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By Captain Jay

Let me start out by saying Happy New Year! Wait, isn’t it already the 10th of January, right? Yes, I guess I was under a rock or something, or maybe just off the rock  ;-). Well no, not actually, we have just been working toward making 2014 one of the best. Already it has started off with a bang. Our first trip of the new year was January 2. We left the dock with husband and wife Allan and Tatiana from Moscow, Russia. Having fished offshore before, the couple had good expectations of what was going to be the target of the day. We decided rather than run to very deep water, we would start the morning fishing in 200 feet of water just southwest of Sand Key Lighthouse. The sky was clear and sunny, 78 degrees, with a light 12 knots of wind from the southeast. A beautiful morning for sure. We started trolling to the west and within ten minutes of the first bait in the water; SNAP!, the left rigger pops out of the clip. The ensuing event was incredible, as a giant Bull Dolphin immediately jumps five feet out of the water shaking his head. Allan jumps quick to the rod and begins the battle of a lifetime. With the skills of a pro, and great coaching, he settles in. Stubborn and sly the Bull uses his wide body to work against Allan any way that he can. Noticing the surrounding lobster trap bouys nearby, the fish worked hard at maneuvering himself toward them to try to cut the line, but thankfully with no avail (talk about hair standing on end for me!). After close to half an hour Allan was close to completion, but this bully wasn’t done yet. Within feet from the gaff the bull screamed off again with a drag screaming run. This time the fish was starting to show signs of fatigue and very soon we were close once again. As a good angler does, Allan gently finessed the Bull closer and Cory slipped the gaff in the perfect place. Wow! what a fish, and what a Bull! In January to catch a Dolphin is rare, and a big Bull like this is truly an anomaly. Judging the weight of the fish from atop the bridge I figured a weight of 30 pounds or so. Yeah, right, I missed that one. A whopping 43 pound Bull!!! What a great fish to start off the new year! Allan, who has fished in different places throughout the world, later told me that he had caught many Dolphin, but none even near as close to the size of this awesome bull. Great job Allan and thanks for such a great beginning to the new year!

Now with a start to the new year like that, all we can do now is hope that this is a precursor to great things for 2014. We here at KeyWestFishTales are very excited for this year and the new additions we have in store as well. We have been working on a few new things for this year that I am sure will be as exciting for our clients as they are for us.

Allan's Big Bull

More To Come

This year we will be introducing the addition to our new inshore vessel giving our clients even more opportunity and availability to fish the pristine waters of Key West. Still under contraction at this time, we hope to have this boat splashing in full speed by March and even possibly by the end of February. At 24 feet long and almost 10 feet wide this vessel, built by T-Craft, will have more than enough room to accommodate our clients with much more space and comfort than any flats or bay boat. Originally designed to haul tonnage across shallow flats back in the 1970’s and 1980’s for smuggling, this vessel is more than capable of carrying anglers to remote flats and shallow water destinations to target such species as Tarpon, Shark, Permit, Snapper, and Barracuda. As we get closer to its unveiling, we will post pictures and updates of its progress. For inshore charter info feel free to contact us at 305-923-1043. You can call anytime.

Also this year will be the beginning of what will become my famous BurgerBlog. As diverse as Key West itself, there is a cheeseburger on the menu of almost every restaurant in Key West. Jimmy Buffet even wrote a hit song about his vision of a”Cheeseburger In Paradise”. I am a burger FREAK, and can boast that I have eaten a burger at almost every burger joint in the lower Keys and Key West. This will be a weekly rating and ranking of all of the best and worst burgers and burger joints in and around the island so the next time you or your friends are in town you can sink your teeth into the best. Keep up with this BurgerBlog as it will sure to be a lot of fun.

Once again we can’t wait to see what is in store for 2014 as we are very excited to have so many great things to look forward too. See you soon!!

 

… Upon waking up not only was it still raining steady, but the wind had picked up as well. Temperatures had dropped, and now the tents in which we were sleeping had become so saturated they could not repel any more water. Everything that was not sealed up in a waterproof bag was soaked. I barely slept that night, but with the wind whipping rain I decided to stay put in my tent until 10:00am or so to try and stay as dry as I could. There were breaks in the rain at times and I finally exited my tent mid morning to try and start a fire. Wet wood doesn’t light very easily as you might guess, but my skills provided me with the know how to get the fire going and get warm. Yes, I watched an episode of Survivorman once ;-). As noon approached we decided to break out the satellite phone and make a few calls and try to get a detailed weather report for the next few hours. The sky to the west was looking grey and we needed to make sure we were not going to be stuck with terrible weather as everything we had was already soaked. The first call was not necessarily a shocker as we were informed that there was a massive storm heading our way. The window of opportunity to hike out of our camp was about 3 hours and we would be in bad weather for another full afternoon and all night if we stayed. The report was for over a few inches of rain, then temperatures to the teens, and then followed by a dumping of snow. Obviously this was going to suck! The next call, because we are always looking for a better opinion was closely the same, only now this report was that our window was an hour or so. We had a talk amongst each other and decided if the weather was going to be this bad we needed to cut our losses and make haste. To be completely honest I was not too pleased. I tried to explain that we could hunker down and by the next morning we would be back to the hunt… I was turned down. I am however a smart man I think and staying at camp by myself may have been the dumbest thing I could have done, so I began packing my gear. Our second forecast was dead on as the sky turned black with clouds and the wind began to blow 30 knots or better. As we readied our gear for the hike down the rain started dumping. Other than the rain we had only one major obstacle ahead and that was crossing the creek.

Half a mile or so down hill from camp we needed to cross the creek to reach the main trail back to the entrance and our vehicle. Already raging with whitewater rapids from all the nights previous rain this was going to be a treat. Carrying a 60lb pack across slippery rocks and rushing water is not an easy feat by any stretch. We took two bags we used for clothes and put them over our boots duct taping them as well as possible to try and keep our feet dry. The crossing was difficult, but each of us made it without falling and our boots stayed somewhat dry. Once across we made our way down the mountain.

The hike down was not anything like we had envisioned though. Last time we hunted this mountain the hike down was fairly easy. Hiking with a pack as heavy as these in nasty, slippery mud was a totally different animal. Every step had to be made with caution as the ground under our feet gave way almost immediately. A few slip and falls were common and helping each other up out of the mud was becoming very normal. The weather never let up a bit as pouring rain was met with whipping wind gusts. Finally, with about a mile to go we were given some release from the downpour and a light sprinkle persisted. Reaching the vehicle was a very happy time for our bodies as the trek down had turned all of our muscles to jello. Within minutes though from reaching the truck the rain poured harder which was met with a disgusted sense of happiness. Cold, soaking wet, and disappointed as we were, no one was hurt or injured and we were safe. However, our hunt was over.

The ride home out of Aspen

The Ride Home

The ride back to Jim’s house was a quiet one as we were all pretty beat. We rolled into Jim;s place a little after dark and unloaded the soaking wet gear. He had however made some hot pasta for us which was really nice after the energy depleting hike down. After a long sleep that night we woke up to still more rain. By maybe mid morning or so just like they had said, the rain had stopped and a blue sky took over. As we gazed upon the surrounding mountains though we realized how much snow had dumped upon the peaks. Most of even the low mountains were completely covered to the bottom. This meant we would have been in feet of snow had we stayed up at camp. Not only was there a ton of snow, but these extreme effects usually drive the Elk down from the mountain to the valleys where they spend their winters. Had we stayed we may not have seen an Elk as it is.The mountain the next day

Whether you are hunting or fishing, sometimes all of your weeks and months of preparation turn around to bite you in the backside, but have no fear. God willing you will rise up through this adversity to plan another trip. Which in turn hopefully will be much better than the last. So keep your head up!!

… No this bull wanted to have a bugle war. At least thats what it seemed like to me. I “mew” again and he bugles again, this time closing in a bit more. Then Silence. Ten or so minutes go by without any sound. I decide to call again just as before but no reply. Another few minutes pass and he lets out a bugle, but now from twice as far it seems than he just was. Now for my bugle, and I am met immediately again by his retort. I let out another, and again the same reply only now he’s coming back closer. The next minute or so is quiet and I bugle once more. Ten seconds pass and he bugles back, but this time he is so close I feel like he is screaming in my ear. But I don’t see him. I can hear him pushing through the timber, I can smell him in the air, he just won’t step out of the timber. Sitting still, I can hear him moving through the swampy timber up and around my position. Not wanting to let him get down wind of me I make my move 40 yards or so back up hill to the east. I find a great tree to set up next to with a perfect shooting lane just off from where i heard him last. Then I bugle. This time I bugle soft as to not freak him out so to speak. His reply this time is returned with grunts and snorts, almost so close it feels like he is standing next to me. This time I chuckle and grunt back with my bugle and what I got in return was awesome. Back and forth we went chuckling and grunting. He was just on the other side of a few thick pines. His smell was thick in the air and he was pissed off. Snorts and grunts and chuckles and all the noises they make in between were coming from this bull. He however wanted no part of showing himself. I sneak back closer to him and I hear him bugle again. I assume he heard me moving or caught a whiff of my scent, or this bull was looking for a fight and didn’t get one, or maybe this was a herd bull, I don’t know. Whatever happened, he was moving away from me. I “mew” a time or two and he bugles back this time more than 50 yards from me or so. Then 20 or 30 minutes pass with no noise. I move once again toward where I heard him last, maybe 75 yards or so. Now with the sun high overhead I stop to refuel. Nature Valley granola bar is always a good energy boost and plenty of water. Then, about half way through my snack, he bugles, 20 or so yards above me. Almost choking on my granola I grab my bow, and knock an arrow once again. Not to alert him I shimmy up hill where I think he is. What I find was not what I expected. The Elk Super Highway. An open clearing 75 yards long, 25 yards wide and with maybe 30 different Elk trails coming in from all directions. Droppings, rubs, tracks, everything I was looking for except the bull. Where did he go? I find a nice spot to sit and wait it out for a while. I cow call a few times with no response. An hour or so passes and I decide to bugle again. To my dismay the return bugle is way off in the distance. Mind you as close as he was to me three different times I still haven’t gotten a look at him. Not even through the thick timber. I decide to wait a while more until finally I get bored and go back to where I had eaten a few hours ago. As I am grabbing my pack that I ditched the last time I heard him, bam, he bugles above me once again. This time I jump! Up and over the rock again back to the clearing and he is gone? What the? I am dumbfounded. He was so loud 30 seconds ago I almost came out of my skin, and now gone? Not to worry I tell myself and try a “mew” with his return bugle only seconds later. This time the bugle was from way off. Could this be a different bull? Either way I was determined to wait here and find out. Then silence, followed my more silence. I “mew” a few more times and get nothing back. By now the sun is starting to set on the opposite side of the mountain from me and darkness will not be far off. I decide todays hunt was going to have to end and tomorrow I would pick it back up right here in this same area. I  start my trek down. Working back down the mountain, especially with tired legs, can be almost as hard, if not harder, than it was climbing up. Taking my time I watch the sunlight slowly fade away. A call to my buddy on the two-way radio to let him know where I am and what direction I am going and vise versa lets us know each one is ok. Then the bugling starts. 300 yards or so I guess, a choir of bugles starts above me. This leaves me super excited to know they are in this area, and I am coming back in the morning.

I keep working down, and now am about half way back to camp. The light has almost all escaped the mountain and the twilight time of dusk sets in. I reach into my pack for my head lamp. “Damn it!! It’s not in my pack.” Just then I realize I left it on my sleeping bag that morning getting ready. Now remember that preparedness thing I was talking about. This was not easy. Keeping the only gage I had for direction (the peak across the valley with just enough light to make it out) in sight I worked down slowly, finally making back to the creek in the dark. A cautious shimmy across my makeshift bridge and back to camp I am. We sit down exhausted around the fire and exchange stories of how the day went for each of us.

I was so excited still as I laid down to sleep I could barely contain myself. Then, it happened. About 10:30 or so that night the first drop or two a few seconds apart, followed then by a few more. Then more, until finally it started pouring, and it didn’t stop. All night long it rained. Sometimes it slowed, but for the most part it poured. The only thing that kept me warm and dry was the fact that I was in a waterproof sleeping bag. All but a few of my clothes and gear were packed into sealed bags so I  was not too terribly concerned for that as much I was the cold. The temperature dropped into the 20s and now the rain was freezing, soon this place would be covered in snow…

… Now for the true grit.

Our hunt this year begins in the third week of September. It definitely starts off with conflict as we wait at the airport here in Key West for 4 hours due to one small rain cloud… I’m not kidding; sunny and beautiful I tell ya!! This glitch in our plans causes us to only make our connecting flights by mere seconds. Thankfully all of our gear made it and we arrive in Denver and start the close to 4 hour drive out to Jim’s. The weather is damp when we arrive to Jim’s, with some rain on the forecast, but in all 60’s and the rain shouldn’t last too long. The time frame in which we show up this year comes just after the massive flooding in the Boulder area, which claimed peoples lives and left many families homeless just before fall and winter. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this catastrophic disaster.

As usual we don’t get into Aspen until late at night, so we give ourselves a day in between traveling and packing into the mountain for some last minute prep and groceries, ect. This is also good for us as it gives us an extra day to get used to the change in elevation and the thinner air. It also gives us some time to joyride around  the area and check out the Mule Deer, which are seemingly everywhere, and a few private land Elk which all graze in the confines of the lush cattle farms.

Mule Deer in Aspen

Mule Deer

The rain is all day and finally by almost dusk it quits. Waking up to almost clear skies is a relief to us all as a lot of work has to get done today before we ever make it to camp. Being that this is a “do it yourself” hunt, the work involved to make it all happen doesn’t always go that smoothly. Once we round up the horses, and all of our gear, we make the 45 minute drive to the base of the mountain. The horses are unloaded and we pack all the gear and make the slow trek up the mountain 8 miles. Our forecast for the week was to be beautiful and crisp with lows in the upper 30’s. Perfect for my liking as the crisp temperatures gets the animals moving. We arrive to camp mid afternoon and begin our set up. First on the list is firewood, then the tent, water (which we pump through a filter as to not contract any illness or disease), and finally a fire. Jim leaves with the horses in tow to make it back to the truck before dark. Believe me its a long day, and by the time dinner is finished some well needed rest comes quickly.

The Hunt Begins

The first morning in the mountain is brisk starting off a little below freezing with a light breeze. I grab my binoculars and walk to the south a few hundred yards and immediately spot a bull above me on top of the avalanche slide. A fine animal indeed, looking to be a 5 by 5 satellite bull. I go back to camp and grab my gear. As I head up the mountain to the west I see many signs of fresh tracks, bedding, and droppings. In this area, finding which one of hundreds of animal trails they are using can take days. Broadcasting a call here and there, I get no reply. Trying to cover a lot of ground here is taxing as every step needs to be met with caution, because it could be your last. All the rain and weather has left the ground on the mountain side soft and easily disturbed. Slipping and sliding are inevitable on the loose soil. Playing the wind in my favor I follow a well used trail deep into the timber. My hunt for the day ends very quietly as I see nothing and hear nothing for the rest of the day.

Day two however was a completely different story. The morning starts off the same as the last weather wise. This day I decide to hunt an area across the creek that I have never hunted before. Three years prior I tried to hop, skip, and jump across the whitewater rapids of the creek with a tremendous FAIL! Soaking wet and freezing I limped back to camp to get warm and avoid hypothermia, also noticing my bow had suffered breakage in my fall. This was not one of my better days as you can imagine. So obviously I was a little apprehensive about this time as the creek was rushing slightly harder. To cross this time I made a bridge out of some of the fallen timber nearby and made it safely and dry.the view from across the creek Expecting to hunt with my buddy this day I turned to see him walking away telling me he was going to hunt the opposite side of the mountain to the southwest of me. On my own I began the steep hike up. The Elk tracks as I climbed were everywhere. This area was definitely a well travelled part of the mountain. Once up 800 feet or so in elevation from the creek, I glassed with my binoculars across the valley to the other side of the mountain. I spot numerous Elk high above where the pines stop growing and short aspen patches only remain. Above the Elk are Mountain Goats standing on the steep rocks of the cliffs. With their long white hair the goats stick out like a sore thumb on the cliff. I judge them to be about a mile or so from me as the crow flies. Above me I happen to hear the faint sound of a bugle. Now my excitement level is raised and I head higher up the hillside. Not far from my last stop I start to see other animal tracks as well. Mountain Lion, Black Bear, and tracks from who knows what else grace the trail I walk. Knowing these animals are in the area is always important because nobody wants to have a run in with either of these two. As I hike farther up again I hear the faint sound of yet another bugle. Wanting to get a better direction of this bull I bugle towards the last sound. Immediately my bugle is met with a rebuttal. Now I’m close. I put down the bugle and give a “mew” and again am met with a bugle back. My wind is perfect as the bull is upwind of me. Wind direction on the mountainside is rarely consistent and swirling breezes can alert the nose of an Elk faster than you can move. Scent blockers and sprays can work… but being downwind of your prey is the best plan of attack. As I work closer to the bull I come up to a swampy area that plateaus for 50 yards or so. Bedding and droppings are everywhere and the smell of Elk is apparent. ” He was just here,” I tell myself. All the hiking prior to this swampy area was in very thick timber so a shot would have been almost impossible had I come across a bull. This area however was great. Plenty of places to kneel down and a few open shooting lanes. Now all I needed was a little cooperation. Oh and maybe some luck.

My first instinct is to bugle and see how far apart we are. I call and am called back in an instant. Less than 100 yards I assume. A mew or two and immediately I am met again by a loud bugle. Now to see if I can get him interested enough to come step into the open. Bulls that are in a herd sometimes are reluctant to leave the herd in search of a female who is far from the herd, and if there is another bull nearby, if they feel threatened will leave and take the herd in the opposite direction. This being said sometimes your great bugle can push the animals away. The cow call is used to bring the stubborn bull closer once the bull is located. This bull however was not this way…

If many of you know me well enough, you know I have a passion for hunting. Just like fishing, this passion overwhelms me to the point that I obsess over it. I plan and prepare months ahead of time. Making sure I have everything I need to make my hunt the best. And just like fishing, there are plenty of times that the “Big One” doesn’t happen to show up. Deer, Turkey, wild Hog, and Waterfowl are my main targets, but Elk is by far one of my favorites, especially Elk hunting with a bow. The excitement of Elk hunting during the rut, is to me, one of the most adrenaline rushing experiences a hunter can have. Hearing the bugle of a big bull nearby makes me as excited as seeing a big Blue Marlin hot in the spread.

Now Elk roam quite a vast area in North America. From New Mexico to Canada, they dwell in higher elevations mostly along the Rocky Mountain chain. I have many friends that have their favorite spots they like, but for me I really enjoy Colorado. Colorado boasts the most Elk population in America than any other state. A big animal, Elk stand as tall as a horse, run as fast as a deer, and are as agile as a mountain goat, and have senses better than almost any animal on planet Earth. Males can exceed  700 pounds and have antlers over 5 feet long. Their meat is outstanding compared to venison, and to me is comparable to buffalo. Very lean and if prepared correctly, is very tasty. many people make into burger, roast, cube steak, and sausage. I love it all, even the jerky, and just like fish, nothing gets wasted. I will say say though, I enjoy hunting for the experience in the outdoors more than the kill itself. this is why I love Colorado so much.Aspen Colorado 1

A Mountain Paradise

The place I like to go is just outside of Aspen. Years ago I met a fellow named Jim who came to Key West to fish for Tarpon with me. Born and raised in the mountains, Jim is extremely knowledgeable, and a very avid hunter himself. Might I tell you his house is a taxidermist dream. Animals from all shapes and sizes, and from all corners of the globe grace his walls. A true sportsman, Jim invited me up to hunt this very special place he grew up hunting. Over eight miles up into the mountains on horseback brings us to an elevation of over 10,000 feet above sea level. For most people this elevation makes them sick. Altitude sickness as it is commonly called can cause massive headaches, vomiting, and a strong likeness to sea-sickness, not good. This place is also not for the faint of heart. The hiking alone can test even the fittest individual, with steep grades and loose rocks, a slip and fall usually ends up with a tumble down and broken bones or even worse… so don’t fall!! My size at 6’5″ doesn’t help me out either, but my fearless instinct gives me a slight advantage, at least thats what I tell myself. This place however is one of the most gorgeous places on earth.

We set up camp in a valley just shy of four peaks. there is a creek, which flows very hard I might say, that runs down through the middle of the valley. Surrounded by these four peaks its almost as if we are in a bowl so to speak. most of our hunts take place a 1000 feet or so in elevation above us, so a good hike everyday sometimes two, will wear you out. Sleep is a very easily obtainable thing on these hunts as being wiped out is an everyday occurrence, and the sound of the rushing water of the creek helps out a lot. Large timber such as giant pines and aspens grow from the creek up the mountain a thousand feet in elevation or so. Above these pines are small rocky plateaus which rise up a few hundred feet more to cliffs which reach up to the peak. Amid the pines there are large avalanche slides in which all the trees are gone on the mountainside and laying in a pile in the valley, which is a Beavers paradise as well.

Archery season in Colorado starts in early September and runs through the month. The best of it though is when the rut starts which usually happens at the end of September. The “rut” as I call it is when the females come into their heat, and mating takes place. the bulls are all vying for the same cows so many fights take place during this time of year. The majority of these fights are vocal ones. Bugling is the most heard sound these bulls make and each one use this vocal expression for both locating cows that are ready to mate, or to scare off would be adversaries trying to take the cows for themselves. This sound is very loud and can be heard for hundreds of yards. It is basically like a “hey I’m over here and I’m bigger and badder than you” yell. This time of year can be the hunters advantage, as the bugle can be used to locate big bulls nearby. Once a big bull is located, then the stalk begins. Cows use a light call to keep in vocal contact with others called a “mew”. This “mew” does really sound that way and has a bit of variances to it. Whether keeping in contact with bulls, other cows, or calfs, the “mew” can have higher and lower pitch, and different lengths. Many manufacturers out there have devoted their lives to mimic these calls and sell them by the millions. Just like fishing lures, these calls come in all shapes, sizes, prices, and gimmicks. Some of these calls work very well with little experience necessary to use them whereas others can take years to master the sound reproduction. Once a bull has been located the sound of a cow can draw them closer, and in most cases within 50 feet or so. Many archers who get to take down an Elk do so with shots of less than 30 yards. These shots have to be taken very quickly, which can test even the best of archers. Believe me this aint no tree stand hunt! You need to be smart, wily, crafty, and most of all confident. This is why I love it so much! With that being said, I wish it was something I could do all the time. I envy those who live within miles of Elk country, the same way I’m sure they envy me being so close to big game fishing.Aspen Colorado 3

Now for the prep

With all the excitement comes much preparation. I spend literally  months getting ready for the hunt. The mountains can be a tricky place to hunt so all angles need to be addressed. The weather is the biggest factor as the mountain climate is rarely consistent this time of year. Seriously the first time I went, it was 70 degrees in the afternoon while setting up camp, and that night it snowed 6 inches. Wow!! I didn’t know what to think then. Clothing is a major contributor to this preparation as both warm and cold weather clothing should be packed as well as good rain gear. Making sure all your gear is in tip top working condition “just like fishing” is a must as during the hunt fixes are rarely easy and can end your hunt as quickly as it started. Not only your gear but also its weight plays a huge factor. In our hunts we set up and take down our camp in hours and leave the wilderness looking as if it was untouched, and carrying all the gear needed is heavy and sometimes bulky. A good plan of attack should be well thought out in packing your gear. Somethings are necessities while others are just adding to a much heavier pack. I try not to pack anything that I don’t absolutely need. Nutrition plays a large part of both your survival as well as your pack weight. Packed out suburbanFood is also well thought out as big bulky items are not necessarily giving the best nutrition. There is a reason that “trail mix” is called this, and it truly is one of the best things you can bring on a hunt. Grains, nuts, dried fruits, and sometimes chocolate provide you with lots of useful energy, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Foods such as these can be packed in small places as well keeping the size and weight to a minimum. Obviously we don’t live live on trail mix for 7 days, but you get what I’m saying. The last thing you need is a bunch of boxes and trash to have to lug around. Many of my foods are taken out of its packages and repacked into vacuumed bags or zip locks. this keeps them fresh and less bulky while keeping down on the trash as well as the weight. As said before the mountain is a risky place, and with it there is danger. Many things can happen while in the mountain and precautions need to be taken. A satellite phone or a “Spot” as many hunters use are always a necessity. Being able to alert someone of a possible dangerous accident is a must. Getting lost, broken bones, or worse can all be reasons to need to call for a rescue. Survival begins before you ever leave your home. Being prepared for worst case scenarios is your duty as an outdoorsman, and if not taken seriously can be the difference between life or death…