Waiting for the freeze: Ice fishing season is coming up fast

17719872 - man ice fishing on a frozen canadian lake.For some, fishing is just more fun when the water is solid. Freeze-up hasn’t yet settled on much of the west, but we’re eagerly waiting for ice fishing to begin. Here’s what you should know before you go!

Play it safe. The age-old warning of “walking on thin ice” is very literal here. Don’t do it! Instead, do your research and call ahead to local bait shops or outfitters before setting out to make sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight. A typical rule of thumb is that 4 inches of hard, non-slushy ice should be enough to support people traveling on-foot. If you have less ice than that, stay off. Surface ice is rarely of uniform thickness, so be sure to test the cover before you with an ice chisel, spud bar or long-bit cordless drill.

Dress for the elements. This is a winter activity, so you need to come prepared for the occasion. Dress warm with a layering strategy, and don’t forget to bundle up your feet and hands. Get yourself a set of cleats that you can wear over your boots for extra traction and strap on a PFD or float suit for safety’s sake.

Gear up. The equipment is a little different this time around. Maybe the most obvious piece of equipment here is an auger to get through the ice. You can go with a hand, electric or gas-powered auger, all of which have their pros and cons. Once you’ve got a hole punched, you’re going to need something to fish with. Your open-water gear probably isn’t going to cut it. Ice fishing rods are much shorter, as you don’t have to cast, and the reduced length helps maneuver around the ice hole. Bring yourself a bucket or chair to sit on and, if you so choose, pack along a shelter to make the experience that much more comfortable.

Fishing is a true four-season sport for those hardy enough to face the cold. If you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro on the ice, the winter has a lot to offer for anglers of all stripes.

Donating game meat nourishes the stomach and the soul. Thank a hunter and eat a second helping of moose sloppy joes!

9769674 - wild deers in a forest in autumnHunters across the country walked softly through the field and sat quietly in stands and blinds. They sighted rifles, called to bucks, and if all went as planned, filled their tags and hauled out their kill. What came next was, for many hunters, an act of charity.

An increasing number of outdoorsmen are opting to donate game meat to feed the less fortunate. According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, an advocacy group that targets hunting and angling, about 2.8 million pounds of meat were donated in 2010 alone to programs that supply food pantries and soup kitchens. Last year in Virginia, a group known as Virginia Hunters for the Hungry accepted donations from more than 7,000 hunters to provide a total of 283,198 pounds of meat to food banks. Hunters for the Hungry can be found in other states too, where they accept meat from their respective game animals. The Maine chapter of the group takes meat from bear and moose, which makes its way into dishes like “moose sloppy joes and bear corned beef’” served up for the state’s hungry. And in Utah, volunteers working with a Catholic charity and the national Hunt.Fish.Feed. campaign have served up more than 16,000 meals to homeless residents of Salt Lake City, making a specialty of venison tacos sourced from local mule deer.

The time we spend outdoors is food for the soul, but it also provides a much more tangible nourishment to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. That’s a sporting tradition we can all be proud of!

Rifle vs. Bow: When you head into the field, which are you taking?

22819588 - full hunter hunting rifleWhen you’re on the hunt for big game, you need to have the right weapon to get the job done. So which is it — rifle or bow? To be sure, there are more options out there than just the big two, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll leave it at that. There’s no accounting for personal taste, but both means have their own perks — we’ve got a few right here to get you thinking about what you’re taking out to the field.

Drawing the bowstring. The bow has a kind of primal attraction that many find irresistible. And why not? The limited range of a bowhunt means you need to stalk your prey as closely as possible so as to take a shot and make a humane kill. Subsequently, their approach to the hunt is to walk softly and carry a big arrow. Unlike the blaze orange of a rifle hunter, the bowhunter can be seen — or not — in scent-free camoflauge attire. Of course, just getting in range of your target doesn’t mean you’ll hit it, which brings us to another point. Mastering the bow takes time and practice, and many will pick up the quiver as an added challenge after getting the rifle thoroughly under control.

Pulling the trigger. The bow might take an extra level of perfection, but that’s not to say that rifle hunting is easy. Still, the added range of a rifle gives hunters even more chances to take a shot at their prey. The rifle also typically has a cheaper cost of entry both in terms of money and time. Hunters who are strapped for either might find that appealing, as do those who prefer a nice tree stand over a prolonged hike through the rough.

This list is obviously far from exhaustive, as you also have to account for differences in season, tag availability and terrain. But even when we pull all the other factors into play, the choice still comes down to finding your own path and walking it. At the end of the day, that’s a big part of what this whole outdoors thing is all about — that and the camaraderie that only a deer camp can bring. So, now that we’ve described them both, we want to know whether you’re packing the rifle or the bow?

 

 

Always looking to that next hill: Field roundup for the Western hunting season

8342802 - rifle hunter in sunsetThroughout much of the American West, backcountry visitors can make out the twang of a bowstring and the crack of a rifle — hunting season is well upon us!

As with many years, this season appears to have its ups and downs, both in terms of geographical distribution and in species numbers. And, as usual, weather patterns and natural phenomena such as wildfires have varying effects on game. All in all, it looks like a very solid year to be out in the field, though it appears parts of the West have seen some similar trends. That includes a harsh season last winter that cut down fawn survival rates in many places. Drought conditions in much of the region have also impacted deer, elk, waterfowl and other game, though that seems a little more variable.

In Utah, the Division of Wildlife Resources is reporting that the northern reaches of the state were impacted by a “severe” winter that killed off a number of would-be yearling bucks. That said, DWR big game coordinator Justin Shannon said at the start of October that the rest of the state is looking good. The Salt Lake Tribune took that assessment even further to predict that “an excellent hunt” is in the cards for Utah deer hunters.

To the northwest, Washington numbers of deer and elk appear to be in mostly fair shape, though select populations have also struggled with a severe winter that has led to subsequent reductions in herd sizes. That said, state wildlife monitors say waterfowl hunting might make up the difference with strong populations and opportunities for hunters. Elsewhere in the region, Oregon’s season opened up with some restrictions to lands impacted by wildfire. Reports seem mixed as to just how strong deer numbers are, but there might be more consensus that elk populations are looking good. Hunters and other users of public lands are still advised to check ahead to see if their usual stomping grounds are subject to any restrictions.

Finally, in the Big Sky country of Montana, the rugged southeast is looking pretty nice across the board. Mule deer numbers have mostly been trending upward there since 2012, whitetails are holding steady, and elk remain strong as they have across the state. With hunting season in full swing, we’re always thinking about what lies over that next hill! Got any great hunting stories or photos for us? We want to hear ‘em, so post away in the comments section below!

Fall fishing can be underrated — here’s why we love it!

7221603 - fly fisherman on vermont lakeWhen the air gets crisp and the leaves start to change colors, many might turn their thoughts more to hunting than fishing. But why not go for both? Fishing through the fall is a great way to get more fish on the line while enjoying our rivers, streams and lakes at top form.

There are several reasons to want to get out on the water this season. For starters, the cooling water temperatures mean you’ll likely find active, hungry fish on the prowl for their next big meal in preparation for the lean times of winter. The fall season also brings on spawning runs (especially for brown trout and brook trout) which likely adds even more aggressiveness to the trout activity at your favorite stream or river. While the fish may be bustling, the fall season is great for those looking for solitude on land. Many anglers pack up early as summer wanes, and recreational boaters typically see Labor Day weekend as the end of their season. Thinning crowds on the water make for better odds within it! And finally, fall fishing also gives you the advantage of the natural beauty of the season. While most of your attention will be on the water, autumn foliage makes for an even more impressive setting!

So the next time you’re thinking about getting out for some cool-weather angling this season, just remember — we’ve got fish on the move and looking to eat, so putting Predator bait in front of them looks like a winning combination!

Population check: A scaly guide to fish stocking through the ages

19118296_S (1)If you’ve wet a line in a serious way anytime in the past 100-plus years, you’ve almost definitely encountered some stocked fish.

Fisheries have been providing fish for stocking in the U.S. since the late 1800s, and the practice has been ongoing since then. In the beginning, stocking was a relatively crude process — early efforts saw workers carrying fish to their new homes in milk cans or buckets, and it could take weeks or months to stock remote bodies of water. There was also little regard paid to what was getting stocked where. One of the earliest stocking exercises was the introduction of European brown trout into eastern U.S. waterways. While that gave local anglers a bigger, stronger fish to chase, it also displaced the native brook trout species in a major way.

Cut forward to the modern day, and things have changed dramatically — even as they’ve stayed the same. Stocking programs managed by most states can deposit hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fish each year, and the actual labor of getting fresh stock into the water has revolutionized with the rest of modern technology. High-altitude lakes in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are routinely stocked by helicopter drops of massive payloads of fry. Elsewhere in the country, including across the mountain west, that aerial method has been tweaked to include streaming young fish out of low-flying planes in a kind of crop-dusting (or maybe lake-dusting?) maneuver. A more conventional, low-altitude strategy involves a truck tank equipped to shoot fish into the water.

Even as the methods of getting fish to their destination have changed, so too have the fish themselves. Conservationists have long encouraged a return to native species, which has led to deliberate kill-offs and replacements of introduced trout with their original counterparts. In Utah, wildlife officials are now preparing an attempt to reestablish Bonneville cutthroat trout with those very methods. And while some areas are going for a natural throwback, other are embracing a kind of fishy modernity. Elsewhere in Utah, at Scofield Reservoir in Carbon County, the state Division of Wildlife took public opinion for nearly a year before releasing populations of sterile “Wiper,” a bass hybrid, as well as tiger muskie and triploid walleye.

Much like our sport, the methods by which we stock sport fish have changed considerably with the times — but also like our sport, they’ve kept the original spirit alive!

A steely outlook in Idaho? Ongoing steelhead run is disappointing, but other fish looking strong

24397658_SEvery year, Idaho anglers await the forecast for the summer run of steelhead. These fish are big, beloved ocean-going rainbow trout, and those in the Gem State know full well how fun they are to get on the line. Unfortunately, this year’s run has, so far, presented anglers with a bit of a dry spell.

The run as a whole is divided in two between A-run and B-run fish, a divide made up respectively of those steelhead that have spent only a year in the ocean versus those that spent two years in salt water. The A-run fish mostly came in throughout the past month and was largely disappointing for many anglers. The ongoing forecast of A-run fish returning to their homewaters is the lowest since 1998; the prediction for B-run is even worse, with some speculating a weak run could prompt fishing restrictions as the fish come in through about the next month. That isn’t without precedent this summer. In mid-August, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game set a catch-and-release only rule for steelhead.

So what’s the deal? Wildlife experts chalk up the low numbers to a host of factors that affected the fish on their way out to sea, during their time in the big water, and on their return trip home. A little more specifically, the small fish encountered low water-levels on their voyage out, and once they made it to the ocean, they encountered unusually warm waters that killed off their preferred food source.

That’s not to say the fishing has dried up in Idaho. Chinook salmon are reportedly looking healthy going into their own fall run, and for those looking for a little less salt in their rainbow, Fish and Game is releasing more than 12,000 hatchery trout during the month of September. With all those fish in the water, there’s no excuse to not get out there!

An iconic predator of the wild west could be up for the hunt in the next few years

40320888 - brown bear in natureAt Predator Bait, a combined love of hunting and fishing is in our western DNA. So we’ve been watching with some interest as a major case has unfolded around one of the most iconic, fish-eating, apex hunters of our region — the grizzly bear.

If you hadn’t heard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared earlier this summer that the grizzlies of Yellowstone National Park have made enough of a population rebound to warrant being removed from the service’s list of threatened species. Since then, the service has transferred to the state level the management of some 700 bears living in parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. That’s not to say the service will be completely detached from its former charges. While state wildlife agencies will handle the daily operations of managing these bears, the feds will still monitor operations and keep an eye on population counts with the option of placing grizzlies back under protection if their numbers dip too low.

Some environmental advocacy groups have already signaled an intent to sue to place the bears back under federal protection. Those suits are held off for now due to mandatory timelines set forth in the Endangered Species Act. In the meantime, the management plans laid out by the three states in question have caused speculation to swirl about possible grizzly hunts in the Yellowstone area. None of the states plan to hold a grizzly hunt this year, and any future hunts would likely be carefully scrutinized.

The grizzly bear is a powerful symbol of the west. It’s exciting to see these bears reestablish their foothold in the wild places of our country and it’ll be an interesting question in future years to see if we deem them eligible for the hunt.

Is Predator Bait in your tackle box?

25584286 - young man fishing from a boat at sunsetAs a fishing enthusiast, you spend hours every year honing your craft. Whether that means expanding your knowledge through reading, watching informational videos, or actually spending time at the river or lake, you want to see your hard work and dedication pay off. Unfortunately, if you don’t have the right kind of bait you can waste a significant amount of time just trying to get a bite, much the less make a catch.

Are you tired of using decoys, worms, or nightcrawlers? Consider adding Predator Bait to your tackle box. It’s real game meat processed to a floating dough bait that are shelf stable, floating, and moldable.

Why should you invest your hard-earned money in a new kind of bait? For one, we have put in the research and money to ensure the product works. After spending 25 years in the deer and elk processing industry, we witnessed thousands of pounds of game meat leave the plant and go to waste. What if we could use all of that extra game meat for one of our other passions? Fishing!

This gave rise to the idea of using real, wild game meat to produce high-quality fish bait. For nearly ten years we worked to perfect a formula. After testing dozens of recipes in a laboratory setting we found that fish are surprisingly similar to humans in that they eat what they like, and won’t touch what they don’t. Once we settled on a formula, we then tested it out in the wild. Again, we were pleased with the results.

Take your fishing game to the next level and give Predator Bait a try. You won’t be disappointed with the results.