The calendar suggests that November wasn’t long ago. For many deer enthusiasts, the only thing more distant than November’s end is its next beginning. Call it deer camp withdrawal, or perhaps more aptly, a deer camp hangover. Should you find yourself stricken by a case of early onset holiday blues as proverbial deer opener “holidays” are overtaken by the holidays, the prescription is not more cowbell. (Okay, maybe that clip helps a little.) But though deer seasons are ending, “cast and blast” season is still in full swing. And, frankly, the only thing better than hunting, is fishing while hunting.
Fishing while hunting (or hunting while fishing)
Traditionally, a “cast and blast” combines fishing and wingshooting into a single outing. Jump shooting mallards while floating and fishing an otherwise tranquil trout river, or kicking up South Dakota ditch chickens on the way to the evening walleye bite, or shooting rails from a boat blind on the Gulf Coast then casting for redfish on the way back to the ramp. But the blasting half of a cast and blast doesn’t have to be avian focused. Some especially fish-oriented hunters even work angling into deer season. MeatEater’s director of fishing, Miles Nolte, uses his intimate knowledge of local waters to reach deer spots other hunters might never see:
“One of my favorite whitetail spots is only accessible by floating a shallow river. While there’s a fair bit of public land mixed into the river bottom, only one thin sliver consistently holds deer—good ones from time to time. The window to catch bucks cruising through that strip is narrow, from first light until about 8 a.m. Sometimes I’ve got a mature whitetail dangling over the gunwales before early church services start. But even on the days when I don’t see a deer, by midmorning I’ve got gloved hands wrapped around oar handles, a shotgun in my lap, a fly rod rigged, and 10 miles of water flowing through mature cottonwoods and stained-paintbrush willows. Over the next few hours, I’ll usually get a dozen shots on jumped or passing waterfowl, and, if I’m lucky, knock down a handful. Some of the same spots where ducks congregate, deep swirling back eddies with sparse foam ceilings, usually hold a few trout too. Rivers attract and concentrate life. Though it hasn’t happened often, I have replenished a day’s calories with a tenderloin, a duck breast, and a whole smoked rainbow while trying to figure out exactly how to be appropriately thankful for such fortune.”
With proper planning, some effort, and a little ingenuity, such fortune is attainable on just about any budget, in just about any region. But, I just happen to live in a state that abounds with combination opportunities. Though not accessible to everyone, the Land of the Midnight Sun is probably cast and blast Mecca.
Every Alaska fly-out hunt should include, at a minimum, a couple collapsible travel rods. Up north, you can drift amid golden willows on the Kobuk River while tussling with unique, and uniquely impressive, native sheefish and scanning for bull moose along the riverside foliage. Or float the Ivishak River in search of migrating caribou while casting to prismatic Dolly Varden. Across the Interior, grouse and ptarmigan limits are liberal, arctic grayling are abundant, and the Delta-Clearwater coho run is the largest in all of the Yukon River drainage. Down south, Kodiak Island blacktail deer or mountain goats hunts, complemented with ocean-going for halibut, lingcod, and sea ducks, will spoil anyone with a penchant for daunting conditions. The opportunities are endless.
A bit further south, the metaphorical crow might land on the Rinella family fish shack near Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Followers of MeatEater are familiar with this serene maritime locale where a maze of precipitous, Sitka spruce-covered islands and coastal coves are usually blanketed by fog. In these parts, MeatEater founder Steven Rinella makes numerous of cast-and-blast ventures:
“You can find great shrimping and crabbing pretty much anywhere that you can find coastal black bears or brown bears. The two pursuits go hand in hand. We check the same beaches, estuaries, and grass flats [for bears] most every day as we cruise along in canoes or skiffs. It’s simple and convenient to drop off baited crab traps or shrimp pots as we make our rounds, because we know that we’ll back through the next day in order to check them again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spotted bears as I yanked up shrimp pots from 250 feet of water.”
Even if the bears are reclusive, an added beauty of any cast-and-blast trip lies in this tenet: appetite-quelling success can be achieved during the “cast” or the “blast,” if not both. Day-saving opportunities are common. In Southeast Alaska, Rinella said, “After a hard day of glassing for bears in the rain and fog that seems unavoidable, there’s something pretty damn nice about some steamed crab legs and shrimp cocktail.”
Cast and blast your way through the seasons and across the country
Alaska may be Mecca, but a myriad of “fishing while hunting” trips exist throughout much of the year—probably in your own backyard. With vast public lands and waters across the U.S., your only limitation may be your own resourcefulness.
As a personal favorite, I’ve known folks in Wisconsin to double a duck decoy as a bobber for a quick-strike sucker rig. Not only does the live bait impart motion to the spread, but waterfowlers may hook into a massive fall muskie while waiting for flocks of mallards to filter in. Resourcefulness, albeit with a bit of nort’woods engineering.
In the latest season of MeatEater TV (PSA: Season 8, out now out on Netflix, for those who’ve been completely and unhealthily engrossed by buck fever, or otherwise living under a rock in recent months), Rinella and crew take to Maryland for Sika deer and blue crab delicacies, and to Missouri for big ol’ delicious catfish and stealthy squirrel hunting. Hardly “traditional” cast and blasts, but wholly rewarding and delicious. Many of the places with year-round open water, mostly down south, provide hunting and fishing opportunities after the New Year’s ball has dropped. But when hard-water arrives in the north, cast and blasts evolve into another personal favorite, what I’ve coined as “drill and fills.”
Drillin’ and fillin’
Back in whitetail country north of Interstate 40, winter isn’t a barrier to fishing, but it can present a hurdle. When snow settles in, many anglers shift from casting along streams and shorelines to drilling ice holes and jigging on hard water. First ice can be the best time to load up on limits of perch, pike, and walleye from clean, cold water. At the same time, hit surrounding ag and CRP fields for late-season pheasant and waterfowl, and nearby woods for other small game where seasons remain open.
Burbot fishing also picks up during this time, and one of my definitive “drill and fill” trips includes these tasty freshwater cod. At Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the border of Wyoming and Utah, the sagebrush flats around the reservoir offer excellent rabbit hunting, especially during high cycle years. In Utah, the cottontail season extends through February, jackrabbits are legal year-round, and excellent ice fishing exists as long as the ice remains thick enough to be safe. Fisheries managers, in an effort to balance sport fish populations in Flaming Gorge, even encourage maximum legal harvest of certain fishes.
“Everyone is astounded when they hear the catch rates we have here at the gorge for burbot, and we also encourage the harvest of smaller ‘pup’ lake trout,” said Ryan Mosley, a project biologist at Flaming Gorge with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “Anglers can readily fill the smoker, fry pan, stewpot, and freezer.”
For a marathon drill and fill, I like to chase rabbits in the morning, followed by an afternoon of lake trout jigging, and finished with a bounty of burbot at night—a resourceful way to not just survive the winter bet genuinely enjoy and make the best of it.
Speaking of resourcefulness and endless opportunities, I look forward to this spring in Alaska. My buddy and I are planning a new, hopefully definitive “drill-and-fill” trip—mushing sled dogs across the North Slope tundra to fill remaining caribou tags, while stopping to ice fish untouched lakes for arctic char and lake trout. We’ll find some flocks of ptarmigan along the way, too. Such are the perks of residency in the cast and blast capital of the world.
As rifle shots punctuate the deer rut, Thanksgiving celebrations punctuate the customary agricultural harvest season. From the jack-o’-lanterns that were carved pre-rut, today only pumpkin pie crumbs remain. But that doesn’t mean your harvest season should end. Bountiful opportunities for fishing while hunting, or hunting while fishing, will get you through the post-rut, post-turkey dinner stupor. Try out cast and blast, or drill and fill, this winter. Come spring, while chasing next Thanksgiving’s gobbler, you might as well fish for walleye, trout, bass, or panfish, all of which tend to bit particularly well on the tail of winter. Soon after that, it will be time to the sow seeds for pre-rut jack-o’-lanterns and to prepare for rutting bucks in November.
Featured image via Tim Romano.