2017-10-12 / Columns

Outdoors This Week in the Eastern U.P.

By Stephen King

We are now in mid-fall, which means hunting is near its peak. Game animals are plentiful. There are ducks and geese and grouse and snowshoe hare for gun hunters, and deer for bow hunters. And don’t forget the fish.

When I was a kid, this was my time of year. I grew up in a culture that was all about hunting, and it was not about sport. As a kid, it was about putting food on the table. Hunting is where we got most of the meat we ate.

I was learning about hunting at a very young age. One of the most important lessons was how to track critters. I learned how to track just about everything that moves, from fish to birds to bunnies to deer. If it was out and about in the woods, I could follow it.

Right here, I sense some readers smirking, “How can he track a fish?” The answer is that you watch them. This time of year, there is a good fall run of steelhead and maybe even the stray salmon. Chances are they aren’t up in the cedars yet. On a stream, quite often, as you move, you spook the fish. How you follow them is to watch the water. You look at the stream and figure out about how far up or down they’ve moved. Sometimes, you can even hear the splash as they take off before you can even see them, which is why you not only have to look carefully in the woods, you have to listen.

For steelhead, what I have always done was to figure out about where they ended up. I knew about where they started. From there, I would look for a likely undercut or a log jam or some other structure. Then, I would leave them be for a bit and give them a few minutes to calm down. Chasing them is not a good idea because they are programmed to run from things that chase them.

After awhile, come back to about where you figure they ended up and give it a try, and, to quote Elmer Fudd, “Be vwery vwery gwiet.” Quite often, you can actually spot them, maybe just a tail waving in the water or, on small stream, sand kicked up from a shallow undercut for no apparent reason.

Use some type of lure. Personally, I like the flat fish, and bright orange seems to work the best. But, I have also had good luck with red ones and white ones with a red head.

What you are trying to do is tick them off. When I spotted the sand swirling from an undercut, dropped my lure on the top end and let it drift back into the hole. The action of the running water was enough to make the flat fish wiggle. A few minutes later, the trout came out and made the first pass at my lure, but missed. One night I had a fish miss a lure five or six times and I was about to look for a set of bifocals for it. But persistence paid off and I ended up landing about a five pounder.

As I have mentioned before, tip the spinners. Bare, they are just fluttery pieces of shiny metal. With a bit of this or that attached, they are fish catching pieces of tastiness. And feel free to experiment. I once took the fat from a piece of smoked fish I’d been nibbling on and rubbed it on a lure. A fish hit it immediately. I thought had just found the best fish attractant ever, but that only worked once.

Steelhead also hit on other things, and fresh spawn always seems to work the best. But fresh spawn can be hard to come by because you have to catch a fish to get it.

Another lure I have had good luck with on river trout are spinners. You can go with the brand names, if you like, but the lookalikes seem to work about the same.

As the hunting season goes on, I will write more about tracking. This is one of the more important aspects of hunting. What it comes down to is that you have to think like the thing you are following. If you are chasing a deer, think like a deer. If you are following a flushed partridge, think like a pat. And, if you are following a fish, think like a fish.

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