Mushroom Hunting with Yellow Elanor and the Biwa™

Climbing closer to our secret destination in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the sun struggles to break through the thick layer of stormy gray clouds looming above us. We weave through the canopy of towering ponderosa pines, gravel crunching beneath our tires as we pull off to an inconspicuously unmarked area on the side of the road. Ahead of us, seasoned mushroom hunter, Rachel Zoller—otherwise known as Yellow Elanor—steps out of her Subaru Forester, greeting us with a bright and knowing smile. It’s the look of someone who just can’t wait to reveal a thrilling, well-kept secret.

To the unknowing or untrained eye, this would appear like any ordinary place off the beaten path. But as Rachel pops the trunk of her car and strategically assembles her supplies for the hunt, we realize we’re in for a special treat: this remarkable place is one of Yellow Elanor’s well-researched hidden gems where she guides other foragers in search for Pacific Northwest hidden treasure. That is, nature’s treasure known as mushrooms.

A Forager’s Journey

Before adopting the moniker Yellow Elanor, Rachel admits not paying too much attention to mushrooms. But what propelled her to uncover this vast new world of fungi species would seem to be happenstanceand perhaps a call from fate. It began when Rachel joined a group of friends on a typical fall hike; while the group’s original mission was simply to search for huckleberries, it soon shifted to something else entirely. As Rachel and her companions traveled further into the forest, she recalls someone in the group pointing out sproutings of chanterelles along the forest floor.

“It just was such a surprise. Up until this moment, I had spent a lot of time in the woods, but never really paid a whole lot of attention to mushrooms before,” says Rachel. “It felt like this unveiling of the forest floor. There were different shapes, sizes, colors of all kinds. So I began asking a lot of questions, but the group I was with was most familiar with the Chanterelle and not the rest of the biodiversity. It was this initial experience alone that was enough for me to want to go out again. I knew I wanted to learn more about this world.”

Inspired to broaden her knowledge, Rachel dove in head first, taking her learning into her own hands by adventuring outdoors. On her solo trips, Rachel equipped herself with a camera to document all of her findings so she could conduct more research post-excursion. The door to new discoveries had been openedand Rachel didn’t waste any time stepping through it.

Like a Needle in a Haystack

The weather takes a chilly turn with flurries cascading from the sky. We march onward, veering off the road and stepping deeper into the forest as Rachel leads us along the hillside. Traversing up an incline, there’s a small clearing below the shadowy forest canopy. Suddenly, Rachel halts us in our tracks as a faint light beam breaks through for just a moment. Excitedly letting out a cheerful cry, our eyes dart over to the area of forest floor she’s pointing at. And much like a needle in a haystack, we spot several morels poking out ever so shyly from the dark, damp soil. 

As Rachel carefully kneels in front of our new discovery, she unsheeths the featherweight Biwa™ and angles the high carbon stainless steel blade against the stem of the mushroom. In one clean, effortless swoop, it glides straight through the base of the spongy specimen. Rachel grasps the newly freed morel in her palm, using the tip of the sturdy Biwa™ to trim off any lingering excess dirt. 

Morels being one of the premier delicacies most commonly found in the Cascade Mountains, Rachel breaks down how the Pacific Northwest offers a slew of conditions that make mushroom hunting so uniquely phenomenal here.

“The Pacific is such a mecca for mushrooms. There’s a lot of rain here and you don’t have to travel far to experience the diversity of our bioregions,” says Rachel. “In the foraging aspect, there are species that love to be right on the coast, right where the sand and trees meet. Then if you travel into the valley, or the Cascades from the east versus the west side, you’re going to have a wildly different experience. Whether you’re harvesting herbs or mushrooms, there’s a wide range of options in such a compact area, from high desert, all the way to the ocean, to the rainforest. It’s just incredible.”

Documenting a Mushroom Wonderland

Rachel at the helm, we trek further along the unmarked forest path. In a way, mushroom foraging is a lot like hide and seek, a game which requires a great deal of patience and acute sense of awareness so that no important clue is overlooked along the way. 

“Identifying a mushroom is super important because if you’re going to consume something, you need to know what it is,” says Rachel. “If you’re going to be good at understanding how and when to find them, it takes an incredible amount of observation skills and patience. It’s about putting all the puzzle pieces together, paying attention to what you’re observing like what flowers or trees you see, along with everything else going on in the environment.” 

This kind of meticulous attention to detail and general detective work isn’t something Rachel takes lightly. Today, as an educator and professional guide, Rachel spends a great deal of time poring over where to take her classes of new foragers. Many of the spots she locates are only uncovered after hours of preparation and research. But no matter the hard work and dedication she pours into her craft, it always pays off in the end.

“I love taking people out into the forest, when a person all of a sudden sees a tiny baby mushroom growing out of a pine cone for the first time, there’s almost this overwhelming sensory overload and amazement,” says Rachel. “My favorite thing about being an educator and being out in the woods is having people’s eyes open to the forest floor in a totally new way.”

The Responsible Forager

As Rachel adds several new additions to her now abundantly diverse wicker basket, we notice she never leaves behind a trace post-forage, the excess clippings all added to her basket to discard later. Even when she pulls out her macro lens to document the mycelium, there’s a thoughtfulness in the way she interacts within the environment. Her passionate curiosity lives side-by-side with a respectfulness for this world she navigates.  

“Foraging has definitely become more popular in the past few years, the challenge is making sure everything is being done in an ethical and sustainable way,” says Rachel. “Mushrooms are pretty hearty when it comes to harvesting, but there are some practices that can be really damaging.”

As certain land management practices such as logging or disturbing mycelium by repeatedly visiting a single spot, Rachel notes there’s a responsibility bestowed to all who partake in mushroom foraging—whether it be their first or hundredth time. In her role as an educator, Rachel expresses the fine balance of providing enough information without promoting irresponsible practices. 

“My goal isn’t to be a gatekeeper. I want to provide enough education for people to feel confident in knowing how to forage,” says Rachel. “Everybody’s welcome back, but there’s also an element to be mindful in giving the land a break, to leave mushrooms for the animals, and not over ravage a place. It’s possible to harvest in an ethical and sustainable way. And that’s something I always hope to pass along”.

Pro Fishing Guide Kevin Newell and Field Strip Gen II

It was a misty, pre-dawn morning on Dock One in Astoria, Oregon. Soft yellow lights illuminate patches of weathered, well-worn decking and 30 or so boats gently press up against their buoys. Skeletal masts of sailboats reach up towards the low-hanging marine layer and short skiffs bob in between, set with seats in neat rows. In the middle of it all floats the 37’ Liberty Gun.

Together with his wife Lacy, Kevin Newell owns the Liberty Gun and Total Fisherman Guide Service and has for over 20 years. He quietly chats with us as his deckhand, Ben, strides down the dock pushing a wheelbarrow stacked gingerly with a dozen fishing rods. “Ah. Yeah. I was hoping we’d get out into tuna waters today,” he says. “But it’s just too rough out there.” So instead the rods Ben walks down the dock are for sturgeon and salmon. “Most of the people you’ll see headed out today are fishing for salmon anyways. This is the best salmon fishery on the west coast. But,” he explains to us, “there are rockfish and lingcod around here this time of year, too. The deeper you go, the bigger you go.”

This is the fourth season Kevin has fished with the impressively large and immaculately clean Liberty Gun (all day we see Ben wiping up single fish scales and tossing small bits of kelp overboard when there are a few moments in between baiting). We see the way he lights up when we show him what Field Strip Gen II can do—purge the Bona Fide™ of every bit of fish slime without tools, right on the boat. 

Never Skunked on Sturgeon

“You spend enough time doing anything and you should have a spidey sense,” Kevin says as he cuts the three massive motors and the Liberty Gun drifts to stillness in the middle of the Columbia River. Minutes after he and Ben bait and cast all six of the sturgeon rods, suddenly, one of them bends. 

The average sturgeon Kevin says he and his clients pull in is over 8 feet long. 800 pounds. And I believe him as my body strains against the powerful tug of the river monster we have yet to lay eyes on. The reel whirrs as the fish pulls out away from the boat and the bend of the rod is impossibly arced. Ben casually leans over and ups the drag on the reel. 

“He’s a heavy six and a half,” Kevin calmly observes almost ten full minutes later when the battle finally starts to wind down and the sturgeon’s whiskery snout breaks above the water. “You know, a lot of times the water’s too hot and the fish aren’t up here,” he says as he deftly manipulates the sturgeon to get us a good picture. “But we’re getting such a cooling effect with these big tides coming off the cold ocean that last year we didn’t have.” And it strikes me—even as I reach out to grab the massive river beast by the lower lip for a photo op—that it must be a powerful thing to know a river and fish patterns so well that you can detect even the slightest shifts from one year to the next. 

“Well guys, we’re going to let mister whiskers off the hook so he can go on and live a happy sturgeon life,” Kevin says as the fish quietly swims off. A few more massive sturgeon later, and we make our way out closer to the confluence to drop off the crab pots. 

Always Overbait the Crab Pots

 

“This is what we used to do when I was a kid,” Kevin says as he pulls a baggie stuffed full of shad out of a small cooler. “Come out, drop the crab pots, catch our salmon, go sturgeon fishing, pull the crab pots. Call it the trifecta. So that’s what we’re doing today. Just a little out of order. Doing a trifecta throwback trip. Like what I used to do in my high school days.”

There are an endless number of ways to make a crab pot. All it takes is two hoops, chicken wire (or something of the sort), rope, and a buoy. When a crab pot rests on the sandy bottom, full of bait, the crabs squeeze their way in or latch on so tight to their feast that when the crab-hungry fishermen come back later and pull the pot up, the crabs are unable to find their way back up or unwilling to let go. Simple and delicious. 

As Kevin watches Ben tie shad onto the wire, he sternly teaches, “always overbait the crab pots.”

I ask, “how much do you notice these waters and this landscape change year after year?” He gazes out over the edge of the boat and pauses as Ben drops the baited pot, “I’ve spent years, literally years of time just looking for salmon and sturgeon right here.” Looking back at me he says, “I watch the sandbars shift over long periods of time. It really makes me realize the importance of being a steward of the resources and the places that I know so well. Being a steward, to me, means that when no one is watching, you still do the right thing. Even if you could have gotten away with something.”

He turns away for a moment to help Ben tie the next silvery shad to the last crab pot and glances back, “My dad always used to say that the number one job of a leader is to create other leaders. And I really try to be that guy.”

Can’t Count on Blue Skies on the Oregon Coast

Later, after shouldering in next to countless salmon fishing skiffs, Kevin and Ben bait and cast the rods, dropping each line down to a different, tiered depth and dragging them slowly back and forth. After a few passes, we still haven’t had a bite. 

“Every day I come to my job and it’s a puzzle to solve,” shrugs Kevin. “Rarely are two days the same. It’s challenging. Sometimes extremely. I enjoy that.” 

As we decide to bail and go back to retrieve the crab pots, Kevin says “Even if the lines are empty, which they rarely are, the people that I take fishing are at their finest moments; having a great time. I’ve caught a lot of fish in my life—if it was just that, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. For me, it’s all about watching people come to life.”

 The Right Tool for the Right Job

Back on the dock, cleaned crab boiling in a massive pot, beers in hand, Kevin reflects, “I’ve been doing this almost 20 years now. One of the things I’ve seen and noticed is that you don’t realize how you’re getting older so quickly. When you fish so much, like we did today, 10 hours goes by in the blink of an eye. Well, doing it every day, 20 years goes by in the blink of an eye.” He laughs as he says, “One of my favorite clients—a guy that comes back year after year—said to me, ‘I didn’t mean to get this old. It just happened overnight.’ It makes you appreciate every single day on the water. That’s invaluable. I hope I never lose that.”

People in waders and oversized rain slickers walk by as we continue sipping beers and watching the crab boil. It seems like everyone knows and greets Kevin—poking fun for being the guy on a photoshoot, reporting that they saw Lacy pulling in a massive salmon earlier in a boat full of clients. 

“My goal is to be at the top of my game every single day,” Kevin says with a sort of finality. “You can’t cut corners. You can’t take shortcuts. I’m fortunate enough to call some of the best fishermen in the world my friends; they’re my peers, but they’re also my competition. To compete at that level, you have to have the best equipment that’s not going to let you down.”

“I can guarantee you that if you’re running shoddy stuff, it’s going to fail on you when you need it the most. That’s why I refuse to use anything but the best reels, rods, motors, and,” as he glances down at the Bona Fide™ with Field Strip Gen II, “that includes the best knives.”

We appreciate Total Fisherman Guide Service for collaborating with us in our field research efforts.

All images by Mighty Creature Co.

Forged By War®: Giving Back to War Heroes

There are over four million disabled Veterans living in America. It’s a group of people that are unique not only in their unparalleled commitment to serve their country, but because they must ask themselves one of the toughest questions anyone facing uncertainty can ask: What’s next?

This place of new beginnings is where Forged By War® was first realized. Established in 2016, the program spearheaded a new creative collaboration between CRKT® and Veterans, inviting real life warriors to apply their tactical experience and knowledge towards designing a specialty line of knives and tools. In addition to receiving commission on their designs, a portion of its generated profits are donated to the Veterans’ charities of choice.

“The Forged By War® program was the brainchild of one of our designer friends, Ryan Johnson, who has a very strong relationship with the military community,” says Rod Bremer, Founder of CRKT®. “Ryan introduced most of our Forged By War® Veterans to us, and together we developed a strategy to give back to these heroes as we bring their creations to users and collectors worldwide.”

 

More Than Knives
The program’s success is not only a testament to the key insight and experience these Veterans bring to design, it also builds a new sense of community and purpose, while also providing a creative outlet of self expression.

“When you have that marriage of combat experience and craft, something very special comes out of it,” says Ryan Johnson, CRKT® designer. “And the reason it’s special is because they’re not just forging knives, they’re forging themselves.”

“There’s something beautiful about getting a material that’s unforgiving and heating it, forging it, and then just working it out,” says Michael Rodrigruez, Forged By War® designer and U.S. Veteran. “It’s a form of expression I’ve never experienced. And when you’re focused on that, some of that pain—it goes away.”

 

Forging a New Path Together
Forged By War® sets out to empower the Veteran community beyond the one to one collaboration process. For every design they make, a portion of its profits are donated to the designer’s charity of choice. These charities not only hold a special place in the heart of the designer, but they help serve millions of service members and their families on a nationwide level.

Stories of second chances are what drives charities like the Green Beret Foundation to continue doing the hard work throughout the military community. With their mission to honor and serve the Army’s Special Forces, they’ve been widely impactful to the lives of many Green Berets, including one active duty service member who was in need of a wheelchair for his son; when his insurance wouldn’t cover the cost, the Green Beret Foundation stepped in.

“As hard as it was to put aside my pride and reach out to the Green Beret Foundation for assistance, I knew that if I didn’t, it would be [my son] who paid the price for my reluctance. When I contacted them, they didn’t waste any time. The wheelchair arrived within ten days. I was stunned. We get outside together regularly—it’s quality time with my son that we wouldn’t have enjoyed in the same way without the Green Beret Foundation’s assistance.”

Another notable charity CRKT® is proud to contribute to through the Forged By War® program is Purple Heart Homes, an organization that provides housing solutions for service connected diasbled or aging Veterans.

“Purple Heart Homes is a grateful recipient of the support of CRKT® and the Forged By War® series,” says Brad Borders, VP of Outreach at Purple Heart Homes. “Our mission is to ensure every Veteran has a safe place to call home, through critical home repair, pathways to homeownership, or in affordable rental space. Through our relationship with CRKT® we have been able to install ramps, remodel bathrooms, and provide much-needed support to those who have raised their right hand in service to our country. We are honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with CRKT® in appreciation of America’s Veterans.”

 

After deployment, and success with unmanned aircraft, Brian knew he wanted to make his way back to flying the airplanes he loved. TacAero was created at the crossroads of the two things he knew best: flying and technology. 

“Yesterday I spent the whole day flying a cub just like the one my mom learned to fly in. Although it was nicer and newer,” he added with a grin. “The plane had radar reflectors all over it and I was flying back and forth over Parkdale where we had radar sites set up. The whole production was part of a research initiative with Stanford and the Air Force. It was a pretty good day.”

As Forged By War® continues to support Veterans in the next chapter of their lives, CRKT® is proud to continue offering mission-ready knives within this special collection. Because behind every Forged By War® design is a story of brave rediscovery.

“The FBW concept was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made during our 27 years in business”, says Rod Bremer. “It just makes so much sense on all fronts and fits perfectly with who we try to be.”

To date the CRKT® Forged By War® program has raised and donated more than $300,000 for the following charities (listed in chronological order when working with the Forged By War® effort):

Green Beret Foundation
Purple Heart Homes
George W Bush Institute
Special Operations Care Fund
Operation One Voice
OATH (Outdoor Association for True Heroes)
Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation

Click here to learn more about the CRKT® Forged By War®, and explore the collection of knives and tools designed by Veterans here.

Current CRKT® Forged By War® Designers:
Michael Rodriguez
Austin McGlaun
Jeremy Valdez
Elmer Roush
Darrin Sirois