Tod's Blog

Adventures with family & friends and other things I'm passionate about…

Clearwater Cast & Snake River Blast

Posted by todblog on November 2, 2008

October 15, 2008

The last time Jeanine and I took a vacation together was in the spring of 2000 to visit friends and family in the southeast corner of the U.S. and to do a little spring turkey hunting. That was eight long years ago and we were way overdue for another getaway…

Each year we try our best to be locavores and this past spring we were successful at drawing controlled hunt buck tags for Oregon’s Snake River Wildlife Management Unit. It would be Jeanine’s first time hunting deer in eastern Oregon. The deer season ran from October 4th to the 15th and we wondered when we could make the 11 hour drive to the hunting area after juggling work schedules along with kids school and sports activities. We wondered if we could even make it work at all.

Several weeks later we received an invitation from Neil Canine, a friend and longtime fishing mentor, to join him on a trophy steelhead fishing trip down Idaho’s famous Clearwater River. These steelhead are known as B-run fish that spend a couple of years in the ocean before returning to their freshwater place of birth. These fish are large and feisty fighters and the average annual run size is 40,000 fish.

It was a super opportunity to hook up with good friends and trophy fish and it would only be a few hours from our Snake River buck huntin’ spot in Oregon. Things were shaping up for a perfect week long fishing and hunting combo vacation. We just had to make it happen but, what about the kids…

Our wonderful neighbors, the Lehnes, stepped in to help out with the kids and took over parental duties for a week. We hugged the kids and said goodbye, left Roseburg and headed east for the famous potato state of Idaho. It was a long overdue getaway trip that we both looked forward to doing.

Ten hours later, we rolled into Orofino, Idaho where we would spend the next three days at the Best Western Lodge at Rivers Edge. It was a beautiful lodge right on the bank of the Clearwater River. The lobby was always buzzing with anglers swapping fishing tales. We fished with guides from Clearwater Drifters for two full days and they did a great job of getting us into fish each day. We caught fish by side-drifting salmon eggs and we also hooked fish using hot shot and wiggle wart plugs. The guides really knew the river and how to fish it. The steelhead ranged in size from 14 to 20 pounds and made great runs while performing aerial acrobatics and stripping line off the reels. We turned loose all of our fish as regulations required all steelhead be released prior to October 15th.

Jeanine and her guide Adam with a nice Clearwater River steelhead

Adam with Nalin’s steelhead caught side-drifting eggs

Our guide Greg and Neil with a steelhead duped by a “Michael Jackson” plug

While in Orofino, we got to catch up with Bill and Marji Morrow, who formerly owned and operated Ironwood Custom Framing in Waimea. The Morrows sold their business and relocated to Orofino a few years before we left Waimea. They always told us about the beauty and great outdoor activities that surrounded them. It was clear to see why they chose the area and it was great seeing them once again.

imgp3603View from the drift boat along the Clearwater River

It was good to be out on the river again with Neil and reminisce about old times. My first real exposure to the great outdoors in the western states was with Neil in the summer of 1975. We spent a few weeks in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho fishing for trout in a number of lakes and rivers. There were very few fishermen and boats on the water back then. It was before Robert Redford’s movie “A River Runs Through It” popularized flyfishing for trout and rivers received labels like “Blue Ribbon”. As a teenager, it was an eye-opening trip for me and had a profound impact on my career path and my decision to work in the outdoors. Recently, Jacob has been wondering about careers and asked me when I knew what I wanted to do. I can honestly say my days on the water with Neil were an influential point in my life. It was then and there I knew I wanted an outdoor career and to be poor. Yes, in many ways it was Neil’s fault.

On Thursday we left Orofino and headed back to Oregon for our hunting segment of the trip. The drive was very scenic as we passed through Washington and re-entered Oregon through the Grande Ronde River. The rugged mountains were deeply dissected and beautiful.

Rattlesnake Grade- the route we took from Washington (where we’re standing) into Oregon (behind our heads) through the Grande Ronde River below.

dsc_0159A view of the Eagle Caps from Joseph, Oregon

It took three hours to reach the Snake River Wildlife Management Unit where we would spend the next few days hunting for bucks on Bitsy Kelley’s Diamond Head Ranch. It was late afternoon when we rolled into hunting camp and the weather was starting to turn on us. The skies were collecting dark heavy clouds and leaves began to rustle. We quickly got our gear together and headed for the field to see if we couldn’t locate some deer in the area.

I wanted to get Jeanine lined up to take her first eastern Oregon buck as we slipped into a field we had permission to hunt. We crawled to the edge of the field and ran out of cover. From there, we watched a pile of mule deer make their way downhill to a neighboring field we didn’t have access to. There was a nice large 4 point mule deer buck in the group but, he was about 305 yards away and about to jump into the neighboring field. It was a little too far for Jeanine’s comfort and she couldn’t settle into a solid position to take a shot. So, we watched the group of deer mosey across the fence and into a lush alfalfa field for their evening dinner. We opted to fill our bellies too and headed back to camp and called it a day.

The next morning we were greeted by a cold lonesome breeze with big flaky white stuff spitting sideways. It was cold enough to snow but, not cold enough to accumulate on the ground. We looked around for an hour and decided the deer were smarter than us, were kegged-up out of the storm, and that we should do the same. We figured things would improve once the weather broke so we went back to camp. Around 3pm, the storm cleared and things calmed down a lot.

Jeanine and I headed back out to see if the deer were on the move again and we found small groups here and there emerging from brush patches. It was encouraging to see activity picking up. We decided to take a walk up a dirt ranch road that paralleled a brushy creek bottom. There were lots of tracks in the road and some were very fresh and large too. As we inched our way up the road in full stealth mode, I scanned along the right side of the road looking into grassy openings across the creek while Jeanine focused on the left side of the road. Suddenly I felt a series of rapid taps on my thigh…

“There… deer!”, she said in an excited whisper.

We instantly froze and slowly sank to our knees in the middle of the dirt ranch road and hoped we weren’t just busted. I grabbed my binoculars and put ’em up to my eyes and slowly rose up enough to see eartips and heads of deer through the tall grass. There were 5 deer milling around on a grassy hillside 60 yards to our left and the good news was they weren’t spooked…yet. The late afternoon sun was directly behind us and probably made us hard to see from where the deer were. However, we were stuck in our position. To advance along the road would mean spooking the deer and perhaps others in the area. We decided to sit tight and wait for a while and see what else happened. Jeanine settled down in the middle of the dirt road and steadied her rifle in a pair of shooting sticks. I sneaked another peek at the deer to see if anything had changed. Turns out one of the deer was a spike buck and the others were does. I relayed my findings to Jeanine and told her the spike was legal if she wanted it but, she opted to wait.

imgp3607Jeanine sets up waiting for an opportunity…

The wait took only a few minutes before Jeanine spotted a large mule deer buck walking down the dirt ranch road towards us. He was heading towards the group of deer to our left and angled off the road towards them. Jeanine was borrowing Jacob’s .260 Ruger rifle and had the buck centered in the Burris scope crosshairs when she squeezed off a shot. At 70 yards away the buck jumped up and lurched forward and I knew she did a good job delivering the 130 grain Barnes TSX bullet where it counted. The buck ran less than 50 yards and dropped.

Jeanine with her 3×3 Mule Deer Buck

While we were focused on watching the large mule deer buck, a second pair of bucks showed up on the road where the first buck appeared and they didn’t know what all the commotion was about. I scrambled and grabbed my rifle and a pair of shooting sticks and zeroed in on the closest of the pair of mule deer bucks. At 103 yards the .30-06 Browning rifle sent a Nosler 150 grain AccuBond bullet to its mark and our Snake River buck hunt was over. It was 4:30pm and still plenty of time to field dress the deer and get them back to camp.

2008 Deer Season ends for us with this 3×2 Mule Deer Buck

Our last few days together at the Diamond Head Ranch were a great finale to a week long fishing and hunting trip that we both thoroughly enjoyed. Driving across the state provided lots of time to talk and get reconnected again with each other without worrying about the daily deadlines and interruptions that life throws at you. It certainly didn’t hurt having gorgeous country surrounding us each day and catching steelhead and mule deer was also an added bonus. It was time well spent as a couple and just what the doctor ordered. Hopefully it won’t be another eight years before we do a trip like this again.

I believe there is an axiom that says: “a family that fishes and hunts together stays together” or maybe it was a camo bumper sticker I saw… If not, there should be one.

Thanks Lehnes, Neil & Nalin, Bill & Marji, and Bitsy for providing us such a wonderful trip!


17 Responses to “Clearwater Cast & Snake River Blast”

  1. Rick Habein said

    Thanks for including us on your mailing list. I really enjoyed your recap of your trip.


  2. Hi Tod & Jeanine: Glad to hear of your recent adventures – and successes – in our part of the world, but greatly disappointed that you didn’t/couldn’t drive over the hill for a visit with us. The drive over the Joseph Loop Rd. to Halfway is one of the nicest and most scenic in the entire state and that, alone, would have justified a close encounter with your former hosts from the John Day days.

    Maybe that can make it onto your agenda on one of your future excursions?



  3. Tom Blankinship said

    Tod – As usual, a delightful story and beautiful photos. Those deer look delicious! I plan to be moving to southern Oregon in a few months, and can hardly wait to begin exploring new places. I appreciate being on your blog list. Tom Blankinship


  4. Uncle Howard said

    Todd: What do you do with all the deer meat? I recall when you and Randy went hunting in Molokai(/) he shot a deer… I still have the tusk in my garage.

    Uncle Jean & I will be in San Diego 3rd week in Feb to take care of his two girls -Sid and Kenzie while they go skiing in Canada with Steve Yamane..

    Love Uncle Howard


  5. Brad said

    Tod and Jeanine,

    Wow, what a wonderful vacation. I really enjoy your stories and all the pictures. Tell the family hi and will talk to you soon.

    Happy hunting and fishing,



  6. bob said

    Howzit Lums,
    It is great seeing Jeanine out there enjoying the great outdoors. What a great adventure! Even the deer had been cooperating by being by the road. Can’t ask for more. Mahalo for the story.
    Take Care!


  7. Terri said

    You guys rock!


  8. I loved the beautiful pictures you sent. There is just something about being an Eastern Oregon girl and made me homesick. Take care…Sandy


  9. Edson said

    Thanks for the story, no tag for elk this year so your excellent story is the next best thing….will give you a call soon. God Bless.


  10. Bets said

    Frank and I thoroughly enjoy your writing, your celebrations, your fishing and hunting exploits. Was this an “anniversary” celebration? Bet Jacob was jealous!


  11. Adam said

    Tod, thanks for keeping me on the list. I am stoked you had this great experience. I have used the method you showed me in Wyoming about how to get the tenderloins without gutting the animal 4 times this year. Thanks for your friendship. I hope to go on an adventure with you in the near future. Adam


  12. sakamotos said

    Aloha to the Lums, what a great vacation. Molokai doors always open.


  13. john munson said

    really? you gain happiness and joy from blowing the brains out of a lovely deer? You are sick, sick, sick in the head. What is wrong with just watching them go by, and photographing them? That deer had family just like you that no longer has someone to take care of them. Hunters are the lowest form of humanity, and you just proved it! John


  14. todblog said

    Okay, on a rare occasion I get a disgruntled reader who shares his/her ideas with me and I have the option of letting it see daylight on my blog or placing it in the E-can. The prior post by Mr. Munson was dripping with such emotion and contained no real substance. Sadly there are many who share his views in our modern society. I thought it would be worthwhile to address his concerns and discuss them rationally (that’s usually not possible when talking to someone overflowing with emotion). Let’s take a chill pill and look at the issues.

    Actually, the brains of both deer were intact. Both deer were killed instantly with shots to the heart/lung area. A quick and humane method of dispatching big game animals. We enjoy eating what nature provides and what we hunt. It doesn’t make us sick. On the contrary- game meat is much more healthy for you than domestic meats. We are more intimately involved with our food gathering/preparation than those who go to the store and buy something they know nothing about (conditions under which it was raised, what it was fed/medicated, how far it traveled to get to the market, etc.) on a styrofoam tray wrapped in cellophane. You may not choose to hunt but, you are a direct descendant of hunter/gatherers who prided themselves in surviving off the land. Contrary to your position that “hunters are the lowest form of humanity”, you couldn’t be more wrong. Humanity exists today because of hunters. You owe your very existence to hunters who brought back game from the field to feed the village. That game, by-the-way, wasn’t killed as humanely as a modern firearm. It may have involved following a wounded animal for miles/days and eventually subduing it by blowing the brains out with a semi-automatic club. So, before you start bashing hunters for taking part in their own meat gathering activities, remember where you came from and how you got here. It really wasn’t that long ago.

    State wildlife agencies are charged with managing game animals for present and future generations. Fees from sporting arms, ammunition, licenses and tags go towards managing wildlife species (game and nongame animals). Seasons and bag limits are designed to sustain wildlife populations. The deer season takes place in the fall when young of the year (fawns) are weaned and old enough to take care of themselves. The majority of deer harvest targets bucks. They are not out there “taking care of their family”. They have 3 basic needs: eat, avoid being eaten, and reproduce. Being polygamous, it only takes one buck to breed many does and therefore sustain the population. Walt Disney and other animated movies would have you believe that the buck marries the doe and raises a family where they live in the forest happily ever after. The predator is a big bad wolf/coyote/lion/bear, etc. and they never get to kill their prey item. It’s really entertaining but, it’s really far from reality.


  15. Leo A Millan said

    Replying to John Munson (posting # 13),
    Are you for real? Where does your food come from? How do you support wildlife and all natural things that hunters support and promote through taxes on firearms, ammunition and other related sporting goods, involving kids and thus creating an interest and determination for sustained wildlife management, eating healthy food with no chemical additives or hormones. What about where your food production (both meat and/or vegetables) take place? Where wildlife (and fish) habitat have been destroyed or otherwise taken away from them for farms, over logging, commercial over fishing. I think that you should consider promoting wildlife (at the very least) by not hating hunters that actually care (with their wallets) for wildlife and our natural resources. I think that to live on this Earth one needs to understand where our food comes from and you comment on “blowing their brains out”… at least hunters do their own “dirty work” You obviously are paying someone else to do the killing for you. OPEN YOUR EYES JOHN!!!!!!


  16. Garrett said

    I’ve never really read any blogs but really enjoyed yours. I have never hunted over in the snake river area but decided to try and get a tag with an old college roommate of mine. I lived in Oregon for 6 years when I went to OSU but just recently moved back so I have no points but think we have a good chance at snake river mule deer. My dad’s favorite thing in the world is elk hunting in eastern Oregon so it may take a while to accumulate points as he is out of state but that’s a different story. Any ways I was wondering if you had any tips on mule deer hunting in that unit. I am an experienced hunter and backpacker not a novice but thought I’d ask for tips on where to hunt, camp and approach the unit in general. Thanks for the blog and any advice.


  17. todblog said

    Resident hunters can draw a Snake River buck tag every other year while a nonresident may take a few more years. It’s definitely ibuprofen country and more public access on north end from Imnaha town to the north. Horses bicycles and hiking are all ways of getting deeper into the recreation area. You’re likely to see more elk than muleys but you never know. It’s dissected and rimrocky enough to hide deer in those draws as well as bighorn sheep Mt.goats cats and bears. There’s also an uptick in howling activity.


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