A Last 2017 Salmon Hurrah

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 6, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

There are things one simply must do. Former homey Kirk Johnson and I scheduled a couple days of end-of-September fishing to the mouth of the Klickitat River. We’ve fished this section of the Columbia River a couple times in past falls, always catching some nice fish. Then, too, my best salmon ever was a 2001 fall fish I hooked with buddy Earl English. That day on the big river, at the mouth of the Wenatchee, a sure snag on a passing boat turned into a half-hour battle with a 47-inch long 40-pound king. Everything considered, Kirk and I decided that a couple fall days of fishing would be a step toward evening up some missed salmon trips over the eighteen months.

We would fish the Columbia River aboard a couple of the sleds Shane Magnuson operates in his Upper Columbia Guide Service (509-630-5433). Last Friday, we fished with Chinook Whisperer Cody, and on Saturday climbed onto Shane’s sled to celebrate his final 2017 day of fishing the Bonneville area of the big river, before moving up to the Hanford Reach. We’d never fished with Cody, but we were pretty sure that, if he was working for Shane, he knew his business. Anyhow, the way Kirk and I had it figured, you can’t beat time on a boat with a couple good friends for a great last hurrah for the 2017 salmon fishing.

Then, too, there is always that stuff about never missing at least one chance a year to fish with Shane. I’ve been fishing with the guy since he was a mere boy, working at Hooked on Toys in Wenatchee. During our first trip – catching lake trout (lakers or mackinaw) on Lake Chelan – the kid was in the midst of an inner debate about whether to accept a full-boat golf scholarship to the University of Arizona or follow his heart into the fishing business. We have a history.

Edward, last of the Hucklings, through many annual 3:30 a.m. “Shane” trips down the Icicle or onto the Columbia, practically grew up fishing with him. On one of those Icicle trips, Shane and Edward literally called each fish we caught moments before it took our bait or lure. That morning, we had our limits of Icicle Chinook and were off the river before 8. Edward, now a full-blown stuntman in LA (among other gigs, he doubles teenager Chip on Fox’s “The Mick”), still laughs about that morning and always sends regards to “Big Brother Shane.”

Over the twelve and more years, various friends and family members and I have caught dozens of lake trout and kokanees off one or another of Shane’s boats on Lake Chelan – and nearly as many salmon and steelhead on one or another river. Once, when he was tied up, he arranged a salmon chase on the Columbia for me and 13-year-old semi-adopted son Jonathan – Edward’s kid brother – with beer-drinking Blue-Pill Rick. Until I suggested he change the subject, Rick spent our early trolling time on the Columbia below Wells Dam bemoaning the fact that his wife would only allow him one-half a Viagra tablet at a time. We caught some nice fish, and Jonathan and I and his dad (my old buddy Jim) enjoyed some later educational and humorous conversations about that never to be forgotten trip. (Shane’s working relationship with Blue-Pill ended that day.) With a history like that, you just have to go hang out with Shane.

Thus, on Thursday a week ago, Kirk and I set up my pop-up tent camper at the Lewis and Clark RV Park near Bonneville Dam.

Friday at 6:15 a.m. we shook hands with King Whisperer Cody and climbed aboard his sled. We were quickly out onto the Bonneville Pool to share the salmon chase with a hundred or so of our new best friends, in boats of almost every size and description. Among the boats was one guide in a drift boat rowing-trolling for his two clients (apparently he’d planned a float down the Klickitat, but there were no fish there and this was Plan B). By 6:30 we were fishing. Former Homey Kirk was first into fish, quickly landing a shiny king. Shortly thereafter, I caught one. And so it went until we had our four fish, ranging from 20 to 20 pounds. (Drift boat guy was finding fish, too.) By 9:30, the three of us were having breakfast at the little mom and pop Café in town, talking life and fishing.

6:30 the next morning we scrambled aboard Shane’s sled for a fish chase just below Bonneville Dam. As we joined the flotilla – 20 or 30 other boats of eager fishers – the rain fell as expected. Undaunted, Shane dodged raindrops and other boats as we patiently worked the slow bite. Kirk had the warmest hand. While we lost a couple nice fish, we were only a fish or so short by late morning. In the on and off rain showers, we laughed and talked and caught up on our lives and fished. Wet or not, it was a fine day on the river.

By 1:30, we had the fish we came after and headed back toward a dry vehicle, and the take-down of a wet tent trailer. Shane went off to secure his boats and gear for his (by now) fishing the Hanford Reach, and Kirk and I headed for our homes.

We had a great couple days, and a terrific last hurrah for our 2017 salmon fishing. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to handle some last-minute prep for deer and elk hunting seasons.

You gotta love fall – and the abundant blessings of our outdoor life in Paradise.

About Fall, Real Food, and Medicine

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 29, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Ahh, fall… And the season of food and celebration begins. For the colder seasons ahead, we process and put up the fruits of our garden labor – and the healthful meat made from those animals which give themselves to the sustenance of our families and communities. And we indulge in conversations about meat and vegetables and fruits and raw vs. processed… and health.

Fascinating to me that, even with the changing diets and dietary habits of recent decades, we are still having familiar conversations about meat and food. The words and faces have changed a bit, but I still hear comments similar to the turn of the Century words of the woman too young to be worrying about such things. “Oh God,” she said, “Red meat is awful. It would make me fat and old and kill me.” At the time, my Native Alaskan friends just laughed and spoke of praying over food, turning it into “medicine” for the body. “Too many white people,” Athabasca John said, “have just forgotten to be thankful.”

This most always reminds me of the late Julia Child (“The Art of French Cooking”). I met her when I worked at Denver’s public TV station in the ‘60s; her goal was always to get people to eat wisely and well, and not to make “foolishness” of food. Last time I heard her speak – late in the last Century – she observed that “so many Americans place their panic and hysteria on food…a lot of people…are afraid to eat. They view the dinner table as a trap rather than a delight.”

I’ve been in this “real food” debate for a long time. What is food, anyhow? How does it become good for us? You will easily find study after study of the good things vegetables or fruit or fish or whatever will do for our bodies and health. Medical journals have published numerous studies suggesting that a positive attitude not only wards off illness, but may even make food better for us. My Yakama friend, “Bub” Mills, like my Native Alaskan guys reminds me that praying over food and water makes them “medicine,” and we must only be thankful for the plants and animals which honor us with the gifts of their flesh.

There’s the physical side of food, too. Decades ago, I studied Master Ohsawa’s macrobiotic and rice centered diet. I did several of his 10-day rice fasts, but clearly remember his very simple discussion of “food” and “not food:” If you chew it 50 times and there is no texture left in your mouth, it is not food. Period. (Most snack crackers become a smooth paste at six to ten chews. Veggies are food. Fruit is food. Meat is food. …Good chocolate melts smoothly across the tongue, but it isn’t food – everybody knows chocolate is a vitamin: Vitamin CH.)

Our family has a long tradition of gratitude – and prayer – for the food that sustains us. After my stepdad’s heart surgeries, he was pretty upset about the coming “special diet.” “Doggone it!” He complained to Mom, “They wanna take away all the stuff I really like!” Turned out that game meat was on the recommended list, as it was not only low in fat, but contributed to good cholesterol. “Hmm,” he confided to mom, “I guess they’re leaving me some real food.” Until his passing, I made sure they had game meat – real food – handy.

My oldest daughter has fought a long and amazingly successful battle with MS. She has done that on a diet of fresh vegetables and fruits and natural foods; “real” food, she called it. Early on she said, “What I mostly miss, Dad, is meat. The only kind I can have for my body is game meat or expensive buffalo. Do you ever have extra?” Duh… After that, we made sure she had a few deer and antelope additions to her diet. With her good prayer, that real food became medicine.

Julia Child never pushed fancy meals, just food prepared with fun and care; it was “small helpings, no seconds, a little bit of everything and always have a good time!”

The “good time,” may be the key. A couple decades ago, psychologist Paul Rozen and some of his grad students at the University of Pennsylvania interviewed over a thousand mostly French and American folks about food. He noted that the better French health (even with a much richer diet) may have a lot to do with state of mind; the French associated eating with pleasure, while Americans tended to associate it with health and nutrition and worry. Their work concluded that many Americans saw food as poison as much as nutrient: to a surprising number eating was almost as dangerous as not eating. It has long seemed to me that healthy folks just see food differently.

My all-time favorite story about food, attitude and health goes back to 1980. I was interviewing a 104 year-old woman for “Colorado Reflections,” my University of Colorado radio program about people who=d been living at the turn of the 20th century. Had she ever been sick? “Sure,” she said, “but I never took pills.” And the best food for her body? “White bread toast, hard fried bacon, and eggs fried in the bacon grease!” When I asked how she knew it was best for her, she looked at me as if I was from another planet. “Why, because I like it!”

I love the blessing of my game and fish and garden – good and joyful eating. Happy fall; our season of celebrating food.

A Date with Wyoming Deer and Antelope

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 22, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Homey Steve Kiesel and I headed out of Ellensburg, Washington, for our date with Wyoming antelope and deer Monday a week ago. We picked up Son James in Missoula, after his drive from the Boise area, and rolled into Sheridan, Wyoming, at dark-thirty Tuesday morning. Son-in-law Chris Kolakowski arrived from Denver that evening and we organized our week of making antelope and deer meat for our families.

This was year 21 for me, 14 for Steve and year 11 for Chris. James was our Wyoming rookie. Each of those years has been unique in some way, and 2017 would be no different.

We ordered our nonresident antelope tags online, from home. (With just a little phone coaching, I found Wyoming’s online licensing system to be simple and quick – easily the smoothest in-state or out-of-state license buys I have yet made.) Our leftover antlerless deer tags were easily purchased and printed at the Big R.

Licenses in hand, we made rounds to say hello to now-old friends. We hunt on some of their lands, and with others we just like staying in touch and keeping up (after two decades they are family after all). Over those 20 years, we’ve had permission to hunt several ranches and have found our way around several parcels of public ground, including several of the Wyoming Game and Fish Walk-In Hunt Areas. Owners and permission-granters move, sell out or pass on through time, of course, but we have always managed to come home with meat to sustain our families. Our final stop was to check in with Oscar Rucke (pronounce it “Roosky”), the first man we met that first year we hunted the Sheridan area.

We got our KOA Kabin set up, and looked at hunting options. We would focus on a couple ranches, and tried to anticipate which might be most productive in the weather changes coming. Some years our hunting week has been hot and dry, and we’ve had a couple years of cold, snowy and wet. 2017 was clearly going to be a mix – possibly of all those conditions.

Our first couple days of hunting were sunny and bright. And very warm. The next couple days, however, we were often moving through tall rain-soaked grass. After long walks and stalks and good prayers on those days, we managed to find some of our deer and antelope, returning soaked to the waist and pretty chilled. By our last hunting day, things had dried and warmed a bit. We made the deer meat we had come to make, and had filled all our antelope tags but one (not uncommon through the decades). Once we finished processing our meat, it had become a very good week.

As I weigh the week in my mind, two moments stand out.

I don’t think we have ever lost a wounded animal. This year, I was afraid we had. Chris had made a long stalk on a lone white-tail doe, and made what he was certain was a perfect shot. Still, he could not find the animal. James and I joined him and spent the better part of an hour finding and following blood sign in the tall grass, to no success. I opted to go glass other nearby meadows in hopes of seeing the deer. They kept looking. I had pretty much given up when I got the text. Seems they had retraced the sign in the high grass and had taken a different direction. The deer had expired within 30 yards of Chris’ shot. Seeing their skill and determination reaffirmed my faith in the future or our family hunts.

The other moment was the realization that we’d have been involved in criminal acts, had we been hunting in Washington. Chris was having a problem with his sweet old .30-06 rifle, so I loaned him my .270, and borrowed Steve’s .270 (he had filled his tags). This sort of problem solving is as old as family and group hunting traditions are old. Fine.

Problem is, the folks who crafted I-594 – and those who passed it into law – have either no experience, no knowledge, or no caring about such traditions. These traditions underlie the generations – indeed centuries – of families sustaining themselves on wild game. They also contribute a significant proportion of the revenue which keeps counties and states in the black. Under I-594 – our law – each of those loans, and the return of the hunting rifles, were “transfers.”

Under our Washington law, a transfer is any exchange of a firearm from one non-blood-related person to another, no matter how temporary, with or without payment. Taking possession of a firearm for any length of time and for any reason – safekeeping, hunting, loan, etc. – requires a background check each time the firearm changes hands. Our exchange would have meant three or four background checks (by an FFL dealer) in each direction. Thank God for the people of Wyoming.

Be that as it may, by mid-evening last Sunday our meat was in coolers and Chris was back with his family in Denver. By mid-afternoon Monday, James was headed south into Idaho and Steve and I were pointed out of Montana, heading for Paradise.

Happy fall…

Game Meat and Hunters’ Myths

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 15, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It’s making meat season again. And I always hear some great stories.

Young Homey asked about our September trip to Wyoming. Valley Huntmaster Steve Kiesel and I are heading to Sheridan for our annual antelope and deer hunt. Son-in-law Chris will again drive up from Denver and Son James – wild hog slayer – will make his way from his new location outside Boise. We generally take an antelope doe apiece and a white-tailed doe or two. Homey wondered how much actual meat we made on our annual journey.

“Depending on the size and age of the animals, we generally figure on 35 to 45 pounds of boned bring-home meat per carcass,” I said. “Well,” he said, “at least if you are cutting it yourself you get all the meat. Last fall, my uncle killed a huge bull – probably at least a thousand pounds – and only got a little over 200 pounds back from the guys who cut it up. You gotta really watch that stuff, I think. And he thought maybe they hung it so long over a week that it dried out too much.”

Here we go, again. “Well,” I said,”I suspect your uncle got all his meat back. The aging does dry a little water, but it is important for eating quality, and that ‘thousand-pound bull elk” stuff is mostly just that – bull. A really, really big Rocky Mountain bull elk might weigh 800 or more pounds but that is very rare. A Roosevelt Bull will generally be a little bigger, but ours are Rocky Mountain wapiti.”

After a brief and spirited defense of his uncle’s ability to estimate critter size, Homey asked what made me so sure about all that.

“Well,” I noted, “I have been at this stuff for many decades, including time looking over the research on wild game at the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station.”

My Old Man made the case for good game meat when I was a young kid. I watched him wash a deer carcass. He was taking a lot of pains about it, and I told him so. “Well,” he smiled, “I figure I oughta take care of it as if we were going to eat it.”

Deer and elk have similar muscle tissue and structure to beef, so they generally benefit from similar “aging.” The Old Man and Uncle Ed would hang a beef in a cool place for 10 or 12 days, then wipe off the light layer of green mold with vinegar water and cut it into great eating. I’ve aged dozens of deer and elk to delicious perfection the same way. Antelope, however, are different.

In the late ‘90s, I took Brother Tom on a warm September Wyoming antelope hunt – the same place we are heading now. After a great stalk, he took a nice doe with one careful shot. We cleaned, washed and chilled the carcass, to be cut and frozen as soon as he got it back to Boise. Unfortunately, an uncle (a world‑class expert in EVERYTHING) cornered him. “Nope,” Uncle Wisdom said, “ya gotta hang them things fer at least a week and a half or they’re not edible!” By the eighth day, the antelope carcass was like mushy liver. Tom took it to the dump.

I like the University of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station bulletins on aging and cutting of game meat. Based on the study of hundreds of game animal carcasses, they have research on everything from tenderness rating (most meat gets tougher for a day or so after the kill, for example) to when to leave the hide on – and for how long. I often recommended those bulletins (and our county coop extension publications) to people who don’t get the top quality meat they expect.

Aging holds meat at a constant cool temperature (34‑37 degrees F.) long enough for the natural enzymes in the meat to break down some of the complex proteins in the muscles, so it becomes more “tender.” Time of aging varies with species. Antelope becomes “liver‑like” if held too long, so the ag researchers recommend cutting in three days. Cut deer and small cow elk or moose after seven days or so, and bulls after 14 days.

Then there’s that “yield” stuff. For my entire hunting career, I’ve heard hunters brag about “1,000 pound bulls” or “400 pound bucks.” (I may have even done it myself.) Truth is, such critters are mostly myths, rare in nature. We have myths about how much cut meat an animal will produce, too.

So, Homey’s uncle had taken a big six‑point bull, and his cut meat came to a little over 200 pounds. He just knew something fishy had happened in the processing. The Wyoming guys worked that out, too.

Field dressing an antelope, deer or elk removes about 1/3 (.32 to .35) of its live weight. Removing head, skin, legs, etc. takes another 1/8 (.11 to .14). Cutting loss (if you leave some of the bones with cut meat) will be another 1/5 (.18 to .22) or so of the live weight. If you go for all boneless cuts, you’ll lose another 1/15 (.06) or so. At the end, your meat to the freezer will be somewhere around one‑third of the animal’s live weight.

The uncle’s bull elk probably walked around at nearly 700 pounds; a big bull.

I don’t worry much about this stuff. I age the carcass cuts I like, and package stew or grind meat right away. I make most everything from steaks to sausage. I use it all. And make up whatever story I want about how big it was.

Hunting Big Tuna with the Pacific Tuna Whisperer

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 8, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Last weekend was the family’s sixth Labor Day Tuna Adventure in Ilwaco. We have a fine habit; every year we chase tuna with Captain Rob Gudgell on the Katie Marie (named after his daughter). In February 2012, I met Milt and Sarah Gudgell (Rob’s folks) at their Pacific Salmon Charters booth at the Central Washington Sportsman Show in Yakima. How do you explain that instant sense of meeting an old friend for the first time? I don’t know, either, but we were immediately into tuna talk, and within a few minutes, I’d signed on for several family albacore tuna fishing spots aboard the Katie Marie. That first year was so much fun, that I have reserved the whole boat (ten fishers) on each Labor Day Sunday since.

Every year is different. That first year, we brought 88 tuna aboard, filling the boat. The next year, we ran out of time at 50 fish – but all bigger than the first year. The following year, we worked to get nearly three fish apiece. In year four (2015) family and friends descended on Ilwaco from as far away as Los Angeles and Denver, but exceptionally stormy weather kept us from reaching the tuna schools – we turned back about 12 miserable miles out. Last year was rainy, but manageable, and 70 25- to 33-pounders filled the boat. This year looked like a shipwreck, for a little while.

Each year, we have filled the Katie Marie with family and close friends/homeys. This year, a week before our big Labor Day weekend trip, there were only six of us. By Thursday, we were down to five. In a couple cases, a father or other family member was very ill. In another, end-of-career work tasks took precedence. For another, some sort of ethical dilemma arose.

Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward drove up from LA a couple days early, picked up brother Jonathan at the Portland airport and they started up Mount Hood for a night on the ground before our fishing. Just as they started up Thursday evening, Ed got a text from his stunt coordinator (he is a stunt double for characters on Fox’s “The Mick”). They came off the mountain, Ed caught a flight back to LA, worked the 12-hour stunt gig until about Midnight Friday, got back on a plane to Portland, Jonny picked him up, and they were waiting at the Ilwaco campground when we arrived Saturday afternoon.

Turned out others were eager to join our trip with the Tuna Whisperer of the Pacific. When all was said and done, five of us aboard would be family and five would be other cool people.

We assembled at 3 a.m. Sunday morning and filed aboard the Katie Marie. About 20 miles out onto the Pacific, Cap explained that the wind and chop were getting worse by the moment; even if we could get to the tuna schools, which he doubted, it would be too rough to fish. Amidst a fair amount of angst, mixed with gratitude for knowing that Captain Rob would keep us upright, we headed back to the Ilwaco Marina. We reached port at 7:30, with a second chance; we could get back on the boat Monday morning for another run at the ocean torpedoes. After long debate and discussion, son-in-law Brian opted to stick with our normal Monday return for work.

Thus, Monday morning at 3:15 a.m. Edward, Jonathan, Cousin Dave Yount and I joined four other second-chanchers and headed west under full power. Cap, Deckhand Nathan and Co-Captain Loyal ran through the normal safety drill, reminded us about how to catch tuna with live anchovies, and joined us in a silent prayer for a calm, smooth day and plenty of tuna.

It turned out to be as perfect a day as I have ever experienced on the Pacific: light winds and off and on sun, with just enough chop to remind us that we were on a rocking (and sometimes lurching) boat.

The tuna hunt was a challenge, but this was not Captain Rob’s first rodeo. He did, after all, introduce live anchovy bait fishing for tuna in 2002, changing the tuna charter culture in Ilwaco. He has an intensity and determination (and an eye for swarming birds over leaping baitfish) that leads him to schools of big tuna no matter how scattered they are. He is the tuna whisperer.

About 8:30, someone finally yelled, “Tuna!” In moments, Cap had everyone at rods. He circulated with live anchovies, cajoling and pleading, “Watch your lines! Edward, follow your fish – if it goes that way, go with it! Go under Dwayne… Dave! Go over Jonny and duck under Jim! Come on people, pay attention! No tangles! Don’t cross lines – don’t let anybody cut your line! Don’t lose a fish! Nathan, get the net forward! Come on, get that fish on board, then bait up and get back out there! Hey! No slack line – no bird nests on your reel! Pay attention guys! Keep your footing! Over! Under! Follow that fish! Square up with your line!” …And, thus, we lived in organized chaos for a time as we drifted with school of tuna. They were beautiful, large, strong fish, too, from 25 to 35 pounds. That school disappeared.

We watched for baitfish and sea birds, and an hour or so later, we did it again. Then again. While we never hit the big school, we headed in with 33 very nice albacore tuna.

It took two tries to hit this year’s near-perfect day of tuna fishing. A bit convoluted, a bit incomplete without the whole family gang, a lot of patience and faith.

Perfect.

[Huckabay with the smallest of the day’s tuna…]