records.”

One thing he does know, though, is that while landlocked sockeye are notoriously light-jawed, Wallowa’s monsters are real battlers.

“If you’re gonna land that record, you gotta have good gear,” he advises.

Knox says that overall fishing remains “fairly slow,” but that smaller fish are beginning to show up in the creel. He terms that a “good thing.”

“Big fish are an indicator of low abundance. On top of whatever else is going on to produce big fish, seeing some small fish in decent numbers is a better sign in terms of it makes me less concerned we’re about to crash,” he says.

A sonar survey last summer revealed something on the order of 260,000 young kokanee in the lake, up nearly 400 percent from the previous year.

We wrote about the fishery, management issues and things to do in the region in our May issue.

Freak Show Rolls On: Near-9-pd Koke

Look up “serendipity” today and you might see a pic of Northwest Sportsman magazine next to the listing. With our May issue all about the kokanee of Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Lake, the water promptly put out another state record for us.

NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN'S MAY ISSUE FOCUSES ON WALLOWA LAKE AND ITS KOKANEE.

True, you’ll also probably find us next to the definition for “blind-ass luck,” but the latest beast is an 8-pound, 13-ouncer, caught Saturday by Bob Both of nearby Lostine.

BOB BOTH AND THE NEW STATE RECORD KOKANEE. (BOB BOTH)

“It was impressive,” says Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist Bill Knox who stopped by the Joseph Sports Corral to see it. “It was big and deep, and thick from side to side.”

He says the final paperwork is still to come in, but it will be the next state record.

Eagle-eyed Joel Shangle of Northwest Wild Country Radio alerted us after Both posted a bit about the kokanee and his setup on Ifish:

… It was an 8.85 pound fish that had a length of 26 inches and a girth of 17 1/4 inches. I caught the fish on a green and red wedding ring with a silver smile blade and shoepeg corn. I was also using a Luhr Jensen Bolo and was fishing 18-20 feet deep in 23 feet of water.

The fish put up a good fight, going airborne four times, according to Both’s tale. An on-the-water digital scale reading said 8.14 pounds, but he took the fish to town for an official score.

It’s the third new record of 2010 and 7th in a spectacular record-wrecking run that began in 1999.

“I don’t know if this will be the last one,” says Knox.

In fact, Both, who retired from the U.S. Forest Service’s Enterprise fire crew three years ago and hit the lake very hard last year, doesn’t expect it to last long.

“It’s a record for now,” he said when reached at home this afternoon.

Previous high marks included Wan Teece and her 8.23-pounder caught in March, Gene Thiel and his 7-pound, 8-ounce koke caught in February and Jerry Logosz and his 7-pound, 1-ouncer caught last July.

BOTH'S KOKE IS A HALF POUND HEAVIER THAN THE PREVIOUS RECORD, AN 8.23-POUNDER CAUGHT IN MARCH BY ANOTHER LOCAL ANGLER. (BOB BOTH)

Both says he has frozen the koke and will send it to a taxidermist in Minnesota to have it mounted.

Knox reports that Wallowa is still pretty cold — 42 degrees on top — and that we’re still on the early side of the good fishing period.

“The fishing’s actually quite slow,” says Knox, “but quite a bit of what they’re catching are big fish.”

Both, however, has got it dialed in with his Wedding Ring/Smile Blade/corn/Bolo Blade setup, limiting last Friday with five fish that weighed a total of 20.21 pounds and five more out of the lake today, the biggest of which was 22 inches.

Once you find fish, stay on them, Both tips.

So far this year, he says he’s caught 83 over 16 inches, but he doesn’t consider himself to be a trophy angler.

“I don’t go up there to catch a record,” Both says. “I go up there to catch them, and smoke and can them. I make a pretty mean kokanee dip.”

That said, his catch edges even closer to the standing world record, 9 pounds, 6 ounces from Lake Okanagan, in British Columbia.

Knox isn’t willing to comment on whether that mark will be broken, but there’s more than the usual crowd interested in Wallowa.

“When they’re catching fish that size that early in the year,” says Gary Miralles, a kokanee tackle maker we spoke to for our May issue, “the fish are going to gain weight in April, May, June, even July. There’s no doubt in my mind there’s one over 9 pounds. I wouldn’t doubt if a new world record came out of there … I think whoever has the biggest fish by July wins. I plan on spending some time up there myself in June and July.”

True Barn Door Caught In Straits

An estimated 225-pound halibut was landed in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca Saturday by Woodinville, Wash., angler Ryley Fee.

RYLEY FEE (LEFT) AND HIS ESTIMATED 225-POUND HALIBUT. (COURTESY RYLEY FEE)

According to his Facebook page, the 75-inch-long fish yielded over 130 pounds of fillet.

Fee credits the team of anglers he was with on the water west of Port Townsend and north of Discovery Bay. He describes the bite and fight on Piscatorialpursuits:

“We picked this fish up on a mound northwest McCurdy Pt. between Dallas and the Yellow can in 180 F.O.W. Fish bit a Black Label herring with a Silver Horde 10 inch Splatterback Hoochie skirt over the herring, 125# test leader off a spreader.

FEE AND FISH. (COURTESY RYLEY FEE)

“That’s probably the biggest one I’ve heard of caught so far,” says WDFW’s Larry Bennett, a longtime catch sampler for the norther Olympic Peninsula.

He says a pair of 200-pounders were also brought back to John Wayne Marina as well this season, and on Saturday, Isaac Buell hauled in an unexpected 149-pounder to Port Townsend.

Bennett says Buell and a friend had actually been out lingcod fishing near Partridge Point, on Whidbey Island, when they hit that fish — plus a 49-pounder.

Fee’s fish is right up there with some of the larger halibut landed in the Strait in recent seasons. Bob Aunspach at Swain’s in Port Angeles, a store which holds an annual halibut derby, says he’s seen fish from 150 pounds up to 220 to 230 pounds in the back half of this decade.

“Sure is a big fish,” adds Ron Garner, a local big-but catcher. “There are some big barn doors out there.”

The state record is a 288-pounder caught at Swiftsure Bank, at the west end of the Strait by Vic Stevens in September 1989.

By all accounts, halibut fishing in the Straits is pretty good so far this year.

“Probably the best I’ve ever seen – ever,” Aunspach says. “Good numbers — a lot in that 50-and-under range. Some really big catches.”

Adds Lori Peterson, a WDFW catch sampling manager, “We’re averaging a fish a boat in Area 6.”

According to Bennett, 952 anglers in 452 boats caught 415 halibut in three days of sampling at five different ramps. Friday saw some of the best catches — 147 flatties for 258 anglers aboard 116 boats that docked at Ediz Hook, he says.

“A lot of fish in the 20- to 25-pound range — that’s probably average,” he says.

Last week’s tides were very good for fishing — minimal movement — but a daytime minus tide might make it tough this weekend, Bennett says.

While the catches are good, he says something else is going on: “We’ve got everyone and his brother out there — that’s kind of panic fishing.”

Last year, season was open 31 days, he says, this year only 13 days due to reduced quotas from Federal managers.

Halibut fishing in Area 6 is open May 1-May 22 Thursdays through Sundays, and May 28, 29 and 30, daily limit one.

Asked if we’ll see any more monster’s like Fee’s over the next three weekends, Garner responds, “I think so.”

His cell phone’s voice message indicates he just might be on the water those weekends too.

Fee will have more on his catch later this week.

Over on the Pacific, Terry Wiest of SalmonUniversity says that the halibut there seem to be “noticeably smaller” this year. He and a friend did find a pair in the upper 20s to low 30s this past weekend out of Westport.

A PAIR OF 100-POUND-PLUS HALIBUT FOR CONNIE AKERILL AND JERRY, FISHING WITH PACIFIC SALMON CHARTERS. (MARK AKERILL)

For an interesting recounting of the weather-delayed opening day of season out of Ilwaco, check out Scott Sandsberry’s article

EDITOR’S NOTE: AN EARLY VERSION OF THIS STORY SAID THAT FEE HAD CAUGHT THE FISH YESTERDAY, SUNDAY, MAY 9. THAT WAS INCORRECT; HE CAUGHT IT THE DAY BEFORE, MAY 8.

Another Record Koke At Wallowa

Two days before Wan Teece of Enterprise, Ore., caught what might be a U.S. record kokanee — a whopping 8.23-pounder, and it’s only March! — I was on the phone with Bill Knox, the state fisheries biologist for Wallowa Lake, talking about the previous state record.

Gene Thiel’s 7-pound 8-ounce, 25-incher, landed Feb. 10 while jigging from a canoe in what are described as “icy conditions,” trumped Jerry Logosz’s July 2009 7-pound, 1-ouncer.

WAN TEECE AND HER NEW OREGON STATE-RECORD KOKANEE. (JACK TEECE, ALPINE EXPOSURES)

“There could be some more large ones caught this year,” Knox allowed. “I just don’t expect a lot of them.”

He pointed out that with salmon — which kokanee, or landlocked sockeye, are, of course — some spawn and die when they’re 4 years old, some when they’re 5 years old and a few when they’re 6 years old.

The longer they’re at sea, err, in Wallowa Lake, the bigger they get.

The fish in the big, deep Northeast Oregon water have benefited from the introduction of mysis shrimp, Knox adds, but that was back in the 1960s.

A more current factor may have been a weak year-class a few seasons back. Knox says that led to lower catch rates last year.

“But it translated to pounds per hour that wouldn’t have been all that different,” he says.

One guy who can tell you all about that is guide Mark Moncrief of Tri-state Outfitters. When I fished with him late last summer, he’d caught 152 20-plus-inch kokanee — twice as many as his previous record.

He’s still at it too. I emailed him after getting word of Thiel’s catch.

“Yes, there was one caught by a guy up here a few days ago that was 7.52 pounds and only 23 inches long,” Moncrief wrote. “Looked like a football. We have caught 34 kokes 20 inches or better already, but it is real spotty on the fishing so far. My son and  I did have one rare day where we boated 32 kokes in four hours of fishing and kept our 10-fish limit. The smallest one was 21 inches, the biggest one was 26 inches and 6 1/2 pounds.”

MID-FEBRUARY KOKANEE FROM WALLOWA LAKE. MID-FEBRUARY! (MARK MONCRIEF, TRI-STATE OUTFITTERS)

One thing that Moncrief told me is that he’s found minnows in the tummies of kokes he’s caught.

Who knows how many more of these monster kokes are in the lake, but with Teece’s fish, the state record has been broken six times at Wallowa since 1999.

She was out March 24 with her husband, Jack, trolling near the middle of the lake with a Jack Lloyd blade set-up dragging a Double-Whammy lure with 2 ounces of lead to keep it down deep.

WAN TEECE. (JACK TEECE, ALPINE EXPOSURES)

The fish was 26.25 inches long with a girth of 16 inches. Knox believes it may be a U.S. record for landlocked sockeye; the world record is a 9-pound, 6-ounce koke caught in B.C.’s Lake Okanagan.

With the catch, Knox expects even more interest in this popular fishery in coming months. Anglers annually spend 20,000-30,000 hours fishing for kokanee here, his agency reports.

In the meantime, last summer’s sonar surveys showed a good year-class coming on line for future seasons.

“There were a lot more fish than the summer before. We saw a big increase in young-of-the-year fish, but it will be a few years before they enter the fishery,” Knox says.

We’ll have more on Wallowa, its kokanee fishery and its mysteries in our May issue.

A Very Large Walleye, Or Two?

Late last Friday afternoon, just after I left the office, I got emails from two guys in the walleye world wondering if I’d heard of a very large, potential Washington state-record walleye landed the day before.

I have to admit that I didn’t read those emails until coming back to the office yesterday, but it immediately set off red-alert alarm bells at HQ.

Ms. Piggy, you’re on next!

(And what timing too, especially with where and how to catch whopper walleye articles in the Columbia system in our February issue!!)

With the standing state record at 19.3 pounds, I began dialing frantically. Biologists, enforcement officers, the state capitol — surely someone official must have weighed something somewhere sometime!!!

Twenty-four hours later and, well, I don’t have any definitive proof that a 20-plus was landed … because the person who says he caught it, Kurt Sonderman, turned it loose instead of having it officially weighed in.

Incon-@#$@%#$-ceivable.

Or is it?

Goes with this guy’s character. He’s said to be “real adamant about releasing big fish.” Thems the breeding stock, after all. Even has told folks on his boat they were only photographing the big girls, then letting them go.

I didn’t speak to Sonderman directly (have only managed to get in touch with him a couple times in my years in this biz), but Leroy Ledeboer did reach him somewhere way down in the Blue Mountains, where he goes to get the hell away from it all.

The catch, he told Leroy, was witnessed by friends fishing nearby.

“He said if he’d been alone, (news of the catch) wouldn’t have gotten out there,” Leroy tells me.

Rumors grew.

Indeed, a lot of things are unclear about this whole escapade, starting with whether photos were taken, the accuracy of whatever scale the fish was weighed on, whether length and girth measurements were taken (which we could then plug into standard fish-size calculators), etc.

I don’t think Sonderman would bullshit Leroy. I’m tempted to believe he let her go because of how he feels about large fish.

But at the end of the day, we’re left with someone’s word that the very large walleye they hooked was over 20 pounds.

Or two were.

As his story goes, his wife had an even bigger one, but it got loose at the boat.

So he’s not really too willing to attract attention to his Tri-Cities-area honey hole.

Till he catches the she-piggy.

And bonks it.