Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Getting rich from catching ‘pikeminnows’

Pikeminnow bounty posters

It’s hard to believe that anyone can make a decent living catching small fish on hook and line, but a few Pacific Northwest anglers are managing it.

They’re catching ‘northern pikeminnows.’ I put the name in quotes because, in the years before political correctness came into vogue, the species was known as squawfish. The PC crowd changed the name.

Pikeminnows eat young salmon, and salmon are important to the Pacific Northwest’s economy, so the Bonneville Power Administration pays fishermen $4 to $8 for every pikeminnow caught and killed.

The Associated Press had the following wrap-up on this year’s pikeminnow catch,one that makes me want to move to Oregon and invest in pikeminnow tackle:

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A program to reduce the numbers of a salmon-eating pest called the northern pikeminnow paid $1.2 million to Northwest fishermen who assisted the effort this year.The Bonneville Power Administration funds the program, which earned one fisherman more than $81,000 during the six-month pikeminnow season.

The BPA said just over 173,000 pikeminnow were caught, helping to increase survival rates for young salmon and steelhead.

Fishermen get paid $4 to $8 for northern pikeminnow 9 inches and larger caught in the lower Columbia and Snake rivers. The more pikeminnow caught, the more the program pays. As an added incentive, specially tagged fish are worth $500.

The annual program opened May 1 and was originally scheduled to close Sept. 30 but was extended 10 days this year.

How W.Va.’s two biggest bucks were killed

Junior Bailes' 10-point typical
Ivan McLaughlin's 31-point non-typical


The midway point of the buck firearm season seemed like a good time to tell the stories of the two biggest bucks ever killed in West Virginia.

So I did. Follow this link to the stories of Junior Bailes’ titanic 10-point typical and Ivan McLaughlin’s unbelievable 31-point non-typical. As you can tell from the accompanying photos, those two bucks were the stuff of which deer hunters’ dreams are made.

Some perspective on the lead-ban lawsuit

This week’s column is a more detailed look at a lawsuit, filed last Tuesday,  that seeks to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban lead bullets and sinkers:

The people who want to ban lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle are at it again.
Earlier this week, three environmental organizations filed suit in U.S. District Court to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do just that.
Never mind that a ban on lead ammo would be a direct violation of federal law. In fact, that’s the very thing EPA officials said back in August when they denied the groups’ petition to ban lead shot and lead bullets.
Never mind that on Nov. 3, EPA officials also denied the groups’ petition for a ban on lead-based fishing tackle.
The three groups – the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and a supposedly hunter-based group named Project Gutpile – refused to take no for an answer.
If their lawsuit succeeds, a federal judge would order EPA officials to establish rules designed to prevent wildlife from being poisoned by spent lead ammo and lost sinkers or jigs.
The groups argue that lead, which indisputably is toxic, should be regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act. For the most part, it already is. Since the act’s implementation in 1976, lead has been removed from paint, from gasoline, from plumbing and from any number of other applications.
It wasn’t removed from ammunition because the lawmakers who wrote the act wisely saw the devastating effect a lead ban would have on hunting, shooting sports, law enforcement and the military. So they specifically exempted lead ammo from regulation.
Lead-ban advocates got a bone thrown their way in 1991, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its ban on lead shot used for waterfowl hunting. Studies had shown that dabbling duck species – mallards, black ducks, gadwalls, shovelers and widgeons – often ingested spent shot when the birds grubbed for food.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s ban stood up because waterfowl fall directly under the agency’s jurisdiction. It was entirely within the service’s purview to protect a class of ducks by ordering hunters to use non-toxic shot, and they did.
In 1994, then-EPA administrator Carol Browner proposed a ban on lead sinkers, jigs and other lead pieces of fishing tackle on the grounds that “the ingestion of even one small fishing sinker containing lead or zinc can result in the death of a water bird.”
Anglers responded with howls of protest. They put pressure on Congress, and Congress listened. Within a year, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced legislation designed to block the proposed ban. Faced with such a strong public backlash, EPA officials gave up and let the proposal die.
I frankly expect members of the incoming Congress to introduce similar bills. Some of the newcomers will want to prove their conservative bona fides by torpedoing the Obama administration’s executive-branch attempts at regulation. The proposed lead ban would make an attractive target.
Leaders of hunting and fishing advocacy groups argue that states, not the federal government, should have the final say on lead ammo and lead shot because the alleged effects on wildlife tend to manifest themselves locally, not nationally. Several states, for example, have already banned lead sinkers.
Now, though, the legality of lead ammo and lead fishing tackle will likely be played out in federal court. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the current lawsuit upheld on the district level, overturned on the circuit level, and eventually end up in the Supreme Court.
The final verdict is anyone’s guess.

Ban on lead ammo and fishing tackle isn’t dead yet

I suppose it was inevitable.

The coalition of environmental activists has resumed its quest to seek a ban on lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle.

The activists couldn’t get Congress to act, so they petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection agency to enact the ban through administrative regulations. EPA officials read the law — which specifically exempts ammunition from any such bans — and denied the petition. Now the activists are back at it. They’re suing, hoping to find a friendly court to do what lawmakers and administrators refused to do.

The story is here, in the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I hope your day is filled with fun, family, feasting, football — and maybe a late afternoon in a tree stand. After all, it is deer season.

And please, don’t forget to give thanks.

More on that record-breaking Pa. black bear

David Price and his 879-pound bruin

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials apparently are convinced that the 879-pound black bear killed last week in Pike County was taken legitimately.

An Associated Press report quoted PGC spokesman Jerry Feaser, who said bowhunter David Price did nothing illegal when he killed the animal.

The report also noted, however, that the bear was essentially tame. Employees of the nearby Fernwood Resort routinely fed the bear, which they had nicknamed “Bozo.” Resort groundskeeper Leroy Lewis said he began feeding the bear 17 years ago when it was a cub.

PGC officials had issued Lewis a warning in September for feeding the bear, which is illegal in the Keystone State. Feaser said bears fed by humans can end up creating a public nuisance.

The negative publicity surrounding the kill — some of it legitimate and some of it unfounded — has soured the experience for Price. He told the Pocono Record that the experience that should have been the pinnacle of his hunting career had been tainted.

A cold shower for W.Va.’s buck season

Rain, rain, go away…

West Virginia’s hunters got what they wanted Monday morning — a buck season opening day that dawned bright and clear.

Yeah, it was a little warm, but hunters by all accounts fared quite well. More deer were being killed, and the bucks seemed to sport bigger antlers than usual.

Then came the rain. A front blew in early this morning and is spreading across the state even as I write this. 

Bummer. State wildlife officials really, really hate it when it rains during the first three days of the buck season. That’s when most of the deer get killed, mainly because that’s when most of an estimated 300,000 hunters are in the woods.

Let’s hope for clear weather Wednesday and on the two Saturdays that fall during the two-week season. Otherwise, we’re in for another disappointing buck harvest.

Steal 299 rare bird skins — for fly tying????

A Baron, tied with imitation chatterer and fruit crow

This week’s Gazette-Mail column takes a look at a little-heralded crime that has sent shock waves through the worldwide community of people who tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies:

We sportsmen like to think that the pastimes we adore are as pure as wind-driven snow, but then something like this comes along:
A 22-year-old American was arrested earlier this week for the alleged theft of 299 rare bird skins from a British museum. Authorities believe the young man was selling the pelts to people who tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies.
The news hit me like a cold salmon to the face. You see, I too tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies – fancy Victorian-era patterns tied with brightly colored feathers, tinsels and flosses.
Most of the materials for these flies are easy to come by. Floss is downright cheap. Tinsels are affordable and readily obtained. Many of the staple feathers – dyed turkey, barred wood duck flank, bronze mallard flank and golden pheasant – can be pricey, but are available from any number of legitimate dealers.
Some full-dress patterns, however, call for feathers that are rare, difficult to obtain and absurdly expensive. Feathers from red-ruffed fruit crows, blue chatterers, bustards, toucans and quetzals are prime examples. They’re hard to come by because many of the species are endangered or protected.
There’s a market for these feathers because some tiers like to make their flies “period-accurate,” with materials specified by the Victorian-era anglers who designed them. One 19th-century pattern, for example, calls for two red cock-of-the-rock crest feathers; two light blue chatterer feathers; two light red cock-of-the-rock feathers; two dark blue chatterer feathers and two orange cock-of-the-rock feathers.
Some of those birds are endangered. All of them are protected to some extent. Most of the feathers from those species still available legally were plucked from old taxidermy mounts or Victorian-era ladies’ hats, and routinely sell for $8 to $15 or more per feather.
The young American – Edwin Rist of Claverack, N.Y., a student in London – knew full well the value of the birds he’s accused of stealing from the Natural History Museum at Tring. Rist had been a salmon fly tier since his mid-teens. The flies he tied often contained period-accurate feathers, which he reportedly purchased with money earned by doing odd jobs.
A year ago when the Tring burglary occurred, there was widespread speculation within the salmon fly tying community that some of the stolen bird skins might eventually come up for sale on the Internet.
That’s exactly what occurred. Several red-ruffed fruit crow skins showed up for sale on Rist’s website. Their presence raised eyebrows, but few if any within the community put two and two together until after Rist’s arrest.
It had long been suspected that some of the feathers floating around on the open market had unsavory origins. Without documentation, it was impossible to know whether the feathers were legit, were poached from the wild, or were plucked from stolen museum specimens.
Now those in the fly tying community – me included – are taking a hard look at the zeal with which we once pursued period-accurate feathers. We’re also looking for ways to reduce the financial incentive to traffic in illegally obtained materials.
We’ve already had one success. Five years ago, zoos that raise speckled bustards started providing free molted feathers to interested tiers. The program virtually eliminated the sale of high-priced, illegally obtained bustard plumage.
Might we find something similar for chatterers, crows, toucans, cocks-of-the-rocks and birds of paradise? We hope so.
Until that happens, there are easily obtained and perfectly legal look-alikes for almost all those rare feathers. We need to learn to be content with those.
David Price and his 879-pound bruin

From the Associated Press:

BUSHKILL, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania Game Commission says an 879-pound black bear brought down by a bow hunter is the heaviest ever recorded in the state. David Price shot and killed the 17-year-old bear in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Pike County on Monday.
The Pocono Record reports the game commission says the bruin had an estimated live weight of 879 pounds. It was 15 pounds heavier than the state’s previous record-holder, an 864-pound bear shot in Pike County back in 2003.
Game commission spokesman Tim Conway says this bear could be determined to be the world record holder. The world record is determined by skull size. Officials say the bear’s skull will be measured after 60 days.

As is almost always the case when someone kills a critter so big and so potentially important, controversy surrounds Price’s potential record bruin. Some of the allegations:  1.) The bear was well known in western New Jersey, where it had been trapped and lip-tattoed by New Jersey wildlife officials. 2.) It reportedly was raised by humans after its mother was killed by a car.  3.) There is at least one allegation that it took nine shots to kill the gigantic bruin, and that some of them were taken with a crossbow. If true, the kill would be illegal because Pennsylvania’s bow-only bear season is not open to crossbows. (UPDATE — Knowledgeable readers have informed me that crossbows are legal during the bow-only bear season in Pennsylvania. I stand corrected. Thanks for the help, folks.)

So far, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is only confirming that the bear was killed in Pennsylvania and that it was indeed as big as it was reported to be. They’re staying quiet on everything else. PGC officials have yet to issue an official news release.

I’m sure PGC wildlife conservation officers are questioning anyone and everyone about this one. The coming days should bring further news.

Hey, deer hunters, let’s be careful out there

A properly harnessed hunter in his stand (N.C. Wildlife photo)

West Virginia kicks off its firearm season for buck deer on Monday, so this is a good time to talk about safety.

No, I’m not going to lecture anyone about firearm safety. Firearm-related injuries comprise only a small portion of hunting-related injuries. Falls from tree stands, on the other hand…

A recent Ohio State University Medical Center study showed that falls account for fully half of all hunting-related trauma cases, and falls from tree stands account for 92 percent of all falls. That puts tree stands at the head of the list, and by a considerable margin, I might add.

Those statistics were driven home to me yesterday during a visit to the doctor. This particular doctor happens to be a spine specialist. He’s also a hunter. I asked him if he’d been up in his tree stand yet this fall.

He got a grim look on his face, and then told me a grim story.

“I just got finished treating a fellow who fell from a tree stand,” he said sadly. “He wasn’t wearing a safety harness, and he fell from his stand and suffered [a spinal fracture]. He lay paralyzed under his stand for 8 hours until someone came looking for him. We operated and were able to stabilize the spine, but…”

He didn’t finish. He didn’t have to.

“That sort of thing could be prevented,” he said, switching gears. “If people would take the simple precaution of wearing safety harnesses, and if they’d get over the notion that they have to put their tree stands way up in the air, tree-stand injuries would just about go away.”

I told him about the Ohio State study, and he nodded.

“I see these injuries every year. They start when the archery season starts, and they become even more frequent when the [firearm] buck season starts. What’s sad about it is that these injuries could so easily be prevented.”

Anyone listening?