Cast And Blast, Western Style

Out West they call it a “Cast and Blast” where you combine a hunt with a fishing trip. In my home, Missouri, we have a version called a “Float and Bloat” where you combine canoe camping with hefty eating. 

Fishing on the Snake River.

It’s hard to choose one over the other, but I found myself on the Snake River, bird dog riding shotgun on the prow of a motored riverboat, threading upstream through rapids that made the spooked dog retreat to the cockpit and huddle there in fear.

After all, he’d turned over once with me in a canoe on a placid river and he feared the worst on this river of tumult. Every so often we’d pull in and clamber up steep slopes after the always elusive chukar partridge, a bird of the most inhospitable country this side of inner Mongolia.

That’s the point of cast and blast — use a boat for transport and fishing and to get to areas where you can disembark and go hunting. Earlier we had hunted on the other side of the huge ridge that separates the Snake from its tributary, the Salmon. On the Salmon side we hunted ruffed grouse on the wooded ridge, blue grouse a bit lower where the woods thinned, chukars where it became rimrock desert, and Hungarian partridge in the agricultural flats alongside the river.

We did that the easy way, driving to the top of the ridge and sending one hunter ahead with the car while the other two hunted downhill. I killed a blue grouse and Huns along the river; struck out on chukar and ruffed grouse. But batting .500 isn’t bad.    

Bird dog riding shotgun.

Among other fish species, the Snake and the Salmon, are home to white sturgeon, a fish so ancient it shows up in fossils. On the Snake we were in the part of the river named Hell’s Canyon, which make you wonder if you really want to fish or hunt there (although the Salmon is called “The River of No Return,” which isn’t much better). The Snake is more than 1,000 miles long, chief tributary of the mighty Columbia River, and the Salmon is one of its major tributaries.

White sturgeon are a critically-endangered species in the two rivers. Power dams on the Snake have decimated populations of the sturgeon, largest freshwater fish in North America (The largest verified record is 1,387 pounds, caught in 1897, but there are stories of 2,000 pound sturgeon that reached 20 feet long). An English couple caught one 1,102 pounds in 2012 in British Columbia. This is an incredible fish — it can live 100 years and it takes 20 years for a female to mature enough to reproduce — reason enough to regulate the fishery.

Beautiful catch, beautiful catcher.

A guided trip runs more than $1,000 a day and it’s strictly trophy fishing, catch and release with barbless hooks and you can’t remove the fish from the water. That’s why, when my fellow hunters and I came upon a young couple who had just caught a 6-foot long sturgeon, we encouraged the beautiful angler to stand knee deep in the Salmon and pose with her fish for a few moments. Her boyfriend wore the expression of someone sucking on a green persimmon while we posed and reposed his squeeze, but all is fair in love and outdoor photography.

I didn’t catch any fish and the Snake side hunting was minimal because climbing 7,000 foot cliffs didn’t seem appealing, but I sure got a memorable photo of the most beautiful angler on either river that day. Trophies are where you find them.

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