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posted Sept. 12, 2008

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

My Back Pages: Perris in fall

Where bass test your ingenuity, patience

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. — You've heard the fairy tale about the princess and the pea.

Southern California's version is Lake Perris and the peahead.

It's a story about a meticulously delicate touch – the bothersome legume replaced by a peahead jig that, when rigged with a plastic worm, can produce some very real largemouth bass.

The setting is Perris in fall. A time of diminishing boat traffic and less fishing pressure. A time of bigger quarry, when bass are bulking up energy stores for colder months, the behemoths feeding on recently planted rainbow trout.

A transitional time when largemouths are switching behavioral patterns – from summer's shallow shelter in sunlight-loving weeds and grasses to winter's demands of chasing baitfish in deeper water and crawdads on the bottom. A time when the peahead and other finesse presentations baited with soft plastic lures are used to gauge where the spry fighters are holding, often with lethal effectiveness.

That challenge of locating fish and recognizing their subtle bites is what draws many anglers some 75 miles east of Los Angeles to the Riverside County reservoir each autumn.

"It becomes more of a game, with more variables. It makes it more fun when you don't know where the fish are or what they are biting," said David Nollar, a Redlands taxidermist who has guided anglers on Lake Perris for 20 years.

Perhaps, but for rookies like myself, whose fish-finding ability is negligible and whose cast-and-retrieve touch is about as soft as a gorilla handling luggage, the errors are quickly chalked up. During an impenetrable fog Friday at Perris, I missed setting the hook on my only two obvious strikes. There may have been numerous other hits that I never remotely recognized.

The fish of fall are slower to react to prey as temperatures drop. With decreased metabolisms, bass don't have to eat as often because their energy isn't burned up as fast, so they become more finicky feeders. Therefore, enticement is enhanced by a slow, diligent retrieval of a plastic worm, grub or tube jig. Made to imitate crayfish, baitfish and any other lifelike critter, they are what most Perris bass are taken on in the fall.

"The tougher the fishing, the more you want to slow it down, because that tells you the fish aren't active and won't go very far to get things," Nollar said. "By slowing it down, you are keeping the bait in front of them longer, until they finally say, 'Enough, I'm going to bite that thing.'"

To further induce a bass, the worm is vibrated – a maneuver in bass-angling circles called "shaking" – as the fisherman applies a constant, ever-so-slight vibration to the rod tip.

Anglers unaccustomed to the painstaking technique often encounter a problem: Their targets aren't exactly quick on the draw. Bass mouth the bait in what is known as a pressure bite. If you can't discern the faint strain at line's end or are too intent on properly shaking, that trophy "hawg" or potential world record may have spit the hook before you even knew it was in his maw.

Lake Perris is thought by many to have just the right formula – large acreage, lots of largemouth, a long growing season and good forage base, including crayfish, threadfin shad, hitch (a minnow) and the all-important rainbow that is stocked during the catchable-trout program from October to May – to yield a bruiser that would break the 22¼-pound standard established in 1932. Teen-agers, bass weighing between 12 and 20 pounds, are regularly kicked out when the action is heated. The lake record is a 16½-pounder caught by Scott Brownlie of Apple Valley in February 1995.

"They hit with just a tick, about like how a wet rag would feel settling onto the line," said my partner for the day, Huntington Beach radio personality Ronnie Kovach, host of the Los Angeles talk show "Fishing Expeditions" and a former guide at the lake. Had I known that, I would have taken a pointer from the safe-burglar's handbook and filed my fingertips.

The task is particularly difficult since the tackle is so light: a soft plastic lure (usually a 4-inch worm or a 2-inch grub) on an 1/8- to ¼-ounce peahead or darter jig (front-weighted hooks with anchors molded like spheres and pyramids, respectively) and 6-pound line; a Texas-rigged 6- or 8-inch worm on an offset-shank hook with an 1/8- to ¼-ounce cone-shaped sliding sinker and 8-pound line; or a Carolina rig, similar to its cousin from the Lone Star State but with a split shot or a swivel-and-sliding-sinker setup attached 18 to 36 inches above the bait.

The minimalist rigging is cast over rocks and other submerged structure because it doesn't penetrate obstructions and get hung up as quickly. Veterans use the approach to "feel" the bottom and map out every nook and crevice where bass are likely to hold; more often than not, it's a source of irritation for beginners.

"For somebody who doesn't fish as much, it's important to use more weight to know where you are at and feel the bite," Nollar said.

Excellent advice, especially considering the game is moving to depths of 20 to 35 feet (summer may find fish in 10 to 12 feet of water; winter to 50 feet or more) and the "tick" of a bass has to cover a longer length of line before reaching those oh-so-sensitive digits.

"For most fishermen, deep-water fishing is more difficult," said Larry Bottroff of Lakeside, a former Department of Fish and Game biologist who studied the comings and goings at Lake Perris before taking a similar job with the city of San Diego. "They have to rely on their electronic equipment and find out where the bass are more concentrated."

Thankfully, Kovach was at the helm as we combed Perris for signs of bass; fish finders are as difficult for me to interpret as Chemistry 101. (I dropped the college course three times, sending that pre-med major I was pursuing into a terminal tailspin.)

"What you are looking for is an oasis in the desert; rock piles and ledges that really stick out from the monotony of the bottom," Kovach explained. "It is often said that 90 percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the water; here it's 90 percent in 3 percent of the water. So you have to know your spots."

"There are so many places in this open expanse that are totally dead seas," he said. "You want to take some time to learn the lake, then go out and know six to eight spots that at some time during the day you will run into fish."

Among Kovach's favorite locales: the various submersed creek channels and old roadbeds that crisscross the east end; Rock Climbers Cove to the south, named for the escarpment overlooking it that is popular with the rope-and-carabiner crowd; and the northwest face of Alessandro Island.

There were six bass boated during our outing and my contributions were minimal (read: skunked). Nollar had better luck fishing solo on Sunday, when he hooked some 30 bucketmouths, three over the legal size limit of 15 inches and many topping 14 inches.

"It's all about fine tuning," Nollar said. "All day long, that's what kept me going. I recognized early on that I could get bit shallow, and I went deep and got three fish there, too."

Yes, Lake Perris is clearly a challenge, but if you're ready to take the next step up in your bass-fishing prowess, it's the place to be in fall.

Sadly, perris is spotless; once precious spotted bass have vanished

Lake Perris is famous for its massive and prolific largemouth bass. It also is home to sizeable rainbow trout from fall through spring, redear sunfish and a Florida strain of bluegill that can grow to the size of small halibuts.

But the reservoir's brightest gem, the spotted bass, has all but perished – a precious commodity stocked to create a world-class fishery, then overfished and finally done in by well-meaning anglers attempting to resurrect the bass populations by illegally planting largemouths.

"It really is over," said former state biologist Bottroff. "It was a great fishery while it was going; through the '70s and '80s, it was very popular."

From 1985-87, the Riverside County reservoir yielded five line-class world records for spotted bass that still hold, including two lake-best 9¼-pounders taken on 6- and 8-pound line. (The all-tackle record is a 9-pound, 7-ounce specimen caught at Pine Flat Reservoir, east of Fresno, in 1994.)

The spotted bass, very similar to the largemouth but with a smaller maw and considered a much more spirited fighter, was imported to Perris in the mid-1970s. (San Vicente Lake, northeast of San Diego, is thought to hold the only other significant Southland spotted bass population.)

The experiment to establish a new fishery and draw anglers worked for about a decade, until the catch rate got too high, Bottroff said.

Some 85 percent to 90 percent of the planted adult spotted bass were hooked, the biologist noted. By comparison, the catch rate for largemouth is typically about 20 percent to 25 percent.

"Catch and release wasn't the 'in' thing, so whenever you have that type of harvest the fishery is going to fall way off," Bottroff said. "Even if you stocked them in there all the time, it would be a lot of work
to keep it up for various other reasons."

Fluctuations in water temperature and forage fish, behavioral conflicts with the bluegill and other factors may have contributed to their demise. But the nail in the spotted bass' coffin likely was the introduction of the largemouth bass, Bottroff said.

In "Johnny Appleseed fashion," bass-angling clubs in the late 1980s transferred the bucketmouths in the live wells of their boats and dumped them into Perris in an attempt to replenish the dying bass fishery, said Kovach, a former guide at the lake.

The plan backfired.

"It was really a case of good-intentioned people taking a fishery that
was world-class and destroying it," said Kovach, whose largest spotted bass was 7¾ pounds. He last boated a spotted two years ago.

Bottroff explained that the spotted bass couldn't compete with the largemouth, which may feasted on the spotted's fry.

As a last-ditch effort to save the fishery, the Department of Fish and Game invoked a two-fish, 15-inch size limit on bass at the lake. (At most lakes, the limit is five fish of more than 12 inches.) But the damage was already done, according to Bottroff.

"I'm sure the spotted bass would have come back on their own had the largemouth not been put in," he said.

This article originally appeared Nov. 13, 1997, in the Los Angeles Daily News


posted Sept. 10, 2008

Teacher learns lesson after hitting bear with his bike: Happy to wear a helmet

Montana middle school teacher Jim Litz told the Missoulian "all the stars were lined up against me" when he T-boned his bike into a 300-pound black bear on his commute to work.

We beg to differ, Jim.

All the stars were lined up for you, friend, considering you will ride to see another day, with but bruised ribs, a busted helmet, scratches and a bad memory to show for the frightening encounter.

The seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher claims it is not at all uncommon to spy big blackies above Miller Creek on his customary ride to Target Range Middle School, according to the newspaper's Web site.

They frequent the area for its tasty berries and usually bolt when they see him, said Litz, 57, of Missoula.

Not so Monday morning, as Litz plowed directly into the side of a bruin, which wound up rolling over the cyclist's head after he flew over his handlebars and hit the road.

"I didn't have time to respond. I never even hit my brakes," Litz told the Missoulian.

What he did have was a helmet. The headgear didn't survive the incident. (No wonder. It protected Litz's noggin while he was still airborne; he smashed headfirst into the bear's broadside before landing.) But can you imagine where he would be without it? We can, and it wouldn't be good.

The bear reacted by clawing Litz, who received scrapes from his shoulder to his bottom. Then it ran off.

But it could have been a whole lot worse. Heck, the bicycle wasn't even hardly damaged and should be back in action after only some minor tuning.

As for the bear, game wardens told Litz it was, like him, suffering from bruised ribs in all likelihood, but nothing much worse, according to the Missoulian.

Not surprisingly, the quote of the week comes from Litz: "I was lucky. I was truly lucky, because I accosted the bear and he let me live," he said.

Sure, Litz may have been seeing stars after his run-in with Boo Boo, but he can thank his lucky stars he had on a helmet.

He gets our vote as poster boy for bicycle helmet safety.


posted Sept. 9, 2008

Faux for fur? Bearskin hats of Buckingham Palace guard detail in jeopardy

Messing with tradition because the antis are putting up a stink?

Don't do it, Britain. Don't do it.

But considering that some members of Parliament are PETA backers, the notion that the soldiers who stand guard at Buckingham Palace might someday sport a synthetic alternative to the bearskin that covers their signature hats indeed has some legs.

The antis argue that killing Canadian black bears to craft the unique chapeaus is cruel, the Associate Press reports from London.

Well, boo hoo. But instead of standing up to PETA, the Defense Ministry actually is considering the proposal, according to the AP. Call it faux for fur.

Nevermind that Canada is brimming over with black bears, which are far from endangered. No, the Brits may be willing to ditch ceremony … because bearskin has no military purpose other than as a ceremonial adornment, the AP reports.

So, a synthetic substitute for bearskin does have military purpose?

What, is this some sort of odd UK riddle?

We're not buying it, and the Defense Ministry shouldn't, either.

Don't bow to the antis. After all, we're only talking about 50 to 100 pelts a year to make and repair hats for the five army regiments that perform duties at the Palace and other royal locales.

That's roughly half the number of pest Yogis that rob pickanick baskets on any given day in Banff and Jasper national parks.

Well, we made that last part up. But the point is the Canadian black bear population should be proud to make sacrifices that ensure the pomp and circumstance continues in old England.

And it's not like these toppers aren't a big deal, we'll have you know, bruins; the hats stand 18 inches high, cost $1,100 apiece and can last some 40 years, so you can rest easy with the understanding that your contributions are certainly highly valued and greatly appreciated, no matter what all those antis might say.

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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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