Backcasts archive: Through June 8, 2007


Blog calendar: June 8 | June 7 | June 5 | June 4 | June 2

posted June 8, 2007

Transgender fish can blame pollution

Last week we heard the first reports on sharks that can reproduce on their own, and now we learn male fish can develop female characteristics.

Self-progenitors. Transgender species.

What is the world coming to?

As far as the sharks are concerned, the jury is out on whether their issues are positive or negative.

But according to the Associated Press, intersex fish are a decidedly bad thing, at least in the eyes of the Sierra Club, which has asked the feds to ban the use of certain toxic chemical compounds in industrial and household detergents because the ingredients are believed to stimulate estrogen production in male fish.

Scientists have documented so-called intersex fish in U.S. waters in the last decade, including the southern Great Lakes, the Potomac River watershed and the Southern California coast, the AP reports out of Hagerstown, Md.

The reasons for the problem aren't fully known, but researchers suspect it is rooted in wastewater and farm runoff polluted with chemicals that are estrogenic, meaning they stimulate estrogen production. Nonylphenol ethoxylates, or NPEs, are one of the offending chemicals.

"We think it's time for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action and restrict this chemical," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's environmental quality program.

The Environmental Protection Agency has 90 days to deny the petition or grant it and begin developing a rule, spokeswoman Enesta Jones said. The agency is developing a program, the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative, that would recognize companies that voluntarily commit to use safer substitutes for NPEs, according to the AP.

Besides the restrictions on NPEs, the Sierra Club — along with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations and the textile-and-hotel-workers union UNITE HERE — want more study of the compound, including testing for health effects on industrial laundry workers.

In a related story out of often-thought-to-be-fairly-pristine Portland, Ore., a potentially volatile mix of drugs, pesticides and caffeine has so polluted area rivers and tributaries that it's unclear how the development may impact its salmon and other fish and aquatic life.

The lead to The Oregonian's report on the matter last month paints a telling picture:

If there was any doubt Portland is a highly caffeinated city, just look at the bottoms of local rivers and streams.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey did, and they found caffeine all over.

Our immediate thought is that this would make the salmon jittery, and the anglers even more so if in the long run these chemicals impact the fishery.

(Prozac and Tagamet were among the other compounds detected, so perhaps the former can ease the fishes' caffeine jitters and any trepidation and the latter would deal with resulting heartburn, though we rather doubt it.)

According to The Oregonian, the drugs settle on the river bottoms after likely passing through residents' digestive tracts and sewage treatments. Or discarded pills may be flushed down the toilet in a disposal practice no longer recommended.

The good news: Portland agencies are making plans to protect area waters by collecting extra pills and getting rid of them safely.

If they need a slogan, we suggest "Save our fish. Give us your drugs."


posted June 7, 2007

This stomach remedy certainly has some legs

Got a stomachache like nobody's business? Maybe you ate some bad backstrap or tuna that had turned south on you?

Forget the Tums. Scratch the Alka-Seltzer. Ditch the Pepto-Bismol.

The panacea is in the trees … actually jumping around the branches.

The pill you need to cure your ill: live tree frogs.

Four out of five dentists, and by association, doctors, may not recommend the practice of swallowing frogs to squelch an upset tummy, but according to Reuters, Jiang Musheng certainly does.

The 66-year-old resident of southeast China's Jiangxi province credits 40 years of eating live frogs — and rodents — for his intestinal fortitude, Reuters reports out of Beijing.

As a young man, Jiang apparently had long suffered from abdominal pains and coughing. At age 26, however, an old-timer named Yang Dingcai suggested frogs as a remedy, the Beijing News reported this week.

At first, Jiang Musheng did not dare to eat a live, wriggling frog, but after seeing Yang Dingcai swallow one, he ate … two without a thought, the Beijing News reports. After a month of eating live frogs, his stomach pains and coughing were completely gone.

Since then Jiang has supplemented his diet with live mice (once eating 20 in a day), baby rats and green frogs, according to the newspaper.

Oh, what a relief it is!

Thanks, Mr. Jiang, but … no, we'll likely stick to the plop, plop, fizz, fizz.


posted June 5, 2007

Editor's note: This is the second installment of My Back Pages, which recalls previous columns penned by the author.

My Back Pages: Barracuda by fly
Anglers enjoy the many challenges of fly-catching "stovepipes"

OXNARD, Calif. — "It doesn't have to be exotic to be fun flyfishing," skipper Bruce Dexter blurted halfway through the three-quarter-day charter.

They were bold words that would make highbrow flyrodders rattle their anti-reverse reels in defiance.

Saltwater flyanglers are fond of faraway locales and foreign fish. Trevally on Christmas Island. Roosterfish out of Costa Rica. Kawakawa in Queensland.

But as aggressive specimens peeled their lines out to sea, Dexter's clients could have been momentarily transported anywhere in the world … until the view of the familiar pier in Paradise Cove jolted them back to the reality that they were hunting barracuda in Malibu.

"You don't need your passport. Quality saltwater flyfishing can be within freeway distance," said Marshall Bissett of Van Nuys, Calif., a transplanted Scot who has done his share of globetrotting in pursuit of worthy quarry.

He might plan his vacations around bonefish and tarpon in Belize and the Bahamas, but his training regimen consists of hooking local barracuda on a 10-weight rod.

"The fight of the fish is as good as it gets once you determine how light the gear is going to be," said Bissett, who used this outing as a tune-up for sailfish off Baja's East Cape. "This is a classic day."

Indeed, the anglers on a six-pack charter aboard the Pacific Clipper out of Cisco's Sportfishing in Oxnard exchanged superlatives with the giddiness of schoolchildren on field-trip day.

"There's a fresh one" was the call after each hookup.

"Another fresh one."

"Look, it's as tall as a man."

"Whoa, he's into my backing."

"Watch and learn, my friend, watch and learn."

Of course, it was all exaggeration. Rarely did the game go more than 32inches and 5 pounds. (The legal size limit is 28 inches, but all were released per the flyfishing standard.) And only a handful of the mightiest were able to pull out enough line to spin the reel; having one speed away with the deeply wound backing line in tow was rare.

But that's how anglers enhance the entertainment when the target species is crashing around the boat and rods are routinely bowed and lines taut with the burden of a sleek, sinewy "stovepipe" charging on the escape.

Each of the flyrodders brought a dozen or so of the jagged-toothed barries to the boat. Incidental catches of surprisingly tough-warring mackerel, sand bass and calico bass were thrown in the mix. It was one of those fishing days that are so good, when the engines start for the last time you don't want to go home.

"I was giggling all day long and all the way home. It was hot. Every cast for a couple of hours I got a fish," said Jeff Dean of West Los Angeles who, with barracuda somersaulting behind him, had a hard time living down his expensive plans to chase brown and rainbow trout on the Kootenai, Elk and Yaak rivers. "I'm going all the way to Montana to brag about flyfishing in southern California."

Even Dexter, who has been catering to flyanglers for five years, one of the regional area skippers to do so, was surprised by the bounty of barries. "This year they've been biting," he said. Normally, he has to motor out to the Channel Islands to put his customers on fish, but here they were in huge schools over a high point in Big Kelp Reef just under the Santa Monica Mountains.

A roaming fish with widely spaced dorsal fins, a distinctive lateral stripe and an infamous maw stacked with razors for teeth, the Pacific barracuda travels great lengths for forage — primarily anchovies, sardines ,mackerel, grunion and squid.

Each spring and summer they make well-defined migrations to Southland waters from Baja California. They are so plentiful here in El Nino years — and it appears 1997 may be one of them — it's difficult to catch anything else.

Flyfishermen enjoy success on Sphyraena argentea because it swims close to the surface, within striking distance of their large, slow-sinking flies — a misnomer, really, because the patterns imitate anchovies, sardines and other baitfish, not insects.

Perhaps more important, the voracious barracuda eats anything that moves and accepts a fly more readily than mackerel, calico bass or other dwellers of the upper water column. Yet barries still offer a major challenge because of their spiked canine teeth.

"It's ugly. They have a bad set of choppers," said Sylmar, Calif.'s Russ Hampton, charter master and a member of the Pasadena Casting Club whose mission in life — well, in recreation, anyhow — is to extol the pleasures of ocean flyfishing upon anyone within earshot.

"They like to bite the flies and swallow them all the way down, especially the smaller fish. So they end up biting off the line."

The bigger specimens tend to chew the fly directly, so the angler has more of a chance of getting the fish to the boat and into the net for release — and for a "gift" retrieval of the fly. If one does manage to get the fly back, it's often too damaged to use or the leader is frayed.

Hampton, who has an "open-tackle-box policy," offered flies for the taking and fellow anglers took full advantage. He was about 30 flies lighter by day's end, representing a retail value of more than $200. But Hampton isn't one to measure such losses in dollars and cents, for he ties flies faster than a kid ties shoelaces.

There was an interval when Hampton lost five flies on five casts.

And there was another period when he got five hookups on five tosses.

One by one, the right-handed anglers would rotate to the port side of the vessel's stern, assembly-line fashion, so that they could make the double-haul cast — a complicated technique in which the line is tossed farther by accelerating the motion — with their stronger arms.

When the waiting got too long, an angler would move to the starboard side, false cast toward the bow on the forward cast and throw the line out on the backcast.

The ambidextrous Bissett was the envy of all for being able to cast forward from either side with equal deft.

The fly is left to sink or the line is slowly stripped back in. And when the fish hits, it is usually mano-a-mano tussle — the angler fights the barracuda while holding the line.

'Cuda of this size aren't like dorado; they don't have the shoulders required to steal enough line to make the reel whirl. Instead, the fisher plays his game by applying pressure to the line that was stripped in, like a yo-yo on a string.

There you have it, big-pulling fish … without the airfare.

"Fishing is fishing. When it's that hot in your backyard, who needs an attitude," Dean said. "I've been on trips where people put their noses in the air about fly-fishing in Southern California. Too many people going to Montana, like myself."

This column originally appeared July 31, 1997, in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Click here for more of My Back Pages: Cabo on the Fly


posted June 4, 2007

Microsoft under fire for perceived anti-hunting support

It appears the battle lines have been drawn between hunters and Microsoft.

Microsoft has rejected sportsmen's pleas to abandon its support of the Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal-protection organization.

And hunters are being urged to voice their displeasure with the software giant by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a national association dedicated to protecting the rights of hunters, anglers and trappers.

Both sides obviously have some serious clout, and I doubt this issue is going away anytime soon.

Microsoft has identified the Humane Society of the United States as one of 10 organizations that are to receive a minimum $100,000 donation in the first year of its "i'm" initiative. Launched in March, the project allows Windows Live Messenger users to select a cause-related organization to benefit.

The Associated Press reports out of Fargo that North Dakota residents are not at all pleased; and by the sounds of a recent U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance release, they aren't alone in their disapproval of Microsoft.

"We would like to make Microsoft aware that we do not support their endorsement for this particular cause," said Mark Mazaheri, an avid outdoorsman from Fargo.

We greatly appreciate your diplomatic stance, Mark, and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance has your back.

"Microsoft is going to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably more, into an organization that recently issued a manifesto that targets hunting for extinction," association president Bud Pidgeon said in the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance release.

"If there was ever a time for sportsmen to take grass-roots action, this is it."

The Humane Society of the United States opposes all animal use, including trapping, hunting and fishing, according to the release by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, which claims it urged Microsoft to end its support of HSUS but that Microsoft refused.

The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance also states in its release the animal-protection organization was a key player in the campaigns to outlaw dove hunting in Michigan, trapping in California and black bear hunting in Colorado. The organization has created a hit list of hunting traditions that it hopes to dismantle, including bear hunting and hunting with hounds.

"The HSUS already has a multi-million dollar budget that it invests in legislative and ballot campaigns to ban trapping and hunting," Pidgeon said in the release.

"The partnership that it has formed with Microsoft, the maker of the Xbox, will allow the organization to make money hand over fist and continue to fund efforts to ban outdoor sports."

According to the Associated Press, however, Michael Markarian, the Humane Society of the United States' executive vice president for external affairs, said that while the organization does oppose trapping, the only other hunting the group objects to is unsporting activities, including canned hunts inside fences. Markarian said the society has no position on fishing.

"We have 10 million members, and you don't build that type of support unless you have a mainstream mission," Markarian said.

"We believe many sportsmen agree with our position."

That's quite a leap there, Mr. Markarian, because, shoot, I'd be startled if you've got any significant support from the passionate hunting community. But we'll see how the (instant) message unfolds.


posted June 2, 2007

According to their vessels' names, boaters are Knot Working

Now that Memorial Day has ushered in the so-called start of boating season, it might be fun to take a look at the names folks give their crafts.

That data is handy for BoatU.S., properly the Boat Owners Association of The United States, which has been keeping the information for some two decades.

And why would the nation's leading advocate for recreational boaters, with its membership of 670,000 strong, bother to keep such trivial statistics?

"It gives non-boaters a window into the world of recreational boating — finding out who's behind the wheel, or the tiller, if we're talking sailboats," BoatU.S. spokesman Scott Croft told Backcasts recently.

"Boat names are largely a reflection of them."

That they are, Mr. Croft (who you would think might better serve his cause if he changed his name to Craft), that they are.

Drum roll, please, for the top-10 countdown of the most popular boat names of 2006:

• Pura Vida
• Second Chance
• Plan B
• Life is Good
• Knot Working
• Happy Hours
• Hakuna Matata
• Reel Time
• Second Wind

And the No. 1 favorite boat name, for the second time in three years … Aquaholic (which now has made the top-10 five years running).

No. 5 on the 2006 list, Happy Hours, has appeared in the annual top-10 seven times since 1991,

Our favorite is Knot Working — brilliant double entendre — followed Reel Time.

Curiously missing from the list: Throwing Money In the Ocean. Oh, but we jest.

And apparently the mainstream media just gobbles up this stuff, according to Craft, er, Croft.

"This is like my biggest news item of the year, ironically," he said.

Indeed, it's not water safety or boating instruction that makes the big news on the wire service for BoatU.S. each year. No, it's boat lettering. Go figure.

"This really transcends boating," Croft explained. "You don't have to be a boater to appreciate what boaters name their boats. It's a looking glass into recreational boating."

For more on BoatU.S., click here.

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    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site.

    He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade. The Evergreen State of Washington is where he makes his home. Click here to email him.

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