Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Catfish angler lives up to his nickname

“Flathead Ed” Wilcoxson and his new Arizona record flathead

If you have the nickname “Flathead Ed,” you’d better be able to catch flathead catfish.

Eddie Wilcoxson, an angler from Arizona, has the game to go with the name. His reputation for catching trophy flatheads got enhanced recently when he landed a 76.52 pounder from Arizona’s Bartlett Lake. No one can ever claim Wilcoxson skimps on bait, either; he used a 2-pound carp!

Here’s the full story, from the Arizona Game & Fish Department.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.


A man who loves to be ‘bugged’

In this week’s column, I reveal why the months of April and May are special to me:

Note to self: Hang in there. Bug season begins soon.
When I see the first green leaves appear on weeping willow trees, or see the cheery yellow blossoms of forsythia bushes, I know it’s almost “my” time of year.
Most people call it spring, but I call it bug season.
Deep in the turbulent waters of West Virginia’s trout streams, bugs of all sorts are getting ready to hatch. From mid-April through early June, mayflies and caddis flies and stoneflies make the almost-magical transformation from larvae to adults.
To do so, the larvae float or swim to the water’s surface, where they split their skins and crawl out as fully formed adults. As they float and struggle on the surface, they become sitting ducks for feeding trout.
For fly anglers, catching a full-blown hatch is like hitting the lottery. Catching trout is sometimes as easy as seeing a fish rise to a real fly, casting an artificial fly to that spot, and setting the hook when the imitation disappears.
The bugs go by a dizzying array of Latin scientific names: Epeorus pleuralis, Brachycentrus americanus, Maccafertium vicarium and the like. Only true wonks use the Latin names, though. Most anglers distinguish the species by the names of those artificials used to match the hatch. One can hardly blame them, as names like Quill Gordon, Grannom and March Brown are infinitely easier to pronounce and remember than all that Latin gobbledygook.
Many of the early-season mayfly hatches involve species best imitated with drab flies size 18 and smaller. Several broods of Blue-winged Olives become active in April, as do Blue Quills.
The first sizable mayfly to come along is the size 14 Quill Gordon, also a somber pattern. The famed Hendrickson comes next, followed by the Orange Sulfur, the March Brown, the Gray Fox, the Green Drake and the Leadwing Coachman.
Scattered in among the mayfly emergences are a variety of caddis fly and stonefly hatches. On most Mountain State waters, heavy caddis and stonefly hatches are relatively infrequent, although the little Yellow Sally stonefly sometimes is the exception that proves the rule.
I’ve been a fly fisherman for 35 years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve exploited a heavy caddis fly or stonefly hatch. I’ll say this, though – they certainly were memorable.
The best big-fish day I ever had came during a hatch of large green-bodied caddis flies on a boulder-strewn central West Virginia stream. I frankly didn’t know a hatch was on, but had on the end of my line a fly that matched the hatching pupae perfectly.
In about half an hour’s time over roughly 100 yards of water, I caught a 19-inch brown trout, a 13-incher, another 19-incher, and hooked and lost a mammoth brown my fishing partner estimated at 24 inches.
The most memorable hatch I ever encountered was one I couldn’t fish. I was vacationing in Yellowstone National Park with my wife, and I had taken her to look at the Yellowstone River’s famed LeHardy Rapids.
The National Park Service has declared the rapids a “study area” and doesn’t allow fishing. Cutthroat trout there are both abundant and large.
When my wife and I were there, a flush hatch of 2-inch long stoneflies known as “salmonflies” happened to be underway. Huge trout were rising everywhere, gobbling the flies as they struggled on the churning surface.
I had a blast catching the big insects, crushing their heads, tossing them into the river and watching 20- to 25-inch cutts rocket to the surface to scarf them up.
I was watching fish and not catching them, but seldom before or since has “bug season” been quite that much fun.


Fallen tree leads to campers’ lawsuit

Wow. Apparently if someone gets hurt — even out in the wilds of nature — it has to be someone else’s fault.

From the Associated Press comes a report that an Idaho couple has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the U.S. Forest service because a tree fell on the place they chose to camp, injuring their son:

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho family has sued the U.S. Forest Service demanding more than $1 million after a large dead tree at a remote campsite fell and injured their young son.
Richard and Melinda Armstrong, of Caldwell, said their family was camping in the Boise National Forest in September 2010 when a gust of wind blew over the dead tree. It fell on their son, resulting in a large laceration, a compound fracture and a puncture wound in his back that impaired his breathing.
The boy, who was 6 at the time, was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Boise.
The couple said the Forest Service was negligent because it didn’t remove the tree, which was a hazard. They’re suing for more than $1 million in damages and emotional stress in federal court.
“The tree was clearly dead — had been dead for years — and was within eight feet of the fire ring, and within 48 feet of the Forest Service road,” said Eric Rossman, their attorney in Boise, on Wednesday. “It was an obvious hazard.”
Rossman said the Armstrong’s son has undergone multiple surgeries and suffered “severe permanent impairment” of his leg.
David Olson, spokesman for the Boise National Forest, cited agency policy that prevents comment on pending litigation.
At issue is whether the federal agency had a responsibility to ensure that a site where people frequented and was near a public road was adequately protected from a potentially dangerous tree.
There have been similar lawsuits elsewhere, including an Oregon man who sued the Forest Service in 2010 after he was struck and injured by a tree while driving in his truck. That case was settled earlier this year and has been dismissed.
The Armstrongs’ camping trip took them about 50 miles north of Boise, to a remote Forest Service road east of the hamlet of Ola in Gem County. They contend the place along Squaw Creek where they were overnighting was, in fact, a developed campsite, according to the Forest Service’s definition.
But even if the campsite was not considered to be developed, according to their complaint, the improvements there, including a fire ring made of rocks, and the Forest Service’s knowledge that it was a place where people camped regularly created a duty for the agency “to take immediate measures to inspect and remove the tree, close the site and/or warn user at the site of the serious risk of injury, death or property damage.”

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

Stephanie and Robert Staley with Stephanie’s 82.05-pound blue cat. (Courtesy photo)

The husband-and-wife angling team of Stephanie and Robert Stanley are now his-and-hers record holders.

Fishing in a catfish tournament on Kansas’ Milford Reservoir, Stephanie hooked and landed an 82.05-pound blue cat, the largest catfish ever taken from a Kansas lake. In doing so, she joined husband Robert in the record books. Last August, he landed a state-record 102.8-pound blue cat from the Missouri River.

Michael Pearce, the Wichita Eagle’s excellent outdoors writer, has the full story here.

Hunters in the northeastern U.S. might soon have a new name for their rifles and shotguns: Anti-aircraft artillery.

That’s because the wierdos at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals plan to start looking for “potential illegal [hunting] activity” by flying reconaissance drones over hunters.

According to U.S. News and World Report, PeTA officials are shopping for drones, and are preparing to apply for the federal permits required to fly them.

My guess is this thinly disguised attempt to get under hunters’ skins will last about as long as it takes for a couple of those expensive drones and their equally expensive cameras to come crashing to the ground. Or, better still, for the people controlling them to be arrested by game wardens and formally charged with hunter harrassment, which is illegal in many states.


Manchin playing with fire on gun legislation

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (Public Domain photo)

I could be wrong, but I believe U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is putting himself in a no-win situation on gun-control legislation.

According to a recent Politico report, Manchin, D-W.Va., is negotiating with conservative Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on the question of background checks for all firearm purchases. If the Politico report is correct, it appears Manchin is trying to persuade Republicans to support background checks for gun-show purchases and private purchases. The National Rifle Association vehemently opposes any such legislation, and therein lies political danger for Manchin.

If he forges a deal acceptable to Republicans (and, by extension, the NRA), he’ll lose any support he ever might have had from the Democratic Party’s left wing. If he brokers a deal that delights Democrats, he’ll almost certainly lose his A rating from the NRA — and in West Virginia, that’s a serious political liability.


This week’s column explains how West Virginia’s trout fishermen are getting the short end of the budgetary stick:

The shoe has dropped.
West Virginia wildlife officials now know how the recent federal budget sequestration is going to affect them — and you.
It’s not pretty if you’re a trout fisherman.
Division of Natural Resources administrators said the upcoming 5.1 percent cut in federal Sport Fish Restoration funding will give the DNR $186,000 less each year to spend on fish management. Curtis Taylor, the agency’s wildlife chief, said the state’s trout-stocking program will probably take the worst hit.
“It won’t affect [stockings] this year, but in the future we’re talking about stocking fewer trout, smaller trout, and cutting streams that currently receive weekly stockings to one stocking every two weeks.”
The trout program is so vulnerable because nearly three-fourths of its $2.6 million annual budget comes from federal Sport Fish Restoration money. Sportsmen who buy fishing tackle pay an 11 percent federal excise tax, which in turn gets returned to state fish agencies based on the amount of fishable water and the number of fishing license buyers in each state.
West Virginia’s small population and lack of water make it a “minimum state,” one that receives the minimum cut of Sport Fish funding. DNR officials spend $1.8 million of that annual allocation on the trout program.
Why so much? Trout stocking is expensive.
“During our last fiscal year, we spent $478,000 on trout food and $211,000 on vehicle expenses,” Taylor said.
Personnel costs usually eat up most of any agency’s budget, but Taylor said the trout program is a notable exception.
“Most of the money associated with the trout program is in raising and stocking fish,” he explained. “To reduce staff wouldn’t be smart.”
Instead, DNR officials hope to cut costs by raising fewer fish. It currently costs about $1 to raise a trout from an egg to catchable size. Further money could be saved by cutting back on feedings, which would result in smaller trout.
That would remove at least one source of pride from the state’s hatchery workers, because on average West Virginia stocks the largest trout of any eastern state.
Cutting back on the number of stockings would create even bigger savings. Taylor said the state’s stocking list includes 33 streams that receive weekly stockings from March through the end of May.
“If we move all of those to a biweekly schedule, it would save 264 stocking runs,” he added. “With gas at $4 a gallon, that’s a considerable saving.”
The worst thing about the trout-program cuts is that they probably won’t be a one-year thing. The sequester could last as long as 10 years, and even at the end of that time there’s no guarantee  Congress will let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service release the money to the states.
Wildlife funding got cut, too, but because excise-tax receipts from guns and ammo have been running far above average the past two years, the cuts are offset by the higher receipts.
The bottom line is that Congress is doing something it has no legal authority to do — to divert money from the Sport Fish Restoration and Wildlife Restoration funds. Those monies belong to sportsmen. They paid the taxes with the promise they’d get the money back.
And now, here in West Virginia, we who bought fishing rods and reels and lures and lines will not get our full share of what we paid into that system.


Poaching rhinos could make you very, very sick

Vomit-worthy horns?

Of all the ideas I’ve seen for stopping the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn, this latest one might just have a chance to succeed.

South African wildlife agents have started injecting the horns of live rhinos with a chemical potion that will make humans who ingest it “seriously ill.” The concoction coincidentally helps protect the rhinos from ticks and other parasites, and includes an indelible pink dye that would help authorities detect rhino horns in their ground-up form.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper has the full story, and it’s quite an interesting read.

Rhino horn is prized in Asian cultures for is supposed aphrodisiac qualities. The idea is to make those who ingest powdered bits of horn sick enough to discourage others from seeking it.

Will it work? Who knows? But it sure is clever!

From Yahoo! comes one of the strangest videos I’ve ever seen.

Taken by a fisherman on Lake Austin, Tex., the 1 1/2-minute clip shows two bass, roughly the same size, wedged together and struggling on the surface. Apparently one bass had tried to swallow the other bass headfirst and failed.

The angler who took the video pulled the two fish from the water, pulled the partly swallowed one from the mouth of the other, released them and watched them swim away.

The video can be found here.

Strange. Very, very strange. But also way cool…

It’s a standing joke in the outdoors community that President Barack Obama has become the greatest firearm salesman in history.

The latest FBI background-check figures appear to support that argument. Since Obama has been in office, the National Instant Background Check System has processed 70,291,049 background checks. That’s almost double the number for a comparable period in former president George W. Bush’s term.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at The Outdoor Pressroom.