CS Presents Our Favorite Stories Of 2015
Happy New Year everyone! I try to be a looking ahead kind of person, but I’m also a major history nerd, so it’s fun to look back on the past. Not that 2015 is more signifciant to Americans as say, 1776 or 1863 or 1945 or 2001. But things happened in 2015 just the same.
Here at California Sportsman, we wanted to provide you with a few excerpts from our favorite stories of the year:
As a boy, I used to listen to my grandfather talk about Baja California — specifically the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California — frequently.
At the time, I thought he had been there. As it turned out, all he knew of the desolate peninsula and the beautiful blue sea came from a book entitled The Sea of Cortez, written by Ray Cannon, and published in 1966.
My grandfather would talk of huge fish being caught from the beach and devil rays weighing close to 1,000 pounds, leaping from the blue waters and smashing back to the surface with a thundering slap. I would pour through that book every time I visited him, marveling at the size of the fish that swam the gulf. Even as a young boy, I knew I wanted to go there.
Starting in the early 1990s, I started making frequent trips south of the border to experience the Baja Peninsula. Those first trips were required during my fisheries’ training. The university I attended maintains a field station called Los Pulpos, about 30 miles south of the coastal town of San Felipe. During my early college days, I made regular trips down to the field station, located scant feet from the calm gulf. Once I became familiar with portions of the peninsula, all I wanted to do was see more.
I learned two things very quickly once I started traveling to Baja: the beaches and surrounding terrain of the peninsula were wide open for exploration, and the fishing in the Sea of Cortez was absolutely amazing.
-Tim Hovey on his love of fishing off the coast of Baja California. (January)
There was also the cultural experience of visiting countries such as the Congo, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, which was priceless (an episode was also filmed in the south island of New Zealand).
Learning a few phrases of one of South Africa’s and Namibia’s official languages, Afrikaans, has inspired further studying of that dialect for future trips to that part of the world.
“I think it’s a little bit humbling and life-changing and a little bit in our face,” Harman says. “Just because here in the U.S., we have the luxury of grabbing a glass of water, checking the Internet and going to the movies. And these people don’t have that luxury. Kids can’t just go to a faucet and grab a glass of water like we do. They’re going to watering holes or digging a hole in the middle of a dried-up creekbed to drink water with sand in it. Jen and I will probably keep those moments forever and never take for granted what we do have.”
Adams was floored by the diversity, both in the people of the various countries visited and the constantly changing topography. She didn’t expect to see mountains not unlike those located a short distance from her Northern California home (“I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” Adams says). It wasn’t long until they’d go from mountains to a sandy desert and then a rainforest.
“We were just so grateful for the opportunity (to be there) and to hunt in a situation we’ve never been in before,” Adams says. “To know where Norissa and I came from, we were able to see things that most of my family and people back home will never have the opportunity to see. I felt very lucky and blessed to be there.”
-Girls With Guns moguls Jen Adams (O’Hara) and Norissa Harman on their Africa hunting adventure. (February)
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My first trip to Macedonia focused around hunting the Balkan chamois, this was my first “chammy” hunt and I was very excited to challenge myself with the fierce terrain that they are known to live in. We set out early in the morning, parked the car around daybreak and took off on foot. I was mentally prepared for an extremely long and arduous day. Less than an hour into our hike I bumped into my guide Toni Tonchev, who stopped short and pointed downhill.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I had not been paying attention to my surroundings and we were standing directly above a group of feeding chamois. We had just come to the bend in the hill and the animals were not yet spooked, so Toni carefully showed the biggest of the group. It was obvious with the naked eye that this particular chammy was much bigger in horn than the rest.
Toni made sure that I had the right one picked out and then he bent forward and plugged his ears; he motioned for me to shoot off of his shoulder. The animals had spotted the movement so there was no time to argue, I did as I was told and dropped the Chamois in its tracks. I was thrilled, and the long hard day just became a short wonderful day!
The chamois was even more spectacular up close, even bigger than the one my dad Craig had shot a few years before in the same area; that made me smile a little.
-Urban Huntress Brittany Boddington on hunting in a pristine corner of Southern Europe. (March)
As the current slowed to an imperceptible crawl Shane told us to strip in our rigs. He turned the boat and rowed up to the top of the run. He swung into the slow, slack water where the smooth river rocks were made slick by a layer of orange, organic material.
“We’ll be going left side. Chris, go ahead and start casting,” Shane directed us.
Shane had spent a good 20 minutes on a drift boat-fishing tutorial before we started. As a guide who is interested in getting his clients into fish, he felt the need to be thorough in his instruction about how to cast and, you know, do things that catch fish. So when Shane told Chris to start casting, the beginner knew what to do, and by the time we reached the top of the line, Chris was fishing.
I glanced downriver before I flopped my rig into the fray. I noticed another boat that had been fishing the same area. The craft started down a parallel line probably 6 feet closer to shore than ours. I didn’t pay attention to how they did; I just noticed the difference in lines.
As instructed, I kept my unblinking eyes on the strike indicator — hoping it would stop, dip, bounce or dive. It did. My left hand pulled the slack fly line through eyes of the rod and I pinned the now tight line to the cork. Fish on. I stripped to keep the rod bent and felt the shake of the fish. It wasn’t big, but it was another rainbow in the net.
It was going to be a good day.
-Jeff Lund on drift fishing the lower Sacramento River. (March)
This idea wasn’t designed to create a police vs. fire department competition or its own version of fish wars. It’s always been meant for a fun, couple days for law enforcement types to catch some bass, enjoy some good food and take a break from their hectic and stressful occupations.
“So many of these tournaments are crazy-competitive and nobody’s having fun because you’re trying to win. Of course people want to win some money. But we’re all good guys; we’re all in public safety, so it’s all about having a good time,” Konopa says.
“We get a lot of bad press (in law enforcement). And doing the job has changed dramatically. We have a lot of Sacramento guys who come down who say they aren’t able to do anything else together. They work in the same department, and they’re friends. Yet, this tournament brings them all together every year. Stuff like that is really cool.”
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Association has a partnered with a nonprofit organization, Casting For Recovery that receives proceeds from an annual raffle during the tournament.
Konopa knows when the time comes to do the heavy lifting and planning for the event, it can be time consuming when making phone calls, securing donations for the raffle and the piles of paperwork (law enforcement officials are no stranger to the latter chore).
Konopa purchased a new bass boat 1½ years ago, but with a wife and two kids, plus a demanding work schedule, getting out on the lake for more than twice a month on his favorite fisheries like Lake Berryessa is unrealistic. So despite the grunt work required to put this tournament together, it’s well worth it for the end result of F-U-N.
“I get so many emails asking me when’s the tournament? So there plenty of days when I think, ‘Man, this is so much work.’ But again, it goes back to supporting Casting For Recovery, hanging out with my buddies and so many people that I know now. I’ve had people for 11 years coming here, so there’s no way I can stop now.”
-Sonoma County Sheriffs officer Ken Konopa puts on an annual bass fishing tournament for the state’s law enforcement employees (May)
When my daughter Alyssa was born in 2000, I was absolutely convinced that before her first birthday, she’d be sleeping in a tent with us. Eighteen months later, when the doctor handed me daughter number two, Jessica, I wasn’t dissuaded in the slightest. I was determined to teach my two daughters what my dad had taught me about the outside world. And I knew when I was outdoors, my little girls would be right there with me.
Early on, it wasn’t unusual to see a baby stroller outside our tent during camping trips. When they reached the toddler stage, we took them fishing and on short hikes. Whenever we were outside as a family, we’d show them animal tracks and look for wildlife.
When they reached the ages of 7 and 8, respectively, we took them target shooting. As they got older, they began showing an interest in hunting. And as the trips started to pile up, I quickly realized that Alyssa and Jessica weren’t going to stay tag-a-longs for very long.
Over the last few years they’ve developed hunting and shooting skills that are far beyond what I possessed at their ages. They each passed their hunter safety course and are safe well beyond their years. And once they had their hunting licenses, they wasted no time in making sure that when I went hunting, they went with me.
As a father, it’s natural for us to introduce our children to some of our favorite activities. As they get older, you can only hope that they’ll be interested in becoming more than spectators. And if you’re really lucky, the kids that used to meet you at the door when you came home will eventually grow into your best hunting partners.
-Tim Hovey on being a dad to outdoors-loving daughters. (June)
A couple years ago I began to take my daughter Riley out to the local lakes to fish. The times we have ventured out have been very warm and the water levels very low, but we have a great time anyway. I love listening to her tell me about the fish she wants to catch and how big it will be.
We have a traditional breakfast of donuts on the tailgate of my wife’s truck, where we talk and laugh. By the time our line hits the water, our faces get covered in powdered sugar and it is wonderful.
I remember the day I bought her a bow with suction-cup-tipped arrows. She was very excited and I, of course, was elated! When I’d shoot with my bow she could shoot hers. It is great to see her emulate me and practice shooting at our pig target. Recently, as she asked me to get her bow out, I realized that she had grown a great deal over the last year and the bow no longer fits her. When I said we would have to go to Bass Pro Shops for a new bow, she actually seemed more excited than me.
Camping in our backyard is a favorite activity. Riley’s little eyes light up every time I ask her if she wants to camp. It reminds me of the days when I used to camp with my dad and the memories that were made. When my dad would ask us if we wanted to go camping, I remember the feeling of excitement knowing we would get to share in something wonderful.
CAMPING WITH MY dad was always fun. We always had an adventure to talk about when we got back to school, but the best part were the laughs and good times we shared. The most memorable camping trip I ever shared with my dad and brother was when I was in my early teens. One of the things I love about my dad is that when we went camping, we did everything ourselves.
-Al Quackenbush on his own memories of being a son and father. (June)
CC When did you finally get comfortable in the water?
VT My biggest obstacle was to be more comfortable in the water. That’s what took me the longest time. After that the more you’re in the water the more you can get close to the fish easier; how to act and how to behave next to them. Then you can learn the best way to hunt them.
It took me a long time; probably two or three years to be able to finally not have to glance back at the boat every two minutes. I no longer had to check to see if the shore was too far away. But when you do something like blue water hunting (diving for fish in the open ocean), you’re 5 or 6 miles away from the shore. There’s no one else around you. Sometimes the water can be 200 meters (about 650 feet) deep under you. So you need to be calm and get used to it. I think the instinct is you’re going to feel like the prey because you think about sharks. So I learned that you have to transform your mind and make yourself into the hunter.
CC Can you share a couple of memorable experiences in the water? You swam with sharks (off Durban, South Africa), which had to be a major adrenaline rush.
VT That was one of the most exciting and fearful moments of my life. First off, we were in the boat and you could see them on top of the water — the dorsal fins would break the surface. The (divers) told me I had to jump in and I said, “Do I? OK, fine.” I waited for my friend to get in the water first, but I did it. When I jumped in there were sharks EVERYWHERE; there had to have been 20 or 30 sharks surrounding us. It was quite interesting. And I couldn’t stop staring. Maybe after about two minutes a shark came really close — almost nose to nose with me. I backed up, which is something you never do because you’re acting like the prey. So they told me to toward them, which is easy to say but a little bit harder to do. Later, I was going back down and wasn’t sure where I was looking. I did a head to head with a shark, and he went one way and I went the other. We both looked at each other and were scared to death. But I don’t think he was as scared as I was. But when I got out of the water I told my friend this was probably the best day of my life.
CC How have you handled the derogatory responses you’ve received through your Instagram and Facebook pages, and from the media coverage that jumped on the train this year? It is just the reality of where we are that you’re treated so much differently than men in your sport?
VT It’s a double-edged sword. In some ways it’s a big advantage to be a woman. Most of the people would have not talked about me and what I was doing if I’d been a man. So I get the attention, even though sometimes it’s been negative and others positive. This has given me publicity and some attention from TV producers to maybe achieve my dream sometime. It really works in my favor. And I would say that 90 percent of the feedback I’ve received has been positive, which is quite surprising. I think a woman who hunts on land, she’s going to get trashed at 95 percent. People seem to have different eyes when it comes to fish.
-Spearfishing globetrotter Valentine Thomas. (September)
CC How great does it feel that you built such a wonderful and popular ski resort at Mammoth after all the hard work you’ve put in?
DM I didn’t do really hard work; I had lots of fun. It feels great looking back after all these years, but we were really just having fun.
CC How much fishing have you done over the years and do you still fish a lot?
DM I don’t fish too much any more these days but I used to tie flies to make money to get to school. I had an extremely great fishing rod when I got down to Independence. It was a Heddon-Life Pal. It was a metal florid that was much better than anything I’ve ever had. It looked like a bamboo rod — slim and trim and very sensitive. It was light and strong and I could cast 33 yards. I used to put tin-can lids out in the driveway in the back of the restaurant I worked in to hone in my casting aim. I used to go out and fish every time I had a chance. The Kearsarge area in the mountains above Independence was my main fishing area at that time.
CC What do you are most looking forward to you as you head towards your 101st birthday next year?
DM I want to do everything I’ve been doing the last few years, but I want to do it better. Some examples would be our electric vehicle conversion of a gas-powered, side-by-side (off highway vehicle). We’ve been working on perfecting this for several years but battery power is always changing and we can always do better. We also want to make sure that — every day — we’re just having fun. Every day — more fun.
-Q&A with Eastern Sierras skiing icon Dave McCoy. (October)
Most of these baits are made in small batches by passionate anglers who are more interested in making lures that catch fish than they are about making a ton of money by getting them into WalMart. In most cases, they are made by hand in garages, workshops, coffee tables with the TV on and a baby crying in the background; they are typically composed solely premium parts. Sometimes, the idea and specs are given to someone who is in a better position to produce the lures. So while the baits themselves are manufactured offsite, there is something special about them that sets them apart from the competition — be it homemade or off the shelf — and should very much still be included in this category.
These baits are also typically targeted to specific, local bodies of water. Sure, they will work anywhere, but something they all have in common is they are all tested in waters close to where they were made, which is a bit of a no-brainer. But it also means that having these baits is instant local knowledge at the end of your line.
Some find their way into nearby brick-and-mortar shops that know there is a local demand for them, but most of the time they are found on a website, Facebook or Instagram. Many have pro-staff members who hit the water with their baits and shares the photos from each outing on social media. Some aren’t even on an e-commerce site where you can buy them with a couple clicks of a mouse. It’s more of an order-via-email situation, if not a clandestine meeting where cash is exchanged for the goods in an agreed-upon parking lot.
-Mike Stevens on independent lure makers. (November)
CC Can you share a memory or two from fishing in California?
JS I have lots of great memories from up there. I once spent a whole summer living on my friend’s ranch in Maple Creek. I would walk down to the upper Mad River and rock hop for miles finding dozens of little honey holes catching beautiful little steelies. Would never see another person out there for days on end. Lots of peaceful moments on that river.
CC What was your career experience fishing in kayak? Was that developed in California?
JS I have been fishing since I was a kid. I grew up with all sorts of small boats. At an early age, my brother got a used touring kayak, which I would use to go dig clams with. Eventually I strapped a piece of PVC to make a rod holder and the rest began to fall in place. Northern California is really where I decided to dedicate my lifestyle to being a waterman. Fishing and surfing on that wild coastline really humbles you quickly. It helped me understand what power is in the North Pacific.
CC Fighting a trophy fish from a kayak in the Pacific Ocean current sounds like part thrilling rush and part terrifying insanity. What is that experience like?
JS Fighting a trophy fish from the kayak is an incredible feeling. It really helps give respect to the beasts we are hunting. The one on one battle is very humbling to feel the strength of the animal and power of the ocean it swims in. It’s a very primal feeling.
CC Is there a sense of freedom when it’s just you, the kayak and this big open water you’re fishing from?
JS Yes it’s that feeling of freedom that drives me the most. I think that’s my biggest draw to kayak fishing. That separation and self-reliance on the ocean wilderness. I find a lot of time to clear my head out there and focus on a task. I now relay it to keep balance in my life.
-A conversation with native Californian Jason Schmidt of the Discovery Channel series, Pacific Warriors. (November)
We always marked the date on our kitchen calendar back then: middle of November, second Saturday of the month.
The opening day of California’s pheasant season.
It was an exciting time, almost an unofficial holiday in our household. The Ithaca Model 37, 20-gauge pump was my first bird-hunting gun and was in hibernation since dove season. But pheasant season always promised more chances to pull the trigger.
The big day also meant mingling with family and friends; everyone gathered for an early-morning breakfast, the breaking of bread normally spiced by an abundance of good-natured ribbing about who might shoot the day’s first two-bird limit.
We’d load the dogs and our gear and pile into old pickup trucks, the anticipation boiling raucously. Then it was off to the fields to chase the wily, elusive — majestic, even — ring-necked pheasant.
There was more of the same on Thanksgiving Day morning. It was a ritual — this pheasant hunting stuff was a holiday event. Football games and turkey dinner could wait. We hunted corn and asparagus fields in the Delta west of Stockton, irrigated pasture and flooded marshes near Oakdale, gnarly ditches at the base of the Sutter Buttes, and rice fields in the Sacramento Valley.
We’d travel wherever permission allowed us to hunt. And birds were not hard to find.
But, my, how things have changed.
-Brad Hall on the decline of pheasants in California. (December)
Still, catching fish is what the sport is all about. In basketball, the name of the game is ultimately getting the ball through the hoop. Some anglers go to Alaska hoping to catch that once-in-a-generation trophy salmon, trout or Arctic char. But Barry is more about quantity than quality. He’s perfectly fine with a catch-and-release day where he’s constantly landing fish, size be damned.
“For me it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 inches long or 40 inches long. It’s all about the strike and setting the hook. That’s why I can’t understand why some people get so enamored by going out trolling with the rods in the holder,” Barry says. “All of a sudden, they hand you the rod. That’s not fishing — that’s reeling. Even in the times when I do go out and saltwater fish, I want to hold the rod.”
And he’s done so through hours upon hours of casts during annual trips to Alaska (his bike wreck prevented going up in 2014). Barry loves to share stories of an endless cycle of casts, bites, and catch-and-release action.
A couple years ago, Barry was at his beloved Rainbow River Lodge on a solo trip with a group he wasn’t familiar with. Every day he’d go out and was asked upon the return how he did. He’d caught “about 100” on the first day.
“The guy said, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ So I go out the next day and the same guys ask, ‘How did it go?’ ‘Another great day. About 100 or more fish.’ So I go out on the third day and come back and tell them about another 100 and something fish. They said, ‘That’s insane.’ By the fourth day when they asked again I said, ‘You really don’t want to know.’ ‘Come on, tell us what you did.’ I said, ‘Two hundred and twenty-four fish.’”
All of the jump shots he’s made, all of the underhand free throws he’s swished in basketball have been replaced by other astonishing percentages. Barry recalls once landing fish on 24 consecutive casts of his fly rod. During his trip with Raymond Floyd in August he texted, “I hooked over 500 in four days!”
There are more awaiting him for years to come.
-Golden State Warriors and Basketball Hall of Fame icon Rick Barry on his love of fly fishing. (December)
Here’s to a whole new set of great CS stories for 2016. Have a healthy, safe and prosperous year!
Originally published at calsportsmanmag.com on December 31, 2015.