Backcasts archive: Through Feb. 8, 2008


Blog calendar: Feb. 7 | Feb. 6 | Feb. 5 | Feb. 4

posted Feb. 7, 2008

One cyclone and three months later lost fishermen rescued off India's coast

Imagine going out on a fishing excursion Nov. 11, surviving a cyclone that destroys your boat four days later, then being lost at sea with only a bamboo raft keeping you afloat until yesterday.

It would be one unbelievable story, right? However, three Myanmar fishermen claim that's exactly what happened to them.

Upon being rescued off the east Indian coast yesterday the trio claimed to have spent nearly three months adrift on a raft after their boat was ruined in Cyclone Sidr, Reuters reports from Bhubaneswar, India.

"They lived on turtles and fishes for food after they were separated from three other groups in the sea," said Siba Sankar Mohapatra, a senior police officer who questioned the men after they were picked up by local fishermen near the Indian resort town of Gopalpur.

The rescued fishermen received food and new clothes from authorities, who, according to Reuters, are planning to send them back home soon.

It's a jaw-dropper, to be sure, and a story that suggests the human spirit and our stubborn sense of survival is stronger than we might imagine.


posted Feb. 6, 2008

Oh, to weigh the disparity in penalties for stealing dogs and cats

And here we thought catnapping is what many 9-to-5ers do when they need forty winks in the workday afternoon.

We had no idea anyone would actually want to steal a feline.

But apparently one legislator knows the difference and wants the law to spell it out for everyone else in Virginia a state where lawmakers have a propensity for proposing unusual bills.

State Delegate Jennifer McClellan recently issued a proposal to make stealing a cat a felony the same as for swiping a dog, the Associated Press reports from Richmond.

But McClellan discovered achieving equality for cats isn't an easy fix when a legislative panel was not able to find a solution and she was asked to work with others on the bill and bring it back for a future meeting.

For people who do love their cats as much as dog owners adore their pets, McClellan said, Virginia law is unfair. Stealing a cat is a misdemeanor, punishable by as much as a year in jail. Dognappers can get as many as 10 years in the hoosegow. (Wonder if the disparity has anything to do with cats having eight more lives than pooches?)

"All I'm trying to do is have the law reflect that if you steal a dog or steal a cat, the punishment should be the same," McClellan told the House Courts of Justice subcommittee. She said she has never owned a cat, by the way.

Subcommittee members wrestled with such issues as whether to add other pets, including hamsters and parakeets, to the felony statute, as well as the notion that the law treats cats differently because many are feral, according to the AP.

Lindsay Potts, a lobbyist for the Farm Bureau, said the organization doesn't want Virginians subjected to a felony if they feed a cat that wanders onto their property and decides to stay.

Regardless of how you feel about the merit of the catnapping bill, it's hard not to wonder whether Virginia lawmakers have too much time on their hands. Consider:

State Delegate Lionel Spruill recently introduced a bill to ban displaying replicas of human genitalia on vehicles, calling it a safety issue because it could distract other drivers, the AP reports.

Apparently decorating a trailer hitch with a large pair of rubber testicles might be a bit much in the Old Dominion State. Spruill fielded a complaint from a constituent whose young daughter spotted an example of the trailer hitch adornment; she asked her father to explain it but he just couldn't.

Indeed, the Virginia General Assembly has additional experience with offbeat bills. Three years ago it drew widespread attention with an unsuccessful effort to outlaw baggy pants worn so low they expose underwear, according to the AP.

Spruill, 61, said the indignity of the "droopy drawers" debate wouldn't deter him. He said he won't hesitate to bring a set of $24.95 trailer testicles with him for a legislative show-and-tell.

"I'm going to do it," Spruill told a handful of reporters after a House session adjourned. "I'm going to bring them out here and show them to you till they tell me to stop."

Catnapping, offensive trailer hitch accoutrements, droopy drawers sometimes we wish it would all just stop.


posted Feb. 5, 2008

Good news: Subsistence hunt quota for whales in Alaska to remain as is

Interesting news from the North: The feds maintain that with the population of bowhead whales so healthy there is no need to reduce the subsistence hunt quota.

In other words, villagers on the western coastline of Alaska can continue harvesting the whales as is their wont.

We're all for this.

But before we get called hypocrites for backing whaling here and objecting to it elsewhere, let us just explain.

Last year, Alaska Natives harvested 42 bowhead whales, the Associated Press reports out of Anchorage. If approved, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's recommendation would allow a maximum yearly harvest of 67 whales, with a cap of 255 bowhead whales to be harvested from 2008 through 2012.

Now we trust NOAA to, uh, knowa what it's proposing, so we're good with the above scenario for Alaskans.

"It is meeting their subsistence needs and they don't need any more than what they are getting and the population is increasing," said Steve Davis, a biologist within NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service in Anchorage who worked on the plan. "We knew what the Alaska Natives wanted and the agency saw no reason not to support that."

The option is preferred by NOAA, the International Whaling Commission and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, according to the AP.

Remember that number: 67 whales per year for subsistence hunting.

OK, now consider the number 1,035, because what we can't condone is the commercial, er, oops, scientific whale hunt the largest-ever such endeavor Japan is conducting in Antarctic waters, which originally called for 1,035 whales to be harvested in the name of research.

We applauded Japan's decision in December to suspend plans to hunt 50 humpback whales, commercial hunts of which have been banned worldwide since 1966. However, that still leaves 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales at the mercy of the Japanese fleet. Backcasts suggests that research is good and all, but we asked at the time why a half-dozen of each species wouldn't suffice, instead?

Back in Alaska, even as their numbers increase the bowhead remains listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the AP reports.

The western Arctic stock is estimated at 10,545 near the bottom range of an estimated 10,400 to 23,000 whales before commercial Yankee whalers brought the species to the brink of extinction. They have been protected since 1946.

But annual assessments of bowheads show a 3 percent growth rate a year and, according to NOAA, there is no sign that the growth rate is slowing.

"We didn't want to have a harvest less than the needs of the community or a higher number than is needed," said Brad Smith, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist in Anchorage. "These whales migrate all over the Arctic. It looks like the bowhead whale population is doing well and can support this kind of activity."

The public comment period for the feds' bowhead proposal for Alaska ends March 3, and a final decision is expected soon after.


posted Feb. 4, 2008

Editor's note: My Back Pages recalls previous columns penned by the author.

My Back Pages: Owens Gorge(ous) Long-lost trout fishery thrives anew
Anglers slowly return to California canyon after four-decade absence of fish

BISHOP, Calif. Imagine a crooked canyon in a volcanic tableland that has been parched to a bone-dry powder for decades.

Now imagine it filled with water and four varieties of brown trout.

It would be like an angler's "Field of Dreams" build it and they will come.

Well, Bishop has its dream fishery, but hardly anybody knows about it and that's just fine by the local flyanglers.

I'm talking about the Owens River Gorge, northwest of Bishop, where wild browns to 15 inches are gobbling down dry flies size No. 16 and smaller on 5X tippets from a handful of lucky anglers privy to the secret.

"They'll hit anything. They don't know any better. They're not picky," said Bishop flyangler Gary Gunsolley, who guided me into the picturesque chasm early one fine morning. "But I'm sure in time they will be."

Talk about no pressure. These fish were so tame, in fact, that I even landed my first-ever brown a crazy-wrestling 9-incher that wore its black markings like a proud Dalmatian.

The last time browns rose to caddis and mayfly patterns was in 1953, before the gorge's flows were diverted through an aqueduct and a series of power plants to create electricity for southern California customers of the Department of Water and Power.

In the late 19th century, cutthroat trout from the Walker River Basin were transplanted to the high-desert gorge that carves through the boundary of Mono and Inyo counties. Later, browns were introduced and outcompeted their brethren. Stories of mammoth browns to 15 pounds drew anglers from around the region. That all changed in '53, when a slew of the beautiful trout were left to perish as the gorge was dewatered in the name of hydroelectric energy.

But the gorge and its wild browns would get a reprieve in 1991, when a penstock burst and filled a section with a flood of flows. The California state Department of Fish and Game fought to return water and the browns to the gorge, and won. DFG biologists packed nearly 42,000 browns strains from Crowley Lake, Oak Creek, New York and wilds electrofished from a portion of upper gorge that wasn't dewatered into the gorge (on their backs in 50-pound rucksacks) in 1994 and 1995.

Now three generations of trout swim in the narrow river, shaded by fledgling willows and cottonwoods and fed by insects that call the trees home.

With water provided by the Department of Water and Power and fish from the Department of Fish and Game, it's a union that will be closely monitored for years to come by a plethora of scientists, engineers and government agencies.

"We are doing something that is probably pretty rare in environmental science," said Steve Weistling, the Department of Water and Power's superintendent of the Owens Valley Electric System. "It's a living laboratory."

Bishop's Steve Parmenter, an associate fishery biologist in the Department of Fish and Game 's Wild Trout Program, explained that the objective is simple:

"The goal is to restore the self-sustaining populations of wild fish. In order to do that, the impetus is not on stocking but on habitat restoration. Largely it's a natural process."

Water will prompt a riparian plant community; roots will bind the soil in place to prevent erosion. Until then, fine sediment that is deposited in deeper pools, where larger fish thrive, will be flushed out by periodic floodlike flows and redistributed on the banks.

Two generations of young browns have been born in the gorge already, and, as the habitat improves, Parmenter expects the fish to reach 20 inches or more.

"The ones that the anglers come back talking about will be bigger than that," he said. "We can easily anticipate that 5-pounders would not be uncommon and that larger ones can be expected."

The flora has grown to the point where anglers require short (20 feet or less), accurate casts to navigate their flies between brushy corridors.(Watch for the stinging Russian thistle that has colonized; however scorching the gorge gets, hips waders can be a savior.)

"And it's only going to get worse because of the vegetation," Gunsolley said.

Translation for the experienced angler: It's only going to get better because the tyros will be weeded out.

"If the DFG gets its way, it's going to be a paradise," he said.

A sprinkling of access points to the gorge open up at intervals along the road that parallels it east of Highway 395. But few prints of wading boots can be found along the trail lined with sweet sage and rabbitbrush that descends 400 feet from a 5,200-foot plateau in about a third of a mile to a crooked slice of the gorge called Horseshoe Bend. You can make hundreds of casts with a 9-foot, 5-weight rod without seeing a soul.

"If there had been any other fishermen, it wouldn't have been the same experience," Bishop accountant Mike Nicholas said after returning from a recent jaunt to Horseshoe Bend. "This beats the East Walker any day."

There are no special regulations in the gorge five fish per day on any tackle or bait but flyanglers, as they so often do, are setting a trend of catch and release.

Gunsolley, owner of Brock's fly-fishing shop in Bishop, recommends a double-tapered fly line, with a 6X 7-1/2-foot leader and a 5X to 6X tippet. Elk-hair, blue-wing olive and brown caddises, along with mayflies and attractor patterns, are excellent dries, while hare's ears, beadheads, pheasant tails, bird's nests and midge emergers are strong candidates for nymph-fishing.

Like he says, these browns aren't too selective. Anything that remotely resembles a bug will do well.

"At the present time, they are easy to catch much easier than on the Lower Owens," Gunsolley said. "It doesn't get a lot of fishing pressure."

But, remember, dreams don't last forever.

This article originally appeared July 25, 1996, in the Los Angeles Daily News.

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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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