Backcasts archive: Through Oct. 17, 2008

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posted Oct. 17, 2008

Editor's note: My Back Pages recalls previous columns penned by the author. The following piece was written for ESPNOutdoors.com when St. Louis Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue was on the staff of the Cincinnati Reds in 2001.

My Back Pages: 2 for LaRue: Visualizing, patience help hunt

"Athletes in the Outdoors": The MLB

Patience and visualization are attributes many athletes say are keys to success. St. Louis Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue claims the same holds true in the field of hunting.

He learned the traits at a tender age. LaRue's father, Derald, began bringing him into tree stands when he was 2 and would nudge him awake whenever a whitetail deer appeared. LaRue applies the traits at least twice a week in the offseason when he is home in Boerne, Texas, tracking deer.

The former All-American from Dallas Baptist University, now 34, explained to ESPN Outdoors his hunting passion and how his baseball skills assist him in the field:

ESPN Outdoors: "Jason you said you see comparisons between the baseball field and the hunting grounds. How so?"

Jason LaRue: "The main thing is patience. Patience in baseball is just about the whole key to the sport. In hunting, that's one of the main keys. If you don't have patience, if you want to move all the time, you're going to spook the deer. They're going to spot you before you can spot them. I think if you can be patient in whatever you're doing, hunting or playing baseball, then you're going to be successful."

EO: "Ballplayers often say the ability to visualize a hit can net positive results. Is there anything to that and does it apply in the outdoors?"

JL: "As a hitter, visualization is a big key. And I think as a hunter it should also be a big key, because in order to be fully prepared you need to be able to go over in your mind and visualize. And see a deer walking out or something, and see yourself looking through your scoop or your peep sight on your bow. And putting your scope or peep sight through the kill zone. And see yourself shooting it and see the deer fall and see yourself make a good shot. And I think if you can do that over and over, that's almost as good as actually going out and practicing and doing it. I think mental is a key to both things — hitting and hunting."

EO: "What is your specialty in the field?"

JL: "My specific thing I like to do is whitetail hunt — from bowhunting to even shooting a gun. I've tried rattling deer up with horns, tried some grunt calls and have gotten some attention from deer that why. I prefer to do the bow, just because it's more exciting for the deer to get closer to you. It's more of a sport. They can spot you a lot easier when you're bowhunting, so it's more of a challenge."

EO: "When did you get your start hunting?"

JL: "My dad went, you know, as much as possible. He's hunted every since I was a baby. He was telling me that from the time I was like 2 and 3 years old, I would go and sit in the deer stand. I'd sleep and, when deer would come out, he'd wake me up and show 'em to me."

EO: "What did you take from your dad's hunting experiences and preferences, and how are they different from yours?"

JL: "He would rather go and walk and sit for a while and see if anything will start moving. He's tried some grunt calls. His favorite thing is just to go and walk. I like doing that. But then there are times that I want to be 100 percent sure that I'm going to see an animal. So I'll go sit in a deer stand where it's got a feeder at it, and I'll sit there and hunt it just so I can see animals. It's not like it's as much going out to shoot one, but, you know, if a big buck or something walked out, I would surely pull the trigger. There are times when I don't want to get skunked and not see any animal. I would just like to see some sort of movement of deer and stuff, just to be able to watch the deer and try and learn as much as possible from their feeding habits and the way they come in and stuff."

EO: "What has been your most memorable day in the field?"

JL: "I was a freshman (at Texas' Smithson Valley High School, where he was all-state in baseball) and I shot a 10-point buck with my gun and it was probably a 130-class whitetail (on the Boone and Crockett scale). I was out hunting by myself. I was on a stand. It was right at dark. I looked down and I was fixing to get out of the stand. Then I saw a deer standing there, and I said, 'Well, let me see if I can see it through my scope.' And the deer put his head up and all I could see was horns and I knew it was a big buck. And I put it where I thought his shoulder was and I shot the sucker as perfect as could be. I was dragging the deer back to where we could get a car to it. My dad came and picked me up. It was pitch black and I was sitting on top of the deer when he pulled in and saw the deer in the headlights. And he gets out and says, 'Oh my god, son, what are we going to do? We may not have enough money to mount this thing.' He was pretty excited for me. It was awesome. That was probably the most memorable moment."

EO: "What's your favorite food?"

JL: "That's got to be a steak — either a porterhouse, T-bone or strip steaks."

EO: "The last movie you watched?"

JL: "That's a hard question; I'm not big into movies."

EO: "The last book you read?"

JL: "'Attitude is Everything,' by Keith Harrell."

EO: "Last thing, Jason; what is your dream hunting trip?"

JL: "At least one day to shoot about a 170-class whitetail. Two other things I'd really love to do is go on an elk hunt and a mule deer hunt. Never taken either one. Only thing I've done is hunt in Texas. I would ultimately like to, one day, backpack on horses and shoot an elk and shoot a mule deer."

This article originally appeared in May 2001 in the pages of ESPNOutdoors.com


posted Oct. 15, 2008

Proposal to hunt elk in Wash. town predictably controversial, complicated

Front and center on a major newspaper?

Indeed, when hunting is the lead story you know we'll have something to say about it.

"Wearing out their welcome" is the title of the centerpiece in today's Seattle Times that chronicles Washington state's controversial proposal to permit elk hunting in the town of Packwood, south of Mount Rainier National Park.

It's a conundrum is what it is. And we never miss the opportunity to type the word conundrum.

You see, elk to Packwood in Lewis County are like Bears to Chicago and cheesesteaks to Philly. They are part of the scenario – celebrities, if you will, to this former logging stronghold.

But recently there have been damage complaints – 15 to date this year lodged with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife – prompting officials to suggest a controlled hunt to reduce the number of ruined gardens, crushed fences and car-vs.-elk run-ins.

The reviews are certainly mixed, and the Times fairly drew up the battlefield over Packwood's elk with its twin pullquotes:

I don't want to see animals killed as a public display. … The animals deserve more dignity.

— Jack Bowers, an avid hunter

I think they are tasty, that's what I think. If I see them, I'll shoot them.

— Paul Hartzell, auto-repair shop customer

Some might think that saying it's a complicated issue is an easy out, but in this case it happens to be true.

The dollars from logging that filled Packwood's coffers have been replaced by revenue from tourism and recreation, the Times reports, and according to one local business owner the elk "have put Packwood on the map." So popular are the wapiti that residents and visits alike feed the big deer, sometimes by hand, which is a legal practice here.

So having a controlled hunt might be an image ruiner for the town of some 1,500 in the foothills of the Cascade mountain range.

But the state is intent on making things right for those whose apples have been gobbled, flowers devoured and cars smashed.

We would side with any state wildlife agency, almost by default, but the idea of people packing heat or bows and arrows for a mile along either side of a busy highway leading into and out of town has us concerned. Remember, Washington is where a young shooter recently mistook a lady hiker for a bear, with fatal consequences; that was a front-page hunting story, too, and some sportsmen in Packwood worry hunting elk in town would lend itself to bad publicity.

"The modern hunter takes a black eye as it is; there is no reason to make it worse," bowmaker Bowers told the Times.

Public opinion is being assessed (a town meeting on the manner is slated Friday in Packwood) and a decision is expected sometime in 2009. Stay tuned.


posted Oct. 13, 2008

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

My Back Pages: Sweatheart of a lake

For hike-in trout fishing, Valentine along California's Eastern Sierra is high, lonely

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — Resident fishing guide David Moss likes to say that when the fishing gets to be can't-miss, the mission is to find out what fly doesn't work.

Try as he might on this cloud-bursting July day at postcard-perfect Valentine Lake along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain ranger, the grizzled angler failed again and again.

First his trusty Sierra bright dot brought in the brook trout like chum. Then he rifled through a Twin Lakes special (yellow-bodied mosquito), a female Adams, a red-tailed mosquito and a bead-head caddis larvae. All hooked brookies with zeal – a sight-fishing bonanza.

"Sometimes you just can't win," Moss said.

I'd like a little of his bad luck.

Despite a trailhead located virtually within the Mammoth Lakes city limits, Valentine Lake at the southeastern base of Mammoth Crest in the John Muir Wilderness is rarely visited and less often fished.

It's a diversion you won't soon forget.

But be prepared. The trail, which rises 1,900 feet in six miles (certainly not insurmountable, but at a base elevation of 7,800 feet, you'll be breathing heavy at the outset), is ranked a four on a scale of five in Tom Stienstra's book "California Hiking." Its beauty rates a nine out of 10.

I planned to camp, and it soon became clear that me and my 30-pound pack were slowing down my 59-year-old guide, who had completed 18 marathons in his heyday before deteriorating knees slowed him down.

Perhaps as a form of encouragement (considering my advanced state of perspiration), he mentioned it was his 20th consecutive year visiting Valentine Lake – named for Los Angeles businessman W.L. Valentine, one of the original owners of Valentine Camp, an exclusive recreational club built in Old Mammoth in 1920.

One fall he even cut short his rehabilitation from knee surgery to keep his streak alive. It was the middle of December. Luckily it was a drought year and the trail wasn't entirely snowed in, but, when he crested to the rockbound lake, a couple was skating on its far end.

"One look is worth a thousand words. Each time I see it, it's like I say hello to an old friend," he said.

I didn't dare state it to Moss, but, after I heard that, I thought to myself that good things are worth the wait. I was muttering "worth the wait, worth the wait" during the final mile push, which includes 19 grueling switchbacks … and is now stained with my sweat droplets.

The 9,698-foot lake yields a spectacular southern view – two angles, actually, as the visage is pristinely reflected by the water – of the granite and glaciers on the edgy ridge that represents one of three walls that surround it. Topping out at 12,075 feet, the unnamed promontory flags the boundary between Mono and Fresno counties and Sierra and Inyo national forests.

Moss wasn't done hiking, yet. The prime fishing grounds were a half-mile farther, over slabs of steep rock that separate equestrians from hikers to the inlets side of the lake.

There we pieced together the fly rods – a 4-weight setup with weight-forward floating line, a 12-foot, 5X tapered leader and 6X tippet, and the other a 5-weight with 9-foot leader.

But even before I had a chance to lose my third fly – the first to an unfriendly tree limb on a back cast, the second in the maw of a brookie due to a snapped tippet (or, more likely, a bad surgeon's knot) – it began to rain tabbies and terriers.

Fortunately, whoever said fish don't bite when it's raining was probably just a local trying to protect his secret spot. The fish were nearly as ravenous as the mosquitoes that took cover under our jacket hoods and irritated our nose hairs in the Gortex-testing downpour.

Indeed, my third dry fly was a charm. I skipped over the California mosquitoes, black gnats and royal coachmen that made up the entries in my fly box and was drawn to the florescent pink center of a size No. 16 Sierra bright dot. Moss swore by it – "the magic fly of the West," he said – and I would soon be swearing, too, in elation.

The brookies rose to it in the lake's shallows like bears to honey, even as those big raindrops uproariously thwacked the water. See the fish. False cast to the fish. Drop the fly in front of the fish's snout. See the fish hit. Raise the rod. Set the hook. Reel in the fish. Repeat.

They rose to that same Sierra bright dot – with the salt-and-pepper hackle, fore and aft, and the lip-smacking orange and black tail – where a rolling inlet met the open water. At the edges where the shoals dropped off. Over bluer waters.

And, there, between the cover of two submerged boulders in the drainage of another tributary, a brookie – so gloriously hued in yellow, orange and red you'd swear (again) it was a golden trout – finned nonchalantly toward that same Sierra bright dot.

Like all high-country fish, the brook – not a true trout, but a char – gets its vivid colors from feeding on natural foods, primarily midges in all their life stages – larval to airborne. It is distinguished by the wavy lines (vermiculations) on the top of its head and by the pronounced multicolored spots with blue halos (ocelli) on its sides. The Department of Fish and Game last stocked Valentine years ago, and the population seems to be sustaining just fine, thank you.

Anyhow, this particular specimen must have been feeling good, feeling strong, feeling confident about the attractive buggy thing on the surface of the creek. Because by the time it hit the fly, the brookie was swimming upside-down.

It got the surprise of its aquatic life when I pulled it ashore and measured it out at 11 inches – about as big as they come in this neck of the woods – before releasing it.

I never changed that fly. It may be lazy, but, hey, why fix what's not broken? And the rain never relented. It was sometime between my fourth and sixth catch that it finally dawned on me that not bringing a tent was a simply brilliant idea.

I'm soaked and have no shelter. Yeah, brilliant.

I easily envisioned getting very cold that night, so I opted to hike out with Moss after a four-hour, sock-soaking drenching.

What I had planned to be a 6½-mile pack-in trek would turn out to be a 13-mile out-and-back. And for all it was worth, that 30 pounds on my back could just as easily have been a sack full of hammers.

After I lugged that useless pack down those first 19 switchbacks, we looked back to clear skies above Valentine Lake.

Sunny till we got there; sunny after we left. Isn't that always the way?

At least I discovered that fishing in the rain ain't that bad.

This article originally appeared Aug. 15, 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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