To the Edge of America for Big Flat Fish

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 24, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

We needed a big adventure, so we signed up for one at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show in February.  We got one, and more.

Homey Kirk Johnson and I hooked up with Captain Don “Determined” Davenport for a run from Westport out to the edge of the Continental Shelf on his charter fishing boat, Ranger.  We would chase big flat fish—just for the halibut—with ling cod and sea bass thrown in for good measure..

Last Sunday morning, at 3:45, we and our new fishing family were aboard the Ranger, mulling the prospect of catching our limits of some of the best eating fish in the Pacific.

We cruised out of Grays Harbor and northwesterly into a breezy gray morning.  It was so choppy that the mere thought of a two plus hour ride to the halibut flats was stirring the stomachs of several of our new kin.  I had taken my Bonine, and managed to keep my stomach where it was supposed to be—for the moment, at least.  Homey Kirk had attached one of those magic patches right behind his ear; and his only concern seemed to be keeping his balance in the rollers.

Captain Don warned us that it would be a long and bumpy ride, but that the couple boats in front of us would keep us apprised of changing conditions.  The halibut and other denizens of the deep awaited us.  The trip out to the edge of America was all he promised.

By the time we reached our halibut flat, several of our compatriots had spent time hugging the aft lee railing.  As we focused on the halibut several hundred feet below us, though, the rocking of the Ranger became simply the rhythm of fishing.  We were a couple hundred yards from the edge of the Continental Shelf.

We quickly were into fish, and shifted from travel to the serious business of catching halibut.  A husband and wife team pulled in 30 and 37 pounders from the bow.  Each drift across the shelf brought another handful of 20 to 25 pound flatfish aboard.  Deckhands Blake and Jason were busy with bait and fish and tangled or snagged lines.  From time to time, someone would whoop over a nice halibut or a big ugly ling cod.  No matter how queasy a fisher felt or looked, any whoop would bring a smile and a sense that his or her rod would be soon controlled by some denizen more than a football field beneath us.  In a bit over an hour, we caught the final halibut of our limits.  Somewhere in there I caught the record small fish of the day (12 pounds or so), and took a short turn at that lee aft railing—my second offering of stomach contents in forty trips on big water.

As my innards settled, Captain Don pointed the Ranger toward his Rockfish and Ling Cod Reef.  It was still choppy, but the ocean grew quieter as the morning waned and we moved toward shore and the magic reef.

At the reef, in much quieter water, and from a fraction of our former depth, Kirk and I quickly landed a couple nice sea bass (black rockfish) and then another.  I was still pretty green around the gills, but that passed as we brought in a couple dozen more big bass over the next hour or so.  At one point, Kirk and I each tied into two five-pound plus fish, which agreed among themselves to tangle our lines.  Working together, we reeled in a scrappy twenty-pound mass of bass.

Homey and I failed to bring in lings, although several six to ten pound lings came aboard.  A couple fish pushing two feet in length, but still under legal size, were released.  Captain Don calls them “swimmers,” and they headed back into the deep with our wishes for growth and a future opportunity to play “fishing for ling cod.”

By this time, most everyone was warming to the brightening day and quieting water.  Hanging over the rail became more and more a distant memory, as fishing took the moment.  In an hour or so we filled our limits of rockfish.  In a couple decades of catching these sea bass, that time on the Captain’s reef was the best I had ever experienced; fast and hard biting, the fish were consistently bigger than I had seen before.

With limits of halibut and sea bass aboard, Cap was determined to make one last charge at lings.  A final stop at a secret ling cod honey hole looked promising, but the current and wind drift kept our tasty baits just out of the lings’ range of temptation.

We declared it a great adventure and successful day as the Captain fired up the motors and pointed us back toward Westport.  We examined and photographed fish as they came up for filleting by Deckhand Blake.  The newly made fish meat went into marked bags; halibut first, then sea bass and finally the lings.

We returned to the dock twelve hours after we left it.  Fisheries agents checked us out.  We thanked Captain Don and his crew, gathered our filets and stepped back onto terra firma.

Thus, we achieved our needed adventure and would do it again in a heartbeat.  Happy spring to you, too…

[Copyright James L. Huckabay, 2013]

Heirlooms, Firearms, Kids and Tomorrow

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 18, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Last weekend’s Friends of NRA banquet—supporting the NRA Foundation—was a big success, thank you.  Nationwide, in events like ours, the Foundation has raised a couple hundred million bucks over the last two decades for shooting programs and education.  Washington State has received the better part of three million in grants for dozens of programs.  The current byline of the Foundation is “Building America’s Shooting Sports generation one NRA Foundation grant at a time.”  Last Saturday, we did our part.

As much as I enjoy serving as master of ceremonies for banquets and other fund-raising events, such as Ducks Unlimited, Chukar Run and Forterra, it was very pleasant to simply attend and hang with homeys.  I liked being able to have an in-depth conversation about some of the issues with which we are all grappling these days.  I was struck by the talk of our kids, their shooting sports futures and the “heirloom” firearms—even the brand new ones in the room that night—we might leave them.

There were quite a few firearms in the auction and raffles, and several conversations in the room revolved around how this or that plinking firearm or hunting rifle or shotgun would be a perfect gift for a kid or grandkid coming up through organized safety training.

The whole thing got me thinking about my own heirloom firearms.  I have several, I guess; the sweet little Daly over-under I reclaimed with money The Old Man left me, One I bought for myself in 1963, and a couple from my Aunt Veva—one of which is known as “Van=s rifle.”

I heard about Van’s rifle in the late 40s.  I was eight, and already disappearing for hours, making arrows from long cedar shingles, and turning apple boxes into rabbit traps.  I was showing clear signs of squandering my life on the outdoors.  My mom’s oldest sister Veva watched with trepidation.

One day, she and Uncle Vic drove into East Wenatchee from their San Francisco home with an old Winchester single‑shot .22 rifle.  Made around the turn of the last century, it was the about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  The Old Man immediately enrolled me in an NRA shooting course.

Aunt Veva explained that this little rifle had belonged to her first husband, Van.  Since they had no kids, he would have wanted me to have it.  I was ALWAYS to handle it safely.  When I was grown, there was a “real” rifle I might receive.  “A very fine gun,” she said, “Van’s favorite.”  Her brother Kenneth had the rifle, since Aunt Veva didn’t want any guns around her house.

Uncle Kenneth was known as an exceptionally quiet man.  He had his reasons.  In 1941, Marine Pfc. Kenneth Davis was stationed at the American embassy in Peking.  180 Marines were surrounded by 40,000 Japanese troops.  Unable to evacuate China before Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, they became prisoners of war.  For 45 1/2 months, they were shuttled from prison camp to prison camp.  They worked the Manchurian coal mines for a watery millet soup, rice and fish heads.  My 170‑pound uncle weighed 100 pounds when he was liberated on September 12th, 1945.  He was a quiet guy, but I figured that after all he’d seen most things were just not worth talk.

But he loved to hunt, and he loved to talk about it with me.  I many times wondered why he ignored adults to talk to a silly boy who spent all his time afield.  I saw less of him as I became an adult, but when I did see him we could talk for days about the things outdoor people never tire of reliving.  That talk always came easily.

I lived with the little .22 rifle, collecting bulls-eyes on targets and rabbits in the brush.  My own kids learned to shoot with it.  In time, I forgot about Van’s rifle, still in my Uncle Kenneth’s care.

One morning in the ‘80s, my mother called me in Denver.  Kenneth was dying… Could we go to Franklin (Nebraska) to see him?

As weak as he was, Kenneth and I talked and talked.  This time, we talked more about Van.  Herman Van Temmon was a hunter, like us.  In 1938, he and a buddy were in the woods, out of San Francisco, shooting at pine cones with a new .22 automatic pistol.  Somehow, Van walked from behind a tree and into a bullet.  He told me Veva was devastated, but never blamed the guns.

Van’s rifle was a Remington Model 30, .30‑06—an early sporterized version of the 1917 Enfield.  In my uncle=s care for well over 50 years, it still looked new.  He handed me the rifle.  “I promised Veva…  And Van, too, I guess.  It’s been yours for a long time,” he said.  “Take it home.”

The safe pleasure of shooting sports and “heirloom” firearms with stories; these are fundamental parts of the outdoor heritage we leave our kids and grandkids, I think.


Stan and Goliath the Gobbler

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 11, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

No, I have not yet crossed paths with a wild turkey willing to give itself to my family’s sustenance.  Others, however, are having success, and sharing what they know.  To wit: the following note from Stan Wills of Crab Creek fame.

“Fellow Hunters…  I have been hunting a big turkey I named ‘Goliath’ for several years.

“Tonight he met his match.  Here is his story.  We are driving down the road where he hangs out. John yells ‘big Bird on the right!’ I look and it is ‘Goliath.’  I jump out and shoot.  ‘BOOM!!!’  I got him!  Then I wake up from the dream.  …Oops.

“In the waking world, the 2013 season of Turkey hunting has started.  The youth season was fantastic.  I took out Erin, a 12 year old girl, and her father.  She shot her first turkey.  It had a nine-inch beard. Everything was perfect.  The turkeys were everywhere and talking like crazy. We managed to get real close and she made a great shot.  I don’t know who was more excited, her or her Dad.

“John & Rick came over for the opener and we saw & heard lots of turkeys.  I called a big tom in for Rick and he missed. I called a big tom for John and he missed. Rick went home early with a sour taste in his mouth for missing—he could hardly wait to return.  John redeemed himself the next day with a double—he got two nice birds on his own as I could not hunt the evening hunt. Now it was my turn.

“I had watched the big tom roost the night before.  As I was heading back to the truck I heard several more toms gobble off in the distance.  One sounded bigger than the rest.  Before I got back to the truck at least 6 different toms had gobbled.  Tomorrow was going to be fun.

“I was up at 3:30 and out the door by 4:00 A.M.  It was colder than usual (10 degrees).  A storm was on the way and I needed to get this done before the snow, sleet, rain & wind blew in—typical for this time of year.  I pulled up and got out of the truck an hour before daylight.  I could already hear gobbles.  I eased thru the trees headed for a spot near the big tom of last night.  He was gobbling already.

“I slipped up against a tree, sat down, and waited for sunrise.  Except for the cold it was perfect; clear skies with lots of stars and turkeys gobbling in the distance.  Soon I heard the distinct sound of a bird flying down.  …Probably a hen.  Still too early for the toms to fly down—they are always the last.  15 Minutes later I heard him gobble—on the ground.  I waited a few more minutes before I started calling.  Turkeys are just like people, they have their morning routine and no matter what you do they won’t deviate from it.  When the time was right I gave a little “yelp.”  He gobbled right back.  I was ready.  I could hear putt’s from the hens, they were close.

“Then I heard a branch break, then another.  How big IS this turkey?  What is making that noise?  The turkeys went quiet…. Snap….  Snap…… Something was coming my way and it was BIG. Holy Sh…!  It was cow moose, followed right behind by her calf.  They walk within 5 yards of me.  I had never seen moose in this area before.  I had heard they were here, but really people I am hunting turkeys, not moose.  I watch as they disappear over the hill.  Back to reality, Stan.
“Quiet…  Nothing.  No putts, no gobbles.  The moose had busted my hunt.  I decided to stay put just in case.  I waited several minutes.  Softly, I hit the call with a yelp…nothing.  I tried a little louder and I got a response about 150 yards away.  This was a different bird.  I hit the call with ‘Yelp, putt, putt, putt,’  …Another Gobble.  He was coming.  For the next 10 minutes every time I hit the call he responded.  Soon I could see him.  He was the big Tom.  It was time to quit calling and make him find me.  I watched him disappear behind trees and small mounds for the next 15 minutes.  He was close, but not close enough.  John & Rick had both missed earlier by shooting too soon and not waiting for Tom to get close.  He was 50 yards away.  He disappeared again behind some weeds. Suddenly, there he is!  It is ‘Goliath.’ Holy Sh…!  Don’t choke now, Stan. My heart was racing.  Should I shoot or wait?  45 yards…  Wait.  40 yards…  Wait…  He stops. He looks up and GOBBLES!! Holy Sh… that was loud…  I can’t move.  Steady, Stan here he comes.  35 Yards…  He stops behind a tree. GOBBLE! GOBBLE!!  I slowly turn toward him.  He starts walking thru some brush and small trees… 30 Yards…  I have no shot…  A bug lands on nose.  God I need to scratch that.  25 Yards…  Still no clear shot.  He stops again.  Nothing… He is looking at something…  Is it me?  Don’t blow this, Stan… The bug flies away. thank God.  Goliath hasn’t moved.  Neither have I.  Here he comes again.  20 yards… He fans his tail.  He turns away from me.  I can shoot.  No!  Wait for him to turn, I tell myself.  He folds his fan back in and starts feeding with his head down, away from me.  Soon he is behind another tree.  15 yards…  I can’t believe how close he is.  He is huge.  Something catches his attention.  He looks my way.  He sees the sun reflect off my glasses.  It is now or never.  ‘BOOM!!!!’  13 yards…  Big Bird down…
“I get up and run to him.  I grab him by the neck and the saga of ‘Goliath’ has ended.  I get back to the truck, take a few pictures and head for the house just as a hail storm hits.  I had not even noticed the clouds roll in.  Goliath had a thick 9-inch beard, his spurs were just under an inch and he weighed 22 pounds.  It was worth the wait.  Stan”


Pieces of our Outdoor Heritage

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 4, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

You gotta love May.  You can scratch an outdoor itch with the wild turkeys that are still afield, a family hike most anywhere, or with fishing for anything from truck trout to smallmouth bass, walleye, salmon and halibut.  Engage in your fall hunting fantasies right on through the deadline for filing your special hunt permit applications (22 May)and on up to the drawings next month.  Mostly, though, May gets me thinking about our heritage.

There is no shortage of issues.  In several recent gatherings, Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association homeys have been formulating The Washington Outdoor Kids Bill of Rights, and looking at the inclusion of hunting and shooting traditions.  We’ve struggled over proposed and actual road closures, along with access to our public lands.  We consider the future implications of too much indoor activity, adults not standing up for protecting open and scenic lands and wildlife habitat, lack of shooting ranges and firearms safety training programs in schools.  These are just a few of the things impacting the recruitment of adults and children into active, long term outdoor lives.  This is important stuff.

For now, though, let’s talk about our shooting heritage and keeping kids safe around firearms; let’s talk about the NRA Foundation and its work.

You may know that the NRA Foundation is the largest charitable supporter of shooting sports in the US.  Since its inception in 1991, the foundation has raised and awarded 200 million dollars to more than 180 different NRA shooting sports programs.  These programs include training and educational opportunities, such as programs for youth education, law enforcement training, hunter education, conservation, firearms marksmanship training and safety, and range development.  The “Friends of the NRA” program was created specifically to provide a stable long-term funding source for important work outside NRA’s efforts in the political arena.

The NRA Foundation (a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization), through thousands of friend events, raises “tax-deductible contributions in support of a wide range of firearm-related public interest activities of the National Rifle Association of America and other organizations that defend and foster the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Americans. These activities are designed to promote firearms and hunting safety, to enhance marksmanship skills of those participating in the shooting sports, and to educate the general public about firearms in their historic, technological, and artistic context. Funds granted by The NRA Foundation benefit a variety of constituencies throughout the United States including children, youth, women, individuals with physical disabilities, gun collectors, law enforcement officers, hunters, and competitive shooters.”

To date, Washington State has received more than $2,700,000 for work on behalf of safe shooting and education for all ages.  That money went to 4-H programs, Boy Scouts, Junior ROTC, range repairs and upgrades and various safety programs in the state.  For example, 4-H received up to $10,000 for safety and shooting equipment and supplies for programs and competitions with pellet rifles, .22 target rifles, bows and black powder gear.  4-H programs involve boys and girls from third grade through high school in various shooting disciplines.

Over the past two decades, the foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $90,000,000 across the U.S.  Nearly twenty million was raised in well over a thousand Friends of NRA events last year.  Now it is our turn.

A week from tomorrow, our local Friends of the NRA banquet happens.  This banquet, in partnership with many others, will support ranges, equipment and safety training.  No more than half the money raised at friends’ events goes to meals and production costs, and 100% of net proceeds go to qualified local, state and national programs.  Last year alone, Washington State raised $480,000.  Half of that stayed in our state, and the rest went to help national programs such as Eddie Eagle (teaching firearm safety rules to youngsters), Y.E.S. (Youth Education Summit), and other educational and shooting programs.

Pick up your dinner and raffle tickets at Brothers in arms and Midstate Co-Op.  Dinner is $35 and the raffle tickets are $50 for three tickets—this raffle winner will receive five firearms and a 24-gun safe from the Grizzly Safe Company on West University Way.

When I was a kid, millions of us learned to respect and safely use and handle firearms in NRA certified shooting programs.  Today, the NRA Foundation=s money could help us build a safe and secure shooting and training facility here in Paradise.  We need the range and the training.  What would happen to firearm accidents and firearms violence if the safety and marksmanship programs were required of every kid in the United States?

For many, “NRA” still triggers a visceral—and largely inaccurate—response.  A time back, a colleague and I were talking about guns on campus.  She looked at me and said, “The NRA?  Oh, wow, I don’t know about them!”  After a moment, she said, “Oh, by the way.  Do you know where my daughter and I can learn to safely handle a handgun?”

It’s about our future, really.  Get your tickets and come play.



Written by Jim Huckabay on April 30, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Greetings and welcome to my “Inside the Outdoors” blog.
I started writing a weekly outdoor column in 1988, in Colorado, and have been making weekly entries in Central Washington–this place I call Paradise–since 1995.  My interests run the gamut from families and wildflowers to chasing big or small fish to shooting and hunting wherever and whenever it can happen.  Over the decades, among a thousand plus columns, I’ve written about ticks, birds, wolves, public access to our land (often managed by someone who thinks he or she owns it) and getting kids–our outdoor future–connected to the earth.  I love a good argument over firearms, feral cats, wild dogs, fishing rights and horn hunting.  And most anything else that gets outdoor blood boiling.
Some years ago, I started the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (RCRGWD&OTTBA).  Read these blog entries and agree to follow our by-laws (someday we’ll find them again) and you are a member in good standing.
Here is how I think this will work.  Each week, I will post my current tome. Then, agree or disagree, feel free to share your thoughts at the spot labeled “comments” on this page.
Again, welcome!  And thanks for coming to play…