Backcasts archive: Through July 25, 2008


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posted July 24, 2008

Think about it: There's really plenty of good stuff to do when nothing's biting

We'd like to call out Barry St. Clair for his illuminating and imaginative column for the Athens Daily Review titled "Things to do when the fish won't bite."

The point is that no matter how much we'd like to believe otherwise, for most of us who spend our energy on the water there often is a looooot of time between bites (if a nibble comes at all). So how does an angler while away the hours?

It's the ultimate everyman's dilemma. Indeed, spending time productively when the bite isn't producing is a key issue.

We won't ruin Barry's suggestions by sharing too much, but a good portion is dedicated to the wallet. And one passage is particularly telling:

Pull out the baby pictures of your kids that are all stuck together. Try and separate them without destroying the images. Marvel at how time flies. Reflect on the fact that the last time you could control them was when those pictures were taken.

Someone will make a poster out of that or embroider it onto a pillow.

And another thing to think about is the timelessness of angling.

You were doing it when you were the age of your children, and you'll be doing it until you're your father's age. It's always going to be with you. A constant.

Some might use it as a gauge by which to measure the experiences of their lives: From the time you landed your biggest bass. To the afternoon in the backcountry when the golden trout were biting so aggressively you eventually tried to figure out what fly they wouldn't take, but to no avail. To the day your kid caught his first fish. To the first cast of your grandchild.

Bottom line is that doing nothing on the water is far from a waste of time.

Washington is the latest to join the pack

Just this week we learned Oregon has seen its first breeding wolf pack in the wild in at least six decades. (See below.)

Now comes word that the state of Washington has duplicated the news.

Yep, state Fish and Wildlife officials have confirmed through DNA testing that purebred gray wolves are running around the Methow River valley, the Wenatchee World reports out of Twisp, Wash.

Wolves were eradicated in the Evergreen State in the 1930s, but now they've back. An endangered species program manager with the state said the agency figures the pack includes at least three adults and six pups.

Now if the federal reintroduction of wolves to the Northern Rockies hasn't been proven to be a howling success, we don't know what is.

Of course, cattlemen and other livestock ranchers might not consider the breed's remarkable comeback anything to be too elated about.


posted July 23, 2008

If you've got toe issues, it may be time to pay a visit to the doctor fish

What do you call dipping your toes in fish waters?

Chum, of course.

But in the world of beauty salons it's called something else altogether: a pedicure.

Indeed, itsy, bitsy carp do all the work in the latest spa treatment, the Associated Press reports from Alexandria, Va., where Yvonne Hair and Nails has been specializing in fish pedicures (check out the photos) for the last four months.

John Ho, who operates the Virginia salon with his wife, Yvonne Le, said he believes his place of business is the only one in the country to offer fish pedicures. It's certainly been popular so far; some 5,000 customers have paid $35 for a 15-minute treatment (or $50 for half an hour), Ho told the AP.

First used in Turkey and now popular in some Asian countries, the procedure removes dead, flaking skin. The carp – called garra rufa, but more commonly known as doctor fish – leave live skin alone because they have no teeth to gnaw it off, according to the AP.

About 100 doctor fish are employed for each individual pedicure at Yvonne Hair and Nails, and the salon has about 1,000 carp. But the garra rufa just do the dirty work; a standard pedicure is performed after the fish have softened up a customer's tootsies.

It all proved quite an investment for Ho, who tells the AP he spent a year and $40,000 readying his facility for fish pedicures. And while there are no state regs that apply to such a procedure, county health officials had Ho use individual pedicure tanks instead of the communal pool he originally had set up for the service.

It turns out the group cleaning was problematic from the outset, Ho told the AP, because the carp would concentrate on the feet of clients who needed the deepest cleaning and ditch the other customers.

Which all leads to the quote of the week: "It would sometimes be embarrassing for them, but it was also really hilarious," Ho said of those who attracted the most fish.


posted July 22, 2008

After following the pack for decades, Oregon's now part of it

Oregon wildlife officials are howling at the news of a new predator living and reproducing in the state.

For the first time in at least six decades, a breeding pack of wolves has been confirmed in the Beaver State, the Oregonian reports.

Single wolves have been known to prowl state lands for some time, probably coming from Idaho, according to the newspaper's Web site. Other news services suggest the wolves have been swimming across the Snake River and into the northeastern portion of the state.

"We've been chasing around single wolves, but this is pretty important because it's the first breeding," state biologist Russ Morgan told The Oregonian yesterday.

Morgan said that he and another biologist counted the howls of at least two adult wolves and two pups in northern Union County, north of La Grande, late last week.

Though the biologists didn't actually see the canines, they could tell from their distinct noises at least two generations were padding about … and there could be more.

It all spells success for the decadelong undertaking to restore wolf populations in the Northern Rockies, where 2,000 gray wolves are now thought to reside.

In March the feds removed the wolf from the endangered species list, at which time authorities in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho initiated proposals to begin hunting the big dogs.

However, a federal judge on Friday overturned the delisting and reinstated protections for the grays in the Northern Rockies, according to the Associated Press

The Oregon wolf pack was discovered along the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in the Umatilla National Forest. Morgan said there is no reason to believe the animals can't "make a living" in the region, the Oregonian reports.

One news service reported this is the first wolf pack in Oregon in a century, while another claims bounty hunters eradicated the predators in the Beaver State in the 1940s.

Either way, it's been a loooooong time since Oregonians have heard the howls of a free-roaming wolf family within their boundaries.

And here's to hoping they'll be hearing more.


posted July 21, 2008

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

My Back Pages: Some saltwater bass anglers have a … gift for the drift

Tactics for fishing on the move

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Toward the end of an overcast day targeting calico bass and sand bass at Naples Reef, Santa Barbara Point and Horseshoe Rock, our captain expressed dismay that the three of us had only boated and released 33 fish.

That's an average of more than the 10-bass limit per angler, and I couldn't have been more pleased with the six hard-fighting specimens I landed. What gives, I pondered aloud.

"I like catching a lot of fish," said Larry Heron of Ventura, captain of the aptly named private vessel Calico Hunter II, aboard which we were stationed. And what's a good day, I queried.

"We caught 75 bass for three of us a few weeks back," Heron said. "That's what I was hoping for today."

But 33 fish looked awfully good when Heron radioed a nearby party-boat captain whose 30 customers had managed to hook just 10 bass.

The big difference: The party boat was at anchor and stationary; we were drift-fishing – that is, riding the ocean's current with the engines off and dragging a bait on the bottom of the sea, a challenging technique favored by private boaters in winter and spring.

There are a couple of reasons why party-boat skippers prefer to drop anchor over a high spot on a reef, a rock pile or a base of kelp stringers where bass seek shelter and structure from which to ambush prey.

First, their deckhands would spend more time in a drift trying to free hooks from the hard bottom than bagging fish. Second, they have the capacity to haul dozens of scoops of live bait to chum the bass up to the boat – a luxury most private boaters don't have.

"But in most areas, no matter how much live bait you throw in winter and spring, the fish won't come up to feed," said Barry Brightenburg, a San Diego calico hunter himself and owner of Fish Trap, a manufacturer of plastic swimbaits employed by bass anglers.

"Drift-fishermen can cover more ground and bring the bait to the bass when the bass aren't coming to the bait."

Creatures whose movements are predicated by water temperature, calico bass and sand bass feed much more actively in the warmer months of summer and fall. Since the fish forage so aggressively (carrying out "seek and destroy" missions, Heron said) in the upper water column, anglers prefer a cast-and-retrieve method.

In colder periods, the fish are lethargic and hold tightly to the ocean floor, conserving energy by patiently waiting to ambush prey that fin past them or cruising slowly to pick off some slower-moving bottom dweller. Drift-fishing and dunking a swimbait to imitate an easy meal is an ideal remedy.

"It's about the only way to entice the fish to bite in winter and early spring," Heron said.

Private boaters should position their crafts upcurrent of a structure above which their fish finders have metered quarry so that they drift in front, over and behind the spot. Heron suggests newcomers throw a marker buoy overboard at the reef's highest point and use it as a reference for sequential drifts.

Sea anchors help slow the vessel down in a swift current. And never trust your fish finder blindly.

"Sometimes you don't meter a thing and there are bass actively feeding," Heron said. "Other times you meter acres of fish and don't catch a thing."

Anglers who don't have access to a private boat can use a page from the drift-angler's book to land more bass on party boats at anchor. Make the longest cast possible (the lengthier the rod and the heavier the sinker, the farther the cast) so that the lure covers as much ground as possible when the line is winded in.

Tough-to-catch calico bass and sand bass are beautiful fish and spirited fighters, and, in the eyes of many anglers, myself included, too exquisite to keep.

So be persistent in a scratchy bite:

Private boaters, dissect the same 150-yard stretch of likely looking structure in slightly different drift patterns over and over until a bass strikes, then drift over the hot spot again and again. Party-boat anglers at anchor, wind the swimbait off the bottom and free-spool it back down on the same rock a dozen times until that docile bass is finally enticed into a strike. A little extra effort can pay handsomely.

And practice catch and release, allowing the slow-growing fish (a calico bass doesn't reach the legal size limit of 12 inches until it's sixth birthday) to swim again and be caught another day.

"Poaching your buddy" is a legal play out here

As with many species of ocean game fish, where there is one calico bass at line's end, there are bound to be more chasing it when the conditions are right. Knowing how to target these "followers" will put more fish in the boat.

"It's all competition," Brightenburg said. "Once you get one fish to respond to the bait, that stimulates the other fish to charge (the same bait) because if they don't they are going to miss that opportunity."

Even when bass are more docile in the cooler waters of early spring, a slight increase in water temperature can prompt them to pursue another bass in an attempt to steal a nabbed prey (in this case, a plastic swimbait lure) from its maw.

Pay attention when an angler is reeling in the quarry; if there are other bass finning behind it or the tail of the lure has been bitten off, that's a sign of followers.

Brightenburg suggests how to respond:

If your line is ready to cast, throw the lure alongside the hooked fish. He calls the maneuver "poaching your buddy," though it's a legal play. If your lure is still in the water, remember to reel it in quickly after the next strike on another angler's line and be prepared to throw out. Better yet, get in the practice of having a second rod set up with a swimbait at the ready to toss to the followers.

Poaching your buddy can often leave him green with envy; larger bass tend to be more timid and cautious, swimming behind the pack and waiting to pick off prey that their smaller, more aggressive brethren miss, wound or can't choke down.

"The big bulls let the little calicos do all the work," Brightenburg said.

Other tips: Use a larger swimbait for followers; the bigger the bait, the bigger the bass. Consider tying two lures on the same line to catch a bass and a follower on a single cast. If you miss setting the hook on a strike, don't reel in; take the reel out of gear and drop the line back down to entice one of the chasers.

This article originally appeared April 16, 1998, 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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