Blog calendar: Nov. 6 | Nov. 3 | Oct. 29 | Oct. 27

posted Nov. 6, 2008

It's been a great ride, but Backcasts is saying farewell

Backcasts wants to thank you for tuning in to this blog for the past 22 months; it's been real, it's been fun and it's been real fun.

But it's time to wish you all happy trails. Other duties call and this will serve as our final entry.

We know you will enjoy endless words of wisdom and levity from the many talented writers who compose the ESPN Outdoors team, and we bid you all the very best in this new era when "change has come to America," whatever that may hold.

Adios, amigos.

Meanwhile, if you have any parting shots for Brett Pauly, click right here to email him.


posted Nov. 3, 2008

Editor's note: This is Brett Pauly's final post as blog columnist for ESPNOutdoors.com. He is moving on to a higher hunting ground. You might see his work here in the future as he is the ESPN SportsTravel senior editor.

Like camels before them, goats apparently are well-suited for beauty pageants

Apparently there is no money crunch in Saudi Arabia – although beauty is still very much in the eye of the beholder here.

The country's first "beautiful goat" pageant was staged in Riyadh this past week, and some of the beloved ruminants sold for more than 100,000 riyals, or, get this, more than $25,000, according to Reuters.

Now to our way of thinking the words goat and beauty should never belong in the same sentence – present sentence excluded – but we'd definitely be in the minority in this Middle Eastern nation.

The gathering showcased pedigree Najdi goats – bred in the central Najd region – with their signature high nose bridges and shaggy hair that is at once fine and silky, Reuters reports.

"They are different in terms of beauty, shape and how eye-catching they are," said show organizer Sheikh Faisal al-Saadoun, who is a leading breeder and the owner of Burgan – the Saudi superstar of goats, from which most of the pageant entrants were bred.

Saadoun's explosive wealth from breeding Burgan (which means volcano) is estimated to be more than $2 million and certainly wasn't hurt by the sale at the pageant of dozens of his goats, each of which fetched at least $25,000, according to Reuters. Saadoun even reportedly turned down an offer of more than $90,000 for one son of Burgan.

The winner of the pageant's male category, perhaps not at all surprisingly another offspring of Burgan, was valued at $120,000.

All this pales in comparison to the Saudis' love of their camels, which you may have discovered earlier this year in Backcasts enjoy their own beauty contests.

Prize camels are worth a million riyals (some $267,000) and Mashoufan, the camel celebrity equivalent of Burgan, was thought to be worth more than $4.5 million when it died in January.

So here are two animals that are raised for milk, meat, and, wonder of wonders (like we said last time), their looks.

It's a lucrative racket, capitalizing on the beauty of goats and camels; you may be curious like us if it proves to be recession resistant.


posted Oct. 29, 2008

EBay, ivory, living in perfect harmony – now they're to be separated

One sale of ivory was on, the other is soon to be gone … yet both will ultimately help safeguard elephants.

EBay announced recently its plans to prohibit the sale of ivory products. And the first ivory auction in a decade took place yesterday in Namibia.

It's an odd juxtaposition, but it's all in the name of elephant conservation.

Some $1.3 million was fetched from Chinese and Japanese bidders for 7 tons of tusks in the auction that was staged as a special exemption to the international ban on trade in ivory, the Associated Press reports from Windhoek, the capital of Namibia and its largest city.

Most of the tusks were from pachyderms that died of natural causes, and the auction proceeds are earmarked for the Game Product Trust Fund to promote elephant conservation, according to the AP.

Ivory auctions are to follow this week in Botswana and next month is South Africa and Zimbabwe for a total of 108 tons of tusks to be sold, as approved by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Hey, so long as it benefits elephants in the long run, right?

But, predictably, antis are crying foul, suggesting that such large-scale auctions will increase poaching as a means to make a quick buck. According to the AP, the objections apparently spurred online auctioneer eBay Inc. to ban the sale of ivory on its Web site, starting in January.

Antis take note: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, known to many as CITES, says you're wrong.

"There is no proven scientific explanation that ivory sales lead to poaching," CITES secretary general Willem Wijnstekers told the Associated Press.

Thanks for setting them straight, Willem.

To be sure, no new sales of ivory will be permitted in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe for the next nine years.

Meanwhile, the AP also knows the way to San Jose, where it reports eBay's new ivory policy will be enforced starting in January. The only exemptions to the ivory ban will be items with small amounts of the material, including pianos, that were made before 1900.

"We simply can't ensure that ivory listed for sale on eBay is in compliance with the complex regulations that govern its sale," Richard Brewer-Hay wrote on the company's blog eBay Ink, according to the AP.


posted Oct. 27, 2008

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

My Back Pages: 'Yak attack

Coming close to the action isn't a problem when you fish from a sea kayak

MALIBU, Calif. — The guide cautiously walked me through landing procedure: Waves at Broad Beach break to the right and push the kayak to the left, so dip the paddle into the wave as a brace.

He could just as well have been talking to a crash-test dummy, because when the curl I was surfing atop broke and spun the boat abruptly to the left, I didn't even make a move. Splat – a face full of saltwater.

The same thing transpired on the launch seven hours earlier. I was told to "punch through the wave" to the salvation of flat water beyond the surf zone. Instead, it punched me out. Whap – a mug full of brine.

But in between the wipeouts was the single most enjoyable fishing experience I have had in some time, even though the only thing I caught was kelp.

Welcome to the world of kayak fishing – an ancient art with modern applications that beckons anglers into the breakers because of its closeness to nature, solitude, quick access to the fishing grounds and the ability to control where to fish.

"It's kind of a Zen-like feeling. You're floating out on the water by yourself, not dealing with anyone else," said Eric Fishman, 25, of Chatsworth, Calif., a twice-a-week kayak angler who on this off day had the only luck, landing a nice sand bass and a cagey calico. "You get to pick and choose where you want to fish.

"You're not at the whim of a skipper, standing shoulder to shoulder on some expensive party boat and getting your lines tangled every time the bite is on."

Van Nuys, Calif., musician and arranger Jeff Daniel views kayak fishing as a wilderness escape.

"It is another universe," said the father of two daughters in his early 40s who has hit the kelp patties up to three times a week since discovering the sport nearly four years ago. "My wife is a kayak widow now. I bring back something for dinner and something to write a song about in the form or inspiration."

Kayak angling dates back to the whale-hunting days of the Eskimo, who floated in wooden boats covered in mammal hides and used harpoons attached by line to seal-hide buoys.

Today's anglers propel themselves in sleek, open-decked kayaks made from formed plastic. They employ sonar and top-of-the-line rods and reels to capture their targets – everything from white seabass and rockfish to halibut and salmon. And they are enthralled by the whales and other denizens that swim by their vessels.

On my first outing, a pod of dolphins brazenly passed within 10 feet of my 'yak, as it is dubbed, unaffected by my floundering attempts at seaworthiness.

Daniel, who has been pulled around by blue sharks and once landed a 30-inch halibut, said his most memorable moment was during a recent outing off Malibu's Westward Beach at Point Dume, when a 35-foot gray whale passed 4 feet under his kayak in only 15 feet of water.

"He could have sent me like a peanut onto the shore," he said. "It took my breath away."

Harbor seals and sea lions, affectionately called sea dogs because of their loud barking, are also prevalent. But with them comes the threat of larger predators, namely the great white shark.

Though rare, shark attacks on kayakers have been documented – and anglers take care. They avoid known great-white feeding areas, paddle as silently as possible and avoid leaving trails of oily bait or fish blood.

"I don't consider it a factor," said Dennis Spike of Tarzana, Calif., a fishing fanatic who parlayed his passion into enterprise and now operates angling schools locally and in Santa Cruz through his Coastal Kayak Fishing outfit.

"There are way too many people in the water and way too few incidents of contact to be worried about it." However comforting that might be, in the back of my mind the notion of my kayak doubling as a shark's toothpick would pop up between casts of plastic lures.

Spike patiently showed me the finer points of tying off to the kelp to keep from drifting, using freshwater spinning gear to make bait – mackerel, primarily – and untwisting the crow's nests I looped into his conventional reels while aiming for game fish. Hey, trying to toss a line while maintaining your balance on a tiny, unwieldy craft is a challenge.

I count myself lucky that I didn't catch anything of note, or I might have marlin-hooked myself right into the water. Kerplunk – a mouth full of seaweed.

A 36-year-old former cigar salesman and acupuncturist, Spike gave up his work to pursue a profession in 'yak fishing.

"It gives me a life I never dreamed about," he said. "Who would think that I could have a life and still fish 100 times a year. I can fish at sunup and be off the water by 10 to conduct business."

Spike, a portly chap whose burly beard and fondness for stogies gives him a likeness to Fidel Castro, couldn't get enough angling when he was a charter-boat customer 10 to 20 times a year. Too much expense and down time motoring to the prime fishing locales, he said.

"I bought a kayak on a hunch. On our first trip out we caught a huge halibut," he said. "I was hooked."

Soon he was modifying his 'yak. He added paddle clips and custom rod holders to free up his hands for fiddling with bait and tackle. Anchoring systems were developed to prevent drift – or minimize it when angling for halibut.

A flag tied to the end of his rod makes him more visible to skippers when the swells get big. A climbing carabiner nailed to the end of a broomstick serves to release blue sharks, rays and other nasty critters at a safe distance. A gaff has been standard equipment ever since a 30-pound halibut leaped from the hold of his cousin's 'yak before Spike had a chance to close the hatch.

He has landed 35-pound halibuts and white seabass – his primary targets, tackled a 60-pound ray, hooked and released barracuda until he was bored, and used squid to lure blue sharks that were feeding frenziedly on a massive school of sardines.

And the isolation has accentuated his senses and fishing knowledge.

"You can hear bait hitting the water, or a dolphin breathe or a whale breach. That would never have happened with all the noise on a boat," he said. "With that awareness comes a better understanding."

Spike consoled me after my landing debacle at day's end.

"Practice in launching and landing does not make perfect because you're dealing with the forces of Mother Nature in the surf zone and, occasionally, even the most talented paddler is going to get swamped," he explained. Translation: Wham – a kisser full of sand and surf.

I can't think of a more worthwhile gamble.

This article originally appeared Feb. 22, 1996, in the Los Angeles Daily News

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 makes his home. Click here to email him.

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