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Backcasts archive: Through Dec. 7, 2007

12/11/2007

Blog calendar: Dec. 7 | Dec. 5 | Dec. 4 | Dec. 3

posted Dec. 7, 2007

All I want for Christmas is some rhino poop

There is a popular children's book – the exact title of which escapes me – that I think might be called "Everyone Wants Poop."

And, after all, who wouldn't want a little poop, especially around the holidays, especially when it involves the poop of one of the so-called Big Five game animals from Africa.

Indeed, we're talking, of course, about the poop of the rhinoceros. Woo hoo! Poop, poop, poop, we just love the opportunity to say it.

But gift givers (who may or may not like to say "poop") might be interested to learn that pieces of actual rhino dung are being auctioned off. What a unique gift that would be, and the money raised is going to conservation efforts. Can't beat that.

The International Rhino Foundation is auctioning on eBay four pieces of dung from the endangered species, the Associated Press reports from Yulee, Fla., where the conservation and research group is headquartered. (Considering the circumstances, maybe the city should be renamed Yule for the time being.)

The pieces come from four of the five types of rhino: white, black, Indian and Sumatran. (The Javan rhino is so rare, a sample could not be collected, according to the AP.)

Each piece is dried, mounted in a clear trophy case and marked with the type of rhino that, er, produced it.

Hurry, though. The auction ends Sunday. The top bid for each piece as of this afternoon is in the $600 range.

According to the International Rhino Foundation (Web site), only about 17,500 rhinos remain in the wild, with another 1,200 living in captivity.

We can't wait for poop from Africa's other most-dangerous game animals that compose the Big Five: lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard.

Oh, and I remember the name of the kids title: "Everyone Poops." Hey, our recollection of the book's name was close enough, huh … especially given the spirit of the holidays.

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posted Dec. 5, 2007

Editor's note: This is the 14th installment of My Back Pages, which recalls previous columns penned by the author.

My Back Pages: Longing for longfin
The albacore quest can really hook you

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Mention albacore to anglers and the reaction is predictable.

At first it's a tiny quiver or slight shake.

"Albies? Where?" they'll respond, far-off looks overcoming their countenances.

It's best to brace yourself as the news gets better, especially upon revealing that they're finning within 10 miles of shore, albeit all the way up the Central Coast of California.

Eyes begin to bulge. Beads of sweat appear on furrowed brows. Hands wring. Faces flush.

"What, 10 miles out? How big?"

Slowly back away when you note that 50-pound specimens are not uncommon.

"Get out; 50 pounds?" they'll cry, in tones steadily increasing in volume and intensity. "I've never seen one go over 25."

Shield your face as they start to salivate, for albacore are to anglers as food and flashing lights were to Pavlov's dogs. And big longfins, forget it. You're likely to be attacked, just like Pavlov was when he ran out of steak.

"There's a mystique to albacore," said Earl Warren, a Calabasas, Calif., attorney who owns the Los Angeles Rod & Reel Club record for the largest albie, at 63 pounds.

"I think it's that they don't appear every year, so it's exciting to hunt them and to find them in open water and to have the sheer thrill of maybe going trolling for five hours with nothing happening to getting a quadruple jig strike and having the school come to the corner of the boat."

Of all the fish he's boated and club records he's established, it's that albacore he'll recollect most fondly.

"It's the one I'm most proud of," said Warren, who caught the monster longfin during the halcyon period of November 1984, when stacks of giant albacore to 70-plus pounds were taken in southern California's San Pedro Channel in a two-week period that was nothing short of phenomenal.

"That these size fish had never been seen before and (have) never been seen since just fuels the albacore legacy," Warren said.

Area anglers got a taste of albacore again late last spring, when, in the earliest albacore run in a half-century, schools of smaller models made their way into the region on the waves of El Nino. I missed out on the frenzy that lasted into the summer.

So, in the fall, when the news began trickling in out of Monterey, Santa Cruz and Bodega Bay that loads of bigger California albacore were being boated, I caught the fever.

It was practically incurable by Oct. 21, when Don Giberson, a Milpitas, Calif., businessman who quit his job as vice president of sales at a Silicon Valley computer company to pursue albacore, boated a 90-pound longfin, a pending world record.

It had been tough to contain myself for the two grueling months that passed before I could travel to Santa Cruz and target the fabled fish, but there I was, two days before Christmas with a beefy albie on line's end.

Sure, we were in 4- to 7-foot seas with 15-knot winds. Sure, my knees were painfully braced under the top railing bar so I wouldn't fall in the brine. Sure, my back was so terribly strained it was tough to breathe. But no way was I letting up on this prize.

Others can understand my passion for this species.

"For many, this is the most popular and emotional sport fishery that ocean anglers encounter off southern and central California," UC Santa Barbara marine biologist Milton Love wrote in his book, "Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast."

"Perhaps it's the real gamble involved. Albacore move about so much that it is difficult to know from day to day where they will be and if any will be taken."

This was racing through my mind as the ocean recklessly bounced me about the deck and the fish made its many spirited runs. Pearls of encouragement were fired at me by Mark Wagner, skipper of the 31-foot Navillus, a six-pack boat from Suntan Charters that motored out of Santa Cruz's Upper Harbor in 27-degree weather at 5 that morning.

"It is just a thrill to hear that reel scream," said the Aptos, Calif., captain. "Albacore sound. They go right down. They are trying to fight whatever has got them hooked.

"Their instinct is to go for deep water, and generally you'll fight the fish fairly hard. And once he sees the boat, he'll make another couple of runs and fight even harder."

Unfortunately, I didn't hear the reel scream, because I had not put the clicker on after letting the "zucchini"-patterned tuna lure out some 40 feet and setting the reel in gear as we trolled nine miles southwest of Santa Cruz.

You see, the clicker is the alarm that sounds over the roar of the engine and the sea when a fat tuna hits.

Had it not been for the alertness of fellow angler David Clutts of Suisun, Calif., who spotted the 50-pound line spinning quickly off the reel, the albacore that hit the outfit I borrowed from Wagner would still be swimming north with jig and line dangling from his maw; "All you hear is the 'ting' of the line snapping at the spool," he said.

My circumstances were more fortunate. For 35 minutes I fought the denizen.

"We've had two-hour fights," Wagner said about halfway through. As I said, pearls of encouragement. (The average battle, it turns out, is 40 minutes.)

When the albacore revealed its color, we all knew it was big. And when Wagner gaffed it and swung the beast over the railing, my relief was matched only by my exhaustion.

I could but stare and mutter unintelligible gibberish as the captain weighed the tuna. It tilted the scale at 58 pounds. Unbelievable. My fever was cured.

Wagner didn't quit until all five anglers brought in fish. The stringer at day's end following the 11-hour trip: 58, 55, 48, 40 and 25 pounds.

"It felt like I had a Volkswagen on the end of the line that was running along the bottom," said Farren Fessenden of Santa Rosa, Calif., after he boated the 55-pounder.

"I do a lot of salmon and halibut and rockfish and striped bass fishing, and there is no comparison. No comparison. The tuna, by all means, is quite superior as a fighting fish."

"Keeping your balance when this thing is trying to pull you over the rails is very difficult," Fessenden said.

Mine was the heavy fish for the day – a first in my book – and the envy of my angling buddies back home.

Suddenly, I had come of age as a fisherman. Kudos were extended from salty veterans who had previously paid little attention to my fishing prowess, or lack thereof.

"If I caught an albacore that big, I'd lay down my rod and retire," one old-timer stated.

Hey, I'm just getting started.

This article originally appeared Jan. 8, 1998, in the Los Angeles Daily News.

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posted Dec. 4, 2007

Just exactly how would you carry a 3-pound penknife? (It's no joke)

Chances are you carry with you into the backcountry a trusty blade or utility tool or both. They fit snugly and comfortably on your belt or strapped to your leg.

But imagine carrying the latest in cutting accessories for the sportsman – a Swiss Army knife with, count them, 87 tools and at least 115 uses weighing in at a very stout three pounds.

Before you start a-scrawlin' on your holiday gift list, know that the price tag is just as hefty – $1,200. Believe it or not, 450 have been sold in the knife's first year, the Associated Press reports from Orangeburg, N.Y.

Way too large for most pockets, the 8¾-inch-by-3¼-inch tool might fit better in a small suitcase. Certainly more of a collector's item after taping to those dimensions, the knife has been recognized in the 2008 edition of Guinness World Records for "most functions on a penknife" (with a mere 85 tools when it was inducted).

Crafted by Wenger in Delemont, Switzerland, the unit apparently looks like several different pocketknives placed side-by-side and soldered together, according to the AP.

"Basically, they took every implement they ever put in a Swiss Army knife and combined them in this one piece," said Jennifer Voss, spokeswoman for Wenger North America, the Orangeburg-based American distributor.

The monstrosity has a dozen or so blades, saws and cutters and a like number of screwdrivers, along with the toothpicks, key rings, magnifiers, fish scalers and nail files sometimes found on combination penknives, the AP reports.

But, get this, it also includes a laser pointer and a flashlight. And it has a wrench just for the spikes on a golf shoe; a tool just for opening the case of a watch; and a screwdriver manufactured specifically for gunsights.

You can use it to push a cuticle, measure a tire tread, clean a golf club or adjust a bicycle spoke

And for the extremely avid gardener, there are four different blades for grafting one plant onto another. The only problem is, should you inadvertently drop the tool it turns your plant into so much yard waste … and we'd pity your poor fingernail.

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posted Dec. 3, 2007

After tons of holiday ham and bacon stolen, the pork must go on Down Under

So some of the neighbor kids break into your smoker and take the salmon that had been heated to perfection. Or, you, with the elk jerky all ready for gnawing, and now it's gone. Or your Christmas turkey gets pilfered from the freezer.

The heartbreak would be unbearable, we know, we know.

But imagine losing 17.6 tons of ham and bacon … and the thieves have the gumption and gall to leave behind the few cheery words, "Thanks" and "Merry Christmas."

Poaching is despicable, but this takes the pork.

That's the story from Down Under, where owners of a meat warehouse in suburban Sydney, Australia, are offering a $4,420 reward for anyone who assists in recovering the goods, according to the Associated Press.

The stolen meat was worth up to $88,000, said Anthony Zammit, owner the Zammit Ham and Bacon curers warehouse who arrived for work today to find a hole in a wall of the building where the thieves appeared to have entered.

Police said the robbery occurred some time between late afternoon Saturday and dawn Sunday, when the culprits left behind their holiday greeting daubed on a wall.

Shameless, we say. Absolutely shameless. It's like the Grinch pinching Whoville's roast beast. Let's just hope the hearts of the scalawags grow three sizes larger and they return the holiday hams and other cured hostages.

But the pork must go on, and Hammit, er … dammit … Zammit said his company would put in overtime hours to make certain all its Christmas orders are filled.

"We're working 24 hours a day, seven days a week and put on extra staff," he said. "We won't let anyone down."

Good work, Mr. Zammit, and perhaps your kind gesture will spawn a few less "Bah, humbugs," and a few more "God bless us, every ones!"

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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, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. The Evergreen State is where he now makes his home. Click here to email him.

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