Backcasts archive: Through July 6, 2007

Blog calendar: July 6 | July 5 | July 3 | July 2

posted July 6, 2007

That's no catfish, good sir. Its chompers suggest something far more sinister

Jerry Melton has been targeting North Carolina's Catawba River most of his 46 years, but he's never seen a catfish with teeth, let alone one whose chompers put a dent in the blade of a knife.

So Melton was definitely stumped recently, when he reeled in what he hoped was a whiskerfish that turned out to be something entirely different, the Associated Press reports from Mount Holly, N.C., outside Charlotte.

"When I got it on the bank I didn't really know what it was; I hadn't seen anything like it before," Melton said.

When Melton opened the fish's mouth with a pocket knife, he said the fish bit down and left an impression on the blade.

If you're thinking piranha, ding ding, you are correct, sir.

Wildlife officials later told Melton he had landed a 1¼-pound piranha that was probably dumped in the river, according to the AP.

Officials said the fish, a South American carnivore that fins in freshwater, was likely released by someone who had previously kept it as a pet.

"Releasing nonnative fish in our native waters is highly irresponsible because it could have a very adverse affect on the fish in that ecosystem," said Paul Barrington, an ichthyologist with the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

Melton, who is keeping the piranha in his freezer until he can have it mounted, said the experience will keep him out of the Catawba River.

"I've been fishing there my whole life," he said. "Catching something like that is definitely going to make me think twice about what's in that water."

For you curious record hounds, the International Game Fish Association recognizes four species of piranha in its all-tackle category. So when Jerry figures out just what brand he's got in cold storage, he'll also be able to gauge it against the tops caught on rod and reel:

• Black piranha, 6 pounds, 15 ounces, Venezuela, 1995
• Black spot piranha, 1½ pounds, Venezuela, 2003
• Manueli's piranha, 5½ pounds, Brazil, 2000
• Red piranha, 8½ pounds, Brazil, 1997

Darwin would be outraged at the poachers' latest victims

By now you know how much we despise poachers here at Backcasts, but we choose to point out such dastardly deeds strictly to make you aware (and, hopefully, not increase the culprits' infamy).

This time the bad guys picked on the endangered giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. Yep, right in the father of evolution's backyard. Wonder where in Charles Darwin's theory poachers fit in? No doubt they reek from primordial goop as one of our lowest forms of life.

Rangers found the shells of eight tortoises believed to have been killed by poachers, Galapagos National Park officials said Tuesday, according to Associated Press reports out of Quito, Ecuador.

Poachers sometimes kill the protected tortoises and use the meat for consumption or for sale on the black market.

Of the remains discovered, five were young tortoises of up to 15 years of age and three were adult females — possibly older than 80 — a park statement revealed.

Park officials called their deaths a great loss, saying some had been hatched from artificially incubated eggs and raised for seven years by scientists before being released into their natural habitat, according to the AP.

Authorities on the Galapagos Islands, some 625 miles off Ecuador's Pacific coast, estimate there are about 7,000 of the giant tortoises left.


posted July 5, 2007

New hero, 5, hailed for saving kids from a rabid fox during family cookout

Shinda Linder had the shock of her life Sunday when she peered out the window of her Kingstown, N.C., home and witnessed her 5-year-old son wrestling a fox.

It turns out Rayshun McDowell was just doing what came natural to him — protecting a younger sibling.

"I looked out the window and Rayshun had the fox by the neck and was pushing it into the ground," Linder said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

It also turns out the fox was rabid, and by pinning the critter Rayshun ensured the safety of six other children at a family cookout before his stepfather could kill the animal, according to the Associated Press.

"I wanted to protect my little brother," the brave boy explained.

The fox bit Rayshun in the leg, but the 61-pound boy held the animal down for more than a minute in the front yard of his home. Animal control officials said Tuesday test results confirmed the fox had rabies, which is fatal unless treated before symptoms appear. Rayshun is undergoing treatment.

Rabies attacks the nervous system and is transmitted through saliva. It often makes animals aggressive. A 6-year-old girl who also was attacked by a fox Sunday at her home nearby is being treated, as well, the AP reports.

Rayshun asked only for a Band-Aid after the attack and didn't complain of any pain.

"Rayshun was really calm and wasn't upset," his mother said. "I couldn't believe he would do something like that. He was so brave, and I was a wreck."

Just last month we heard of a similar situation in Wesley Chapel, Fla., where a Vietnam veteran was being hailed as a hero for strangling a crazed bobcat that pounced on him on his porch. The wild beast tested positive for rabies, and authorities praised Dale Rippy, 62, for dispatching it before the cat could attack again.

Back in Kingstown, N.C., some 50 miles west of Charlotte, we expect Rayshun McDowell to be praised as a hero, as well.

Next in line for kudos is Rayshun's stepfather, Ryan Thompson, who eventually pulled the boy off the animal and kicked the fox. A neighbor fired a handgun three times, but the fox continued to advance.

Thompson, wearing a cast because of a broken leg, said he used a stick and his crutch to beat the fox to death.


posted July 3, 2007

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

My Back Pages: Up Fish Creek
Of angling and life on the trail in the High Sierra

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — Under lodgepole and Jeffrey pine, white and Douglas fir, aspen and cedar, a team of horses and riders crisscrossed the lonely landscape. Not far behind, a pack train hauled freight and the hired hands.

Missing were the cattle, or the scene would have been reminiscent of the Old West. Instead, lassos were traded in for fly rods, and the goal was to leave civilization far behind, not to bring the herd into town.

The characters were as contrasting as the times. City-folk fishermen with unblemished fleece pullovers and swank sneakers catered to by a cook and a packer whose Western shirts and Carhartt vests were stained by the dust and sweat of a thousand trail miles.

Yet up here in the High Sierra, the great outdoors is the great equalizer, marrying the centuries and all those who pass through it, no matter how different the visitors might appear.

On this particular journey, the cast realized a better appreciation for one another; it became much more than a flyfishing trip: a chance to embrace varying social, cultural and economic backgrounds and commingle them.

"People who work in the outdoors enjoy the outdoors. People who visit the outdoors come to enjoy the outdoors. One group doesn't love the outdoors more than the other, so they find common ground. And as long as there is a common denominator, everybody seems to have a good time," our Mammoth Lakes fishing guide, David Moss, explained at Second Crossing on the banks of Fish Creek in the Sierra Nevada's stunning John Muir Wilderness.

And so it was, anglers discovering the ins and outs of a packer's life, and a cook asking about the subtleties of selecting a fly pattern when not preparing savory meals for a party of nine. The learning experience is one that won't soon escape me.

I rode atop Andy, a tall workhorse, the 16 miles from Red's Meadow Pack Station to aptly named Cascade Valley in California's Sierra National Forest. With seven hours in the saddle (but none in the 20 years prior), I was sore at day's end. But it wasn't my, er, end or even my back that was the problem; more than anything in horseback riding, the knees take a battering.

But I wasn't about to complain. I was used to toting a 50-pound pack on my back and breaking out the white-gas burner for freeze-dried meals. The comforts of having an animal deliver me to a wooded outpost and someone else cook my meals — everything from waffles and hash browns to barbecued chicken and peach cobbler — for four days was an utterly foreign concept. And check this out:

A pit toilet was even dug, complete with a wooden seat and a tarp for privacy. Talk about plush.

Having a guide to define the nuances of targeting trout in a freestone stream using 3- and 4-weight rods, 5X leader and size Nos. 14 to 18 dry flies was absolutely outlandish.

While tackling brookies, goldens, rainbows and a remarkable range of "goldenbow" hybrids was the object of our travels, my interests soon turned to the relationship between the anglers — also known as clients or guests — and the cook and packer. Besides, in the unpressured waters of the High Sierra, fishing is too complicated a term.

"Catching" is more like it. If you can get a fly on the water, you will hook fish, lots and lots of fish. I landed and released more than 150 myself in well less than three days; the largest was 11½ inches. There were bigger fish to fry in the personalities of our "hosts."

The cook, Laura Storm of Exeter, Calif., in Tulare County, a 10-year veteran in the business, wondered aloud about the assortment of fishing flies: "Do any of the flies really make a difference?"

To which Irvine fisherman Rich Amerian, a North Hollywood, Calif., native, replied: "It only makes a difference if you're not catching fish with the fly you have on; then it makes a tremendous amount of difference. But if you're catching fish with the fly you have on, then it doesn't matter at all." The point of "matching the hatch" became apparent.

And our packer, Jim Macey, an ol' hand from Keeler in California's Owens Valley, later chimed in with his admiration of the anglers' skills.

"I wish that I'd gotten out more on the stream because I know flyfishing is an art form, a refinement that people are constantly seeking and I can respect that," he said. "It seems that you guys are more focused on doing what you do in the stream than getting drunk or gorging out or overindulging. Some groups, they want to be pampered, they want services."

"We have our concerns; you have your focus on the river. It all works. Plus there is no attitude," Macey said.

How's that for copacetic?

Amerian argued the real skill lies with packers. (The cook joins the fraternity of packers and their duties on the trail.)

"There is a lot knowledge, but there is a lot of art to what the packers do," he said. "The art is being able to read the animals; the personality of the animals are as varied as people. That includes looking at animals' behavior on the trail and knowing instinctively what that animal is doing, if its load is off-balance, for example. It's the subtleties that most people wouldn't notice."

Of course, from my perspective — a would-be city slicker in the eyes of the pack-station crew — I too was most impressed with the people who do this sort of thing for a living.

Fellow angler Ernie Lopez of Placentia, Calif., a saltwater fanatic who reeled in his first ever fly-caught prize at Fish Creek, agreed: "It's interesting to hear the packers' stories. They are very knowledgeable in the scene. If you think they are a bunch of country bumpkins, they are not." Storm is the one with the sun-wrinkled face and the pretty smile.

She's seen horses beat up by bears and cougars … and so many in-house romances that she's gotten to calling pack stations the Peyton Places of the wilderness.

Among her duties: "Get the menu ready ahead of time, pack up, cook, gather wood if you can, get the water in, do all the dishes and just try to keep everybody happy. Occasionally you have to work out a domestic issue or be a baby-sitter."

Here in the backcountry, women do the cooking on pack-train trips. And it's the cook who chases off the bears.

"They're the meanest ones," Macey said.

With a last name like Storm, she won't deny it. "Lean and mean," she clarified.

Macey is the packer with the black felt hat and something to say about politics and government.

"Being a packer is like being a taxicab driver; you're delivering goods or a client to a place," he said.

But be sure to call him a packer, not a wrangler or a cowboy; interchanging the terms is offensive to all parties involved.

"When I got here, I had seven mules packed with freight and nine horses to deal with," he said of his responsibilities in camp. "I've got to unpack the mules — that is our dinner, our camp, and the camp has to be set up immediately. Wrap up lash ropes, the tarps, the pack gear, unsaddle all the animals, put the saddles somewhere — under tarps if it's going to rain.

"Then it's almost dark and (Storm) is making dinner, and I've got to tie the lead ropes of every horse to the neck of another animal and lead them off to some place they've never been before and put them out on a meadow that turns out to be a bog." Believe me, the list goes on.

But for all their arduous labor, little glory and less pay, it's the great outdoors that draws these packers again and again, like moths to the flame.

"If I didn't like it here, there is no way on Earth anybody could hit me with a sledgehammer hard enough to do this (stuff), because it's hard work. But I like the animals and I like being out here."

This column originally appeared Oct. 14, 1999, in the Los Angeles Daily News.


posted July 2, 2007

Even the prez can have a "lousy" day fishing

It must be nice to have divers at the ready to retrieve a stuck anchor that bogs down a fishing trip.

President Bush enjoys such luxuries.

Relaxing before his meeting yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president went fishing with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and daughter, Barbara, the Associated Press reports out of Kennebunkport, Maine.

However, the prez's boat anchor became wedged in rocks along the Atlantic Coast. Sure, Bush has been weighed down with a slew of woes in his presidency, but the anchor issue was discovered only when the party tried to depart its fishing grounds less than 100 feet from shore at Biddleford, Maine.

A fishing guide along on the trip tried unsuccessfully to pull up the heavy anchor, and the incident was of course documented in photos by the press.

Soon after, a member of the president's security detail called divers aboard a Secret Service boat that had been following behind.

The anchor was untied, and the elder Bush backed his boat, a blue-and-white craft named Fidelity III, out of the way. After a diver dove down into the chilly water, the president nonchalantly resumed fishing.

Maybe his vessel should be renamed Futility III, because Bush only had time to cast his line a few times after, uh, releasing the hook, according to the AP.

Within minutes, the diver surfaced with the anchor in hand, then Bush waved his hat to shoreline onlookers as his dad began steering the boat back toward the Bush family estate at Walker's Point, where Putin was to arrive a few hours later.

As he waited on a driveway for the Russian leader, Bush was asked about his fishing experience.

"Lousy," he said.

All of us have experienced those days on the water, and we here at Backcasts have had much more than our share.

Fortunately his bad day of fishing didn't stop the president from going back out on the brine for a second spin in Fidelity III. About 30 minutes after Putin arrived, the elder Bush piled his son and the Russian president into his speedboat and took them for a fast ocean ride.

Wyoming duffers have it rough when it comes to wildlife


That might be the new call for an errant shot slicing off the golf course in Cheyenne, Wyo. And if the golf ball actually does touch down on the hide of any of the three big deer that had recently taken up residence at the Little America Hotel and Resort here, we think the hardy ruminants will be no worse for wear.

Even in Wyoming it was quite a shocking scene at the course recently, when three young moose ambled around the first three holes, took a dip in a pond and got a drink before taking a well-deserved respite from their hard day's work, the Associated Press reports.

Crews rerouted golfers around the moose, which rarely are seen so far east in Wyoming. State Game and Fish Department workers later tranquilized the animals and shipped them to the Snowy Range, about 100 miles west of town.

The moose probably came from the Pole Mountain area more than 20 miles west of Cheyenne, Game and Fish spokesman Eric Keszler said.

"There is a moose population there, and it's been growing," he said.

Resort officials said they worried that the moose could wander onto nearby Interstate 80.

"We've never experienced anything like that before. We have a lot rabbit and geese, but no moose," resort spokeswoman Sue Clark said.

We're thinking jackalopes will be the next nuisance duffers have to contend with at the Wyoming links.

New York may have its bloodsuckers, but "crazy" man
attacks peacock after vilifying it as a vampire

It's almost too easy to label this as an only-in-New-York story, but it's so bizarre we must.

An innocent peacock that had charmed fast-food employees into feeding it recently in the Staten Island restaurant's parking lot was soundly beaten by a man who explained during the attack, "I'm killing a vampire!"

The peacock, a male several years old, wandered into a Burger King parking lot in the New York borough and perched on a car hood, according to the Associated Press.

When the assailant appeared, he seized the iridescent bird by the neck, hurled it to the ground and started kicking and stomping the creature, said worker Felicia Finnegan, 19.

"He was going crazy," she said.

Beaten so fiercely that most of his tail feathers fell out, the bird was euthanized, said Richard Gentles, a spokesman for the city's Center for Animal Care and Control.

"It's just unbelievable that someone would do something to a poor, defenseless animal and do it in such a cruel fashion," he said.

The attacker who vilified the bird as a vampire ran when he spotted police that had been summoned to the scene, and authorities were looking for the suspect, described as in his teens or early 20s, the AP reports.

It was not clear how the bird made his way to the Burger King, but a Staten Island resident who raises peacocks said he had given some to a person who lives near the restaurant.

Melaka virus is as upsetting to the source of its name as it is to victims

Speaking of vampires, the Malaysian state of Melaka is bummed that scientists have named a new bat-borne virus after it, the Associated Press reports out of Kuala Lumpur.

Australian and Malaysian scientists announced recently they had discovered a new virus likely carried by bats that can cause respiratory illness in humans.

They called it the Melaka virus, using the name of the southern state where it was isolated in early 2006 in a human patient.

Chief Minister Ali Rustam said Saturday the state does not want to be associated with the virus and called the name choice "an insult" to Melaka, which is a popular tourist destination because of its historical sites.

"Melaka is a good state, beautiful and peaceful, not the birthplace of diseases," The Star daily quoted him as saying.

Ali said the state government would lodge a formal protest with Malaysia's health ministry, according to the AP. A spokesman in Ali's office could not immediately be contacted.

Health ministry officials declined to comment.

The whole thing is just so batty and the logic so upside-down, we here at Backcasts would rather spend time in a cave dodging guano than hear any more on the matter.

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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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