Backcasts archive: Through May 4, 2007

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posted May 4, 2007

Editor's note: This is the debut of a new feature here at Backcasts called My Back Pages, which recalls previous columns penned by the author. Tell us what you think.

My Back Pages: Cabo on the Fly
When the dorado come out to play, the most intriguing challenge is to dispense with baitfish

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — They were rainbows with fins, darting just beneath the ocean surface off Baja California.

Frenzied dorados, sporting their telltale gold, green and metallic blue, reflected the sun's rays in neonlike hues around the boat that bobbed in the shifting currents where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez.

The uninitiated hear tales of the exotic game fish until, like the children's game of "telephone," the stories become so distorted it's difficult to tell fact from fiction. The fish don't stop jumping until they fade into the sunset. They fight with more tenacity than marlins and keep anglers glued to their rods for days. Their brilliant colors are as fabled as the unicorn's horn.

And on that special fishing journey when you are finally initiated by a feeding school and hook into a sleek specimen that strikes hard and peels out line in a surprising rush, the clarity hits you like a hammer - "Oh, I get it. This is what they mean."

No, the dorado isn't enchanted. But witness this most colorful of all game fish break toward your line and you quickly understand why it's so highly prized.

The baitfish anglers here were scoring hookups with ease, and formidable fish were leaping high behind a handful of vessels trying to shake their pursuers. Our mission, however, was to coax these beauties with artificial flies created to look like herrings and anchovies, no small chore.

It was what I had anticipated all my fly-fishing career, and the waters 25 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas above an area of structure known as the Golden Gate proved to be a bountiful training ground.

Operators of Baja Anglers, one of the few sportfishing outfits in Cabo that cater specifically to the fly-angler, had anticipated that November would be getting late in the dorado season and that the winds would be picking up, making it difficult for a rookie ocean fly-fisherman such as myself to cast proficiently. However, tuna would be picking up, and marlin and roosterfish seasons would just be getting in swing.

Regardless of the species, "It's all in the casting. If you can't cast on the fish, forget it," said Grant Hartman, on-site manager for Baja Anglers.

I was confident with my freshwater casting ability, but ocean fly-fishing was a wholly different beast, requiring much heavier rods, reels and lines and the complicated double-haul cast, in which the line is accelerated at the end of the back cast by jerking down on the fly line as the cast comes forward, enabling the fly to be tossed much farther, especially in stiff breezes.

Leave it to me to begin practicing the first day of the Mexican journey. The words of Chatsworth fly-angler Bennett Mintz, who suggested I make the trip, reverberated through my head as I fumbled in the surf with a 14-weight rod: "You don't want to blow off a huge marlin because of an inability to cast a 12-weight rod with a fly as big as an owl the required 40 feet."

During the three days of fly-fishing, my angling partner, Joe Contaldi, a fly-fishing instructor with Sport Chalet in West Hills, and I cast upon yellowfin tuna, roosterfish, jack crevalle, needlefish, cabrilla and pargo without any strikes. He landed a couple of Sierra mackerel (delicious in seviche). Our guides even turned the heads of a few striped marlin by teasing them with jigs and bait. One billfish was tantalizingly close, so close that Contaldi could see its stripes "light up" as it chased the teasers, but not close enough for our fly lines.

"We could have had three marlin, easily, if we had used conventional tackle, but we chose not to," he said. "It shows how frustrating fly-fishing can be and how exciting it can be."

But it was the dorado that came out to play at the Golden Gate.

We were armed with 11- to 14-weight fly rods and huge, kaleidoscopic fly patterns resembling herrings, sardines and anchovies. Live sardinas, a local herring, were used to bring the dorado - also known as dolphinfish and mahi mahi - up to the surface. Then a guide would throw out a caballito, or bigeye scad, that was tied to a fishing line, but not hooked, to tease in the game fish.

Then it's one or two quick false-casts, a 30- to 60-foot cast as close to the caballito as possible and immediately stripping in line as fast as you can to steer the dorado away from the bait and onto the fly. Miss, and you rollcast and start the whole process over … again and again. It's tiring, relentless and certainly more of a challenge than what our neighbors, the baitfish anglers, were receiving. Heck, their bait had hooks in them and couldn't miss on these hungry fish. I was getting extremely anxious.

But my patience finally paid off as that first dorado banged my anchovy pattern and sped off with the fly embedded in its maw. I wasn't timing it, but the fight must have easily exceeded 10 minutes. Nothing like that had ever graced the end of my fly line. And when the fish was aboard, my jaw dropped at the sight of its dazzling streaks, the dorsal fin that runs nearly the length of its body and the bulbous crest of its forehead so foreign-looking I've often thought it could have been the inspiration for the creature in the "Alien" movie series.

I caught seven on the trip and landed four. Contaldi hooked more than a dozen, and Hartman boated several, as well. All were estimated at 20 to 25 pounds and more than 40 inches. (They can grow to more than 80 inches.) We kept five and released the rest.

Considered a delicacy, they are table fare at some of the fanciest restaurants. But nothing compares to home-barbecued dorado that has been marinated in Italian dressing and washed down with Pacifico beer as the sun sets in Baja.

I was pleased with the outing, but I could have caught a mess more, according to Hartman, who served as my personal instructor. Some instructors make it seem like you're working for them. They lack subtlety. That drill-sergeant mentality gets frustrating, but it is often the best way to learn. Hartman is one of those instructors.

"I saw you lose 10 fish because your rod was too high for you to strike correctly," he said. "Your reactions are so slow; you'll have to fuel up on some ginseng before you come down next time."

He'd tell me to ready for a cast, and I simply couldn't get it out fast enough. "Hey, you're wasting time," he barked. "You don't know how long these fish will feed. Get more line out, but don't get those loops in there. Relax, calm down. Make a casting motion like you're punching your mother-in-law. No, too much wrist. Get it out there further."

Invariably I would get the line fouled or only be able to toss it 15 feet. And, predictably, I brushed off his warning not to make a grab for the reel when the fish made its first major run. Big mistake. Those spinning handles slammed my fingers. They don't call it a "knuckle-buster" for nothing. Greenhorns just have to learn the hard way, don't they?

"I know I'm being hard on you, but I just want you to be a better fisherman," Hartman explained.

Of course, he did make be a better fly-angler, and now I can brag about it. I paid my dues and got off some monster casts in the end.

The trip offered many breakthroughs for me. It was my first time targeting exotic fish, first time ocean fly-fishing and first time hooked up on dorado.

And since I'm no longer a dorado novice, I have every right to propagate the fable of the fish.

Ah, yes, as I recall, that last brute I landed nearly spooled me, 15 times, but that was after it jumped clean over the boat, at which time it temporarily blinded me with its divine colors and … .

For more information on saltwater fly-fishing in Cabo San Lucas, visit the Baja Anglers Web site, or email
info@baja-anglers.com or call 619-270-1124.

This column originally appeared Nov. 14, 1996, in the Los Angeles Daily News.


posted May 3, 2007

Hear! Hear! Let's hear it for hero hounds

It seems like it's old pets week here at Backcasts, and why stop with that theme now?

Indeed, let it continue raining cats and dogs.

Dog savior, Part 1

What began as a grand bass-fishing tale wound up being a tragedy narrowly averted yesterday for Al Lotrecchiano and his springer spaniel Bucky, as the Associated Press reports out of Carmel, N.Y.

Lotrecchiano, 72, and his four-legged partner were on Lake Gilead upstate in a small boat when Bucky's master hooked into what he said was the largest bass of his life.

The angler had just released the behemoth when, in the excitement of the moment, Bucky apparently leaned over the side and immediately man, dog and fish were in the drink.

"My life flashed before me," Lotrecchiano said earlier today.

The incident happened 400 yards from shore and Lotrecchiano originally attempted to swim the distance, according to the AP. However, he turned back quickly thinking he'd never make it and soon was clinging to the overturned craft.

But Bucky wasn't done, yet. Not by a long shot. He finished the swim to shore and ran home barking, Carmel Fire Chief Darryl Johnson said.

At about the same time, a neighbor called 911 to report a man calling for help from the lake, said Carmel police Lt. Brian Karst.

Lotrecchiano was rescued after about 45 minutes in the water. He was treated for hypothermia at a hospital.

"Thank God the dog did what the dog did," Lotrecchiano said.

Dog savior, Part 2

The ending wasn't as happy in the small North Island town of Manaia, N.Z., where a scrappy pooch is being hailed for saving five children from two voracious pit bulls.

Alas, George the Jack Russell terrier was so terribly mauled in fending off the aggressive interlopers he had to be euthanized, the Associated Press reports out of Wellington.

Apparently George was playing with the kids as they returned home from buying sweets at a neighborhood shop Sunday when the two pit bulls appeared and lunged toward them, George's owner, Allan Gay, said yesterday.

"George was brave; he took them on and he's not even a foot high," Gay said. "He jumped in on them; he tried to keep them off."

"If it wasn't for George, those kids would have copped it," said Gay, who presumably felt the children wouldn't have survived an attack by the pit bulls.

One of the kids said George was trying to protect his 4-year-old brother when the other dogs bit George on the head and back, according to the AP. A veterinarian put George down as a result of his injuries, Gay said.

South Taranaki District Council official Graham Young said the two pit bulls had been impounded and likely would also be put down because of the attack.

What kind of cat is cruising around countrified New Jersey?

In what sounds like something suited for Halloween, folks in rural Vineland, N.J., aren't exactly sure just what it is they saw tramping through field and forest over the weekend.

But the possibility of an unidentified wild animal with a long, catlike tail on the loose has some residents very troubled, the Associated Press reports out of Trenton.

"I knew by the size that it was not a house cat. It wasn't a tiny dog. It looked like some kind of wild cat," said Zoe Paraskevas, who photographed the beast Saturday. "I just got chills. I said, 'Oh, my God!'"

Felicia Fiocchi said she spotted something in the field behind their house on Sunday.

"I can't tell you if it was a panther, but I can tell you that it wasn't a domesticated house cat,'' said Fiocchi.

She's worried about the possibility of a dangerous cat roaming the woods and fields where her four children sometimes play, according to the AP.

A wildlife officer visited the area three times during the weekend and found nothing to indicate a panther was in the area, said Darlene Yuhas, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Environmental Protection.


posted May 2, 2007

Latest stress tests are for cats and dogs

So you think Fido is having a tough day. Or perhaps Kitty seems not herself.

Have you ever considered your pooch or puss is stressed out?

It's an emotional issue, your pet's health, and, according to the Associated Press, a Japanese company maintains not only that dogs and cats sweat excessively when stressed but that a new patch can measure the level of their anxiety.

What will they think of next? Call it a pet mood ring.

Just stick the small, round gauge on a paw, watch the color change, and, voila, you'll be able to tell whether your animal is experiencing some form of nervous tension or trepidation.

The company, Medical Life Care Giken, which makes a similar patch for humans, says it worked with researchers at Toyama University to study the sweat patterns of dogs and cats, which secrete sweat from their paws, the Nikkei Weekly reports.

Medical Life Care Giken expects strong sales amid a pet boom in Japan, according to the Nikkei Weekly. The patches are expected to go on sale in Japan later this year, with the price still undecided, it said. It did not mention plans for overseas sales, the AP reports.

Doting Japanese pet owners are known to go to great lengths for their pets' well-being, taking cats and dogs to specialist masseurs and even acupuncturists.

Now we're just left to wonder what to do to actually minimize pet stress. Hopefully that's not a hard pill to swallow.


posted May 1, 2007

Wow, bowwows to be considered legal companions in Oregon restaurants?

You've heard the restaurant joke — one of the oldest in the book — many times:

"What's this flea doing in my soup?" asks the diner.

"The backstroke," says the waiter.

Fly or flea, you may be hearing a lot more of it in Oregon, where, according to the Associated Press, a Salem Democrat has sponsored a bill that would make the Beaver State the first in the nation to allow dogs into restaurants.

"My dog goes to work with me. He sleeps next to me. He eats dinner near me," Rep. Brian Clem testified recently before the Business and Labor Committee. He had with him a picture of his dog, Ooji.

Under Clem's proposal, a pooch patron must be well-behaved and on a leash. Restaurants would also be allowed to discriminate within breeds, so pit bulls would likely be a rare sight at some of the state's finer establishments, the AP reports.

Those safeguards, however, are not safe enough for state health officials, who oppose House Bill 3521.

"I love dogs. Love them. But not around food," said Gail Shibley, environmental public-health administrator for the Oregon Public Health Division. "They are quite naturally a vector for a variety of pathogens, including salmonella and campylobacter, also possible exposures to diseases like ringworm."

While dogs in restaurants would be a first in Oregon, several states are considering whether to allow canines on restaurant patios and in outdoor bars. Earlier this year we blogged about just such a proposal in Washington state.

Yes sir, man's best friend would be allowed to sidle right up to the bar with him.

But opponents in the Evergreen State complained that dogs might transmit diseases and affect people with allergies, according to the AP.

Bummer for us in Washington. From our earlier report, we had a new "breed" of taproom jokes already lined up.

• Taverns would be hiring for the new job of barktender.
• There would be entirely different perspective on barkroom brawls.
• One might expect plenty of water bowls at watering holes.
• And I had "digs" on Canine Canteen as the name of my place of business. And Hounds' Lounge. And the Pub 'n' Pup.

I suppose it's not to be for us Seattle bar patrons, but cheers to the pooch proposal in Oregon.


posted April 30, 2007

NFL prospect drafts a fishing plan

Even on the most important day of his career Joe Thomas wasn't going to give up his plans to go fishing with his dad, the Associated Press reports out of Port Washington, Wis.

"We really want to follow through with the big plans we had for this day," said Thomas' father, Eric.

"But the opportunity to go fishing isn't going to come around again (often) with Joe's life changing dramatically. He's got a wedding planned this summer. He's got a full-time job now."

So father and son changed not their angling itinerary — even if it coincided with Saturday's NFL Draft, which would yield great fortunes for Joe Thomas, who was selected No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns.

Nope, Thomas had his priorities in the proper order: Fish for trout first on Lake Michigan, then worry about the details of any job offers — even if they were to include talk of a multimillion-dollar contract.

"It was about as normal as a fishing trip you could have under these circumstances," Thomas said.

A camera crew was on hand to record the moment for posterity, according to the AP, and the 6-foot-6, 311-pound Wisconsin Badgers lineman discovered he was to be Browns' new left tackle through the satellite radio on Dan Fox's charter fishing vessel, the Foxy Lady.

Thomas' good friend Joe Panos, who played in the NFL with the Eagles and the Bills after being a stalwart on Wisconsin's 1993 Rose Bowl team, also was on board

Thomas caught one fish, but he was one-upped by Panos, who caught two, including the largest — a 14-pound brown trout.

"Now maybe he can finally pay me the $20 he owes me," joked Panos, who watched Thomas pose proudly with the fish Panos caught. "Hey, it's Joe Thomas' day."

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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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