By Mike Carey
Looking out over the field, darkness still obscured our vision. Out there beyond the field we set up in we could hear the rapid gurgling, gobbling sound made by male turkeys in their tree roosts. Daylight would be coming soon, but meanwhile I couldn’t get the image from The Blair Witch Project out of my head. I subconsciously swiped at my nose, suppressing a cough, desperate to not make a sound. Daylight would be coming soon and I didn’t want to be “the new guy” blowing our cover and scaring away our target. It was my first ever turkey hunt. Joining me were Dave Mason of Toyota and Dan Gabriel of The General Store. Our host, Rick Wakefield, owner of Buck Canyon Lodge, had invited us on this Opening Day of turkey hunting to check out the fine hunting he offers guests on his lodge properties. It was part of a “Cast and Blast” adventure Northwest Fishing Reports were enjoying. The “cast” part of the trip were upper Lake Roosevelt walleyes with Lake Roosevelt Charters.
I had arrived late Friday evening after driving across state from Redmond to the lodge, located near the town of Gifford. In normal conditions it would have been a not too bad five hour drive, however, a traffic accident going over the pass had set me back a good hour and a half. I arrived tired but excited for what the weekend had in store. Meeting up with the NWFR crew Aaron Borg and Rob Holman, I crashed into my comfortable fleece-covered bed in anticipation of a leisurely 6:30 start time with guides Scott and Todd of Lake Roosevelt Charters. I was excited because of reports they had been posted about deep water jigging for walleye. The pictures of healthy catches of nice sized eating walleye had my hopes up for bringing home plenty of one the Pacific Northwest’s tastiest fish, the walleye.
We met at the Hunters boat launch, which was high and dry, but still use-able, if a little muddy. No matter, in short order we were off and cruising to a few preferred locations that Scott and Todd had been having good success at.
I don’t know that Lake Roosevelt Charters were the first to deep jig for walleye, but I can say they were the first charter I’d ever seen promoting the fishery. I remember being instantly intrigued – jigging up walleye from 121-150 foot depths was so foreign to any other walleye technique I was familiar with that I just had to see and experience it for myself.
We pulled up to our first location and Todd handed out rods loaded with 20 pound power pro and one ounce, round jigs, To the jig he added a 4-5” curly tail plastic, and then a half a night crawler threaded several times with just a one inch tail sticking out. Again, very different from the traditional nightcrawler set up of a bottom walker and worm harness. Todd instructed us to let out our line until we made contact with the bottom.
“The trick to this fishery is you have to feel the “tap tap” of the jig as it bounces off the bottom. If you don’t feel that contact you aren’t fishing. Also, don’t make big jigging motions – 5-6” is plenty. The fish are deep and cold, they aren’t chasing after bait.”
I let my line out and at 120 feet could see the braid go slack. I closed the bale and reeled up the slack, starting gently upward motions of my rod tip, raising and lowering and being sure to keep in contact with the bottom. If I felt nothing I let out a little line until again making contact. I continued this technique for a few minutes and then felt the distinct tug and heaviness of a fish on the other end of my rod. Setting the hook, I reeled with steady pressure and soon enough brought up my first ever deep-water jigged walleye, a nice 15” “eater”.
Over the next two days the NWFR gang would catch a lot of these “eaters”. Looking over the vastness of this stretch of the upper Lake Roosevelt and seeing the low angling pressure, I was not surprised at the steady numbers we caught over the next two days. This fishery, while not untapped, is definitely under-utilized. The bites came pretty steadily throughout the day. As with most fishing, we had periods of fast fishing and then slow, but over-all it was pretty consistent. Along with the good numbers of fish we noted they are definitely smaller than what we have caught on the lower stretches of the Columbia River. Our fish averaged mostly 13-15” with a few fish on either side of those sizes. Todd noted that there are big walleye to be had, but yes, the vast majority were these eater class fish. I’m OK with that – nice stringers of white-fleshed walleye are always welcome at my table! I did notice that the flesh of these upper Lake Roosevelt walleye are a whiter shade than fish we had been catching in the lower reaches of the Columbia.
When it comes to deep water jigging for walleye, wind is your enemy. Current is not an issue on this stretch of the Columbia, but wind will cause the boat to get pushed too fast and, just like salt water jigging, you’ll lose contact with the bottom. When this happens you’ll find yourself letting out more and more line in an attempt to maintain bottom contact. It’s time like this where a good captain knows ways to increase your chance for success. Captain Scott deployed two large sea anchors, instantly slowing our drift down to a manageable speed. Another strategy is to find shallower water to jig in. Having a bow mounted trolling motor will also serve you well when the wind starts up. Finally, although there aren’t a lot of spots to get entirely out of the wind, guys who fish these waters a lot know the winds and places to move to when the winds do come up. Just one more reason for considering a guide the first time you fish these waters.
We fished until around noon, at which points the winds from the front blowing through made it too tough to fish effectively anymore. It was a decent enough morning. We were looking at around a dozen fish in the boat, and many lost as well. When you’re fishing at 120 feet deep it’s essential to keep a steady pressure on the fish, even with barbed hooks. Fortunately there is another common trait of the winds in this area – they tend to die off later in the afternoon. Scott and Todd were more than happy to bring us in and take us out after a couple hours siesta time. So after getting a power nap we were back out again, fishing from 4-7pm. This bite was actually better than the morning bite – don’t put your gear away! In short, there are fish to be had throughout the day if you’re willing to be flexible.
Darkness slowly gave way to dawn and the gobbling reached ever higher intensities. Soon we heard the first “whoosh” of a bird flying over our blind. Rick quietly announced – "the birds are starting to come off the trees where they roost. It won’t be long now. Get ready!”
I was anxiously anticipating my first opportunity at a turkey. Dave and Dan were old hands at tom hunting and they had given me a primer on Tom Hunting 101 Essentials. I knew the shot I needed to make was a head or neck shot. Hitting the body of a turkey is a low proposition shot. The feathers are thick and hard and act like armor making a “head shot” almost essential. My hunting skills thus far had been limited to pheasants and ducks – which in my experience were fairly easy to knock down, assuming I could hit them! But turkeys – head shots on a bobbing head? I was little intimidated…
“Toms coming from the right”. Rick’s whispered warning had me turning my head to the right and seeing – nothing. I turned and looked straight in front of me and there were three large toms strutting around the decoy Rick had set up. How did those large birds get there so quickly without me even seeing them?!?!?
We three hunters slowly raised our guns to level, waiting for the three toms to separate enough that each of us had a clean shot at one bird. It seemed like forever as I hoped the birds wouldn’t startle and run off. Just then Rick gave the single to fire and in unison the three hunters let loose a booming volley of number 4 shot at each bird. It took a fraction of a second to travel the 15 yards to our targets and instantly two birds went down, and the third staggered, then rose into the air, flying over our blind. Three hunters, three shots, three birds! We came out of the blind and tracked down the third bird in the field behind us, around 30 yards away. Claiming this last bird we returned to the other two toms and admired our kills. The birds were all in the 25 pound range, gorgeous feathers and long beards. It was 6:30am and we were done for the day, with plenty of time to go back to the launch and get in more walleye fishing!
If you’re looking for a unique “Cast and Blast” adventure the spring turkey hunting and walleye fishing on Lake Roosevelt are not to be missed. Buck Canyon Lodge is the perfect base camp to take off on your adventures. Hosts Rick and Wendy Wakefield have a beautiful lodge and offer full amenities including provided meals. Rick does guided turkey hunts for guests, or, if you’re not a hunter, stay at the Lodge and get in on the great walleye fishing with Lake Roosevelt Charters. Either way (or both) way you go you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful adventure. The countryside is spectacular, wooded hills and breathtaking vistas great you at every bend in the road. It’s truly a unique experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life!
Visit Buck Canyon Lodge at Buck Canyon Lodge LLC or call 509-722-3949. Lake Roosevelt Charters web site is Lake Roosevelt Charters or call 509-722-3880. And follow their fishing reports on Northwest Fishing Reports!