Imagine your ideal Saturday. Mine would include a little fishing and a little hunting. Those two activities have been linked as my collective passion since, well, forever. If we’re on the same page, then a cast and blast close to home or as a trip will be right up your alley.
You don’t always have to travel far to find cast and blast opportunities. From Alabama bass and rabbits to Michigan grouse and walleye, fall fishing and hunting adventures abound across the country. For me, it was a recent panfish on the fly and squirrel-hunting trip. It’s a sentimental duo because my earliest hunting memories are of squirrel hunting with my dad, and the first fish I caught on a fly rod was a bluegill.
The following cast and blast adventures may be close to home for you or far away. Either way, they’re all worth checking out this fall.
1. Snake River Mixed Bag Adventure
Where: Riggins, Idaho
When: September through January
Cast: Smallmouth bass, sturgeon, salmon, steelhead
If you’re interested in a western adventure that includes catching loads of fish and hunting chukar over a pointer, then pack your bags for a float down the Snake or Salmon river in Idaho. Fred Taylor of Mountain River Outfitters runs a four-day float down the Snake River and a one-day float on the Salmon.
Great fishing and action-packed bird hunting aren’t the only draws. The natural beauty of the area is worth the trip. “It’s a desert in the mountains, and it’s rugged and beautiful kind of country. The canyon walls shoot 5,000 feet high,” says Taylor.
On the Snake, you can fish for smallmouth bass, salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon. But, the smallmouth fishing is nonstop action. “It’s not uncommon to catch 150 to 200 bass a day,” says Taylor.
After a morning of smallie action, you can rest your arms and exercise your legs hiking in Hell’s Canyon as you listen for chukar and watch German shorthaired pointers get to work. Chukar have a distinct chirp that allows hunters to home in on their location, but you still have to get to them. With burning lungs and legs, you’ll quickly learn why this area is called Hell’s Canyon. The terrain dishes out humility and the quick-flying chukars give out a second helping.
‘“After the hunt, we’ll stop at a few fishing holes and try to catch a few sturgeon,” says Taylor.
White sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America. Their life span is over 100 years and in that time they’ll reach close to 12 feet and 400 pounds. Hell’s Canyon is a catch-and-release fishery, so there’s an abundance of large sturgeon. To catch them, you’ll drop chunks of bait on heavy conventional gear into the deep holes these fish call home.
That long day is capped off with a hot Dutch-oven meal and a good night’s sleep in a wall tent. The best time for the Snake River adventure is the third Saturday in September through the first week of October. There is, however, another cast and blast option on the Salmon River from October through January.
“We do a one-day cast and blast on the Salmon River out of Riggins,” says Taylor, “We’ll be steelhead fishing from drift boats, and we’ll be hunting chukar.”
2. The Florida Experience
Where: Miami, Florida
When: September and October
Cast: A mixed bag of saltwater fish and peacock bass
Blast: Alligators and hogs
Florida is a unique place, and it offers cast and blast opportunities no other state can. Imagine catching giant tarpon one day and then hunting alligators the next. September and October are all about the mullet run. Miami-based fishing guide Kevin Hughes of South Florida Uncharted looks forward to this each year.
“The mullet run brings in some serious seasonal action. All that bait makes the fish much more aggressive,” says Hughes. “Fish that typically won’t go after an artificial will suddenly blow up on a topwater or hammer a swimbait right at the boat.”
You’ll catch a variety of species during the mullet run, including some surprises.
“There’s always tarpon and always snook, but the numbers that are here during the mullet run are just ridiculous. It brings kingfish, Mahi, and tuna a lot closer to shore,” Huges says. “Every year I’m always surprised by a nice keeper black grouper up on the surface on a live mullet, which is something you wouldn’t expect to happen.”
If you don’t time the mullet run just right, or the wind is kicking, you can head inland for peacock bass. You can catch them in canals, swamps, and even from storm drains as they feed aggressively before winter.
“They tend to put the feed bag on and become hyper-aggressive because they know it’s going to get cold. So it’s a really fun time of year to fish for them,” says Hughes.
After you’ve gotten your fill of those tackle thrashing exotics, you can move on to hunting the native alligator, and what’s more Florida than that?
To hunt Alligators in Florida, you can enter the limited draw where 10,000 applicants apply for the 6,000 available permits annually. The odds aren’t bad, but if you don’t draw a tag you still have options. You can still hunt alligators as long as you’re with a guide that is a license alligator trapper. Either way, you’ll want a guide for gators, and there are many options throughout Florida.
“It’s our only ‘dangerous game’ here in Florida, and there’s no better rush than having a big angry bull alligator a few feet away from you biting anything in its way,” says local alligator hunter, Alex Gonzales.
If gators aren’t your thing, wild hogs are an abundant and destructive invasive species found throughout Florida. Despite their numbers, they are challenging to hunt because they’re most active at night.
3. North Carolina Rails and Reds
Where: Cape Fear, North Carolina
When: September and October
Blast: Virginia and clapper rails
Your eyes scan for movement as your guide poles the skiff through a North Carolina marsh. You throw your 20 gauge to your shoulder and squeeze off a shot at a flushing rail. Then you set down the scattergun and pick up an eight weight as your attention turns toward tailing reds.
If that doesn’t sound like fun, then you should take up golf.
The destination is Cape Fear near Wilmington, North Carolina, and this cast and blast is about timing the tide.
“You’re waiting for the huge flood tides we get on the new and full moons. When all the water comes in, it pushes the birds into the thickest grass and concentrates them,” says Judson Brock of Muddy Fly Guide Service.
A rail is a marsh-dwelling migratory game bird. Their long legs and beak allow them to wade through the marsh as they feed on insects, seeds, snails, and even crawfish. Hunting rails isn’t like a grueling day chasing grouse in the mountains. It takes place mostly from a poling skiff, and it’s not uncommon to shoot a limit.
The strategy is to cover water, hoping between tufts of grass.
“You can pick out where the rails will be because it’s always the tallest thickest grass, and when we’re in between those tufts of grass, we’re also looking for tailing redfish,” says Brock.
Redfish were made for the fly rod. They are perfect for sight casting, they willingly eat flies, and they fight hard. Most of the redfish action will happen at high tide, but on the falling tide, you can switch over to speckled trout fishing.
Rails have a bad rap for tasting like the muddy marshes they inhabit, but Brock has cooking tips that make these birds delicious, and he stresses the importance of field care.
“The important thing to do is have a cooler with ice in it. I always put the birds on ice right away and clean them when I get home,” he says. “I’ll brine them in saltwater for a day or two, soak them in buttermilk, and flash fry them. They’re actually delicious. I’ll make them like that for parties, and people love them.”
4. Maine Grouse and Muskie
Where: Northern Maine
When: October and November
Northern Maine is an outdoor heaven with expansive wilderness and a variety of hunting and fishing opportunities. While it’s known for bear, moose, and big-bodied deer, it also has excellent grouse hunting.
According to Wade Kelly of Tylor Kelly Camps, Maine’s grouse population is going strong. “We haven’t seen the decline like a lot of states have,” he says, and his clients don’t have trouble reaching their four-bird limit.
Grouse hunting involves covering a lot of ground and your day will be spent walking 4 to 5 miles on old logging roads. Kelly guides hunters in the North Maine Woods, a 3.5-million-acre property which is privately owned, but open to public access for a fee. With that much land, it’s not hard to get away from other hunters and find areas with unpressured birds.
When you’re not burning boot leather hunting grouse, you can burn big baits through the water for Muskie. Some hot spots include the St. John River, Allagash River, and Glazier Lake.
There are a lot of places you can go on a Muskie trip, but the odds of catching one in Maine are really good. “In most places, they’re considered a fish of 10,000 casts, but in Maine most days you can catch anywhere from one to three fish,” says Del Harrington of Muskie Connection.
Maine doesn’t only have good numbers of fish. They have big ones too. Harrington guides on the St. John, where the 33-pound state record was caught. Last year Harrington’s average Muskie was 38 inches, a respectable fish anywhere in the country. If a big Muskie is on your bucket list, fall is a great time to fish the St. John.
“The big females don’t feed much during the summer. But in the fall, they are feeding heavily to get ready for winter, so it’s a great time of year to catch a big trophy fish,” Harrington says. “The second week of October through the first week of November is very good fishing.”
When you go Muskie fishing, hope for bad weather. It might seem weird to wish for it, but for Muskie, you don’t want a bluebird day.
“When it comes to Muskie fishing the nastier the weather, the better they bite,” says Harrington. Fly fishing, casting lures, and trolling are all effective fall tactics.
“For casting, we use big rubber baits, like a Bull dawg or Medusa,” says Harrington. Other lures that produce are glide baits and big jointed crankbaits. If you’re fly fishing, you’ll throw big flies in the seven to eight-inch range with a ten weight and a 450-grain sinking line.
5. Ducks and Reds in Cajun Country
Where: New Orleans
When: November and December
When you visit Louisiana, you can expect good fishing, good hunting, and good food. “It’s one of the few places in the country where you can shoot ducks and catch high quality and quantity of fish,” says Chris Pike Jr. of Cast and Blast Charters.
South Louisiana has one of the largest concentrations of migratory waterfowl. It’s a duck hunter’s paradise with a wide variety of available species.
“We mainly focus on puddle ducks like gadwall, teal, pintail, and widgeon,” Pike says.
The consistent migration is one of the reasons the hunting there is so good. “Our ducks aren’t as weather dependent, and we don’t need a strong cold front like a lot of places,” Pike says. The fishing is really good in the fall, and the duck hunting gets better in the winter so, it’s all about timing the two peak seasons. “November to December is the best time to balance good hunting with good fishing,” he says.
On Pike’s cast and blast trip, you’ll leave the dock 30 minutes before daylight headed for the duck blind where you’ll hunt until 10 a.m. After lunch, you’ll jump into a fishing boat and fish from 1 p.m. until dark. It’s a long, but action-packed day that will give you enough stories to last the rest of the winter.
Popping corks with artificial or live bait are the go-to choice for Louisiana reds, but it’s also a great time of year to catch them on the fly.
“The winter time is the best time of year to do any sight casting because the water clarity is consistently good. That’s my best time for anyone that’s interested in fly fishing,” Pike says. And if the great hunting and fishing aren’t enough to keep you busy, you’re only 45 minutes from New Orleans, so you can squeak some sight-seeing into the trip.