October 22, 2007
As recently as a decade ago sightings of Nessie, the famed monster of Scotland’s deepest freshwater loch, ranged into the high teens every year, though still nothing to match those claimed during the runaway hallucinogenic ‘60’s and 70’s. Sadly, in 2006, the creature was reportedly seen but three times, and thus far in 2007 only twice. Is Nessie dead? Were there other like beasties in Loch Ness responsible for monster reports that have also passed on to that big pond in the sky?
I say sadly because not only is Nessie responsible for bringing an estimated $12 million annually to the economy of Scotland’s Highlands through tourist trade, but also because there’s a certain idiosyncrasy in our makeup that needs myths.
One of the more telling technological blows to the legend landed in 1987 with Operation Deepscan. Lowrance sonars (fish finders) were fitted onto 19 cruisers that were followed by another boat sporting a Simrad Scanning sonar to sweep the loch with a sonar curtain—one end to the other. Hundreds of international reporters and TV crews were present. Hotels were filled. It was a grand show. Three sonar contacts were made the first day. A technician reported that one signal was the largest he’d seen in freshwater, but later on expert operators put the signal as something only in the 50-pound range rather than the estimated 2500 pounds Nessie should weigh.
Since then, the lack of sightings by self-appointed monster hunters and observers equipped with modern monitoring electronics have further diminished expectancy and traded the romance of illusions for the gray drabness of digital skepticism.
Worse yet, Dr. Neil Clark, curator of paleontology at Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum now says Nessie is likely an elephant.
According to Clark, elephants belonging to circuses visiting Inverness regularly stopped on the banks of the loch allowing their beasts to rest and cool off. The most famous photograph of the monster is from 1933, after which there occurred quite a few supposed Nessie sightings. Says Dr. Clark, Nessie was likely dreamed up as a “magnificent piece of marketing” by a circus impresario after he saw one of his elephants taking a bath in Loch Ness. That fellow, Bertram Mills, promptly offered the equivalent today of $1 million to anyone who could capture the monster for his circus at Olympia, London. International interest immediately fired up.
If you look closely at that famous photo, it’s easy to conjure the trunk of an elephant, the head and ear just submerged beneath the surface.
Not to worry. Here we’ve still got Big Foot and Lord knows what creatures still comb the depths of the true oceans.
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October 15, 2007by
It is a horrible creature, more like a gigantic obese-bellied eel than a proper fish. Not something you’d want to meet while enjoying an evening swim; nor would your dog that could conceivably be eaten. If legends were provable, this might be the world’s largest catfish. But science has yet to verify stories of reputed 600-700 pounders from the 19th century. In all likelihood those fish were sturgeon. Not to fret, if you’re headed to the right place you’d have a good chance of catching one of the fantastic wels cats in the 100-pound class, and if you kept at it long enough, perhaps a 200-pound creature. Or bigger.
According to the International Gamefish Association (IGFA), the legit all-tackle rod/reel record now stands at 228 lb. 6 oz, from the River Mincio in Italy. That fish was taken by Guenther Schwierzy on 3/25/06. Interestingly, IGFA lists the wels by itself as it does the South American lau-lau, rather than including it beneath the catfish heading. Close on the heels of that wels record is the 226-pounder taken by Carl Smith on 3/24/06 from Spain’s Ebro River. Which brings us to this:
Carl Smith, who had never caught a catfish before, took three other wels in the 200-pound class the same day. His guide, Richard Davies of Ebro Angling Tours, told how that biggest fish ripped 100-yards of line from the angler’s reel, forcing Smith into the water in order to get a fighting angle on the cat. “I think the size of the fish made him a bit frightened to go in the water but it had to be done,” said Davies.
To say the Ebro River is hot is a bit of an understatement. The other day former Outdoor Life staffer Will Snyder called me from Spain telling about a photo of an Ebro wels caught just after it had fed. The legs of a great blue heron were evidently sticking from its mouth. Warm and murky through much of its reaches, the Ebro is Spain’s longest river with the greatest discharge of any on the Iberian Peninsula. In 1974, German fishing biologist and fanatic angler Roland Lorkowsky released several thousand wels fry into the Ebro. The rest is history. The fish grabbed hold like a Jack Russell terrier on a junkyard rat.
In some reaches the voracious wels has wiped out indigenous species almost completely. Like wildfire, it has spread to and infested other rivers and lakes in the Ebro basin. Reaching the end of its 565-mile course the Ebro dumps into the Mediterranean sea. It is here in the river’s lower reaches where you can experience the least crowded fishing. The lower water also boasts the bonus of anadromous species influx—like shad—that only add to the never –ending banquet laid out for the wels. These gorging cats can put on upwards of 10 pounds of weight a year. It is not unrealistic to imagine a 250, even 300 pounder coming to the hook in the near future.
Broad-headed and gape-mawed like our flatheads, the wels is a powerful, slimy, scaless beast with rows of small teeth. Typically it prefers holes with sunken cover, though it will feed in open water. It is said that the wels can use its sharp-pointed pectoral fins to create eddies, disorienting prey before they are engulfed. Males guard the nest of eggs and if water levels drop, they will use their tails to splash the eggs to keep them wet. Small wels are said to be good to eat but large specimens are highly fatty and likely high in contaminants. The eggs are poisonous.
It is easier to say what wels do not eat, rather than create a laundry list of what they do. Anglers bait with everything from leeches, live eels, dead and live baitfish, clumps of large worms, guts of anything and—darkly—sometimes live, tethered ducks.
If the Ebro fishing interests you, a thorough internet search will turn up several outfitters and guest houses through which you can book a wels trip.
THE CLONK FACTOR
Like all catfish, wels have highly developed sensory receptors. Aside from scent and taste they “hear” vibrations remarkably well. For more than 100 years European cat fishermen have relied on homemade wood calling devices called clonks or klonks (take your pick) that look a bit like the thin foreleg of a hoofed animal. The tools are thrust into the water, capturing a bubble, swished backwards then plucked out creating a yet different sound that might be likened to elephant flatulence. Who knows whether the commotion attracts cats that think it’s feeding fish, injured fish, or are just curious. Attract it does, however. The technique works in rivers and lakes, and some flathead anglers in the U.S. have tried it with positive results. At least one outfit here has been selling a clonk. Check www.catfishcaller.com.
In Eastern Europe where the technique evolved, it has proven so successful that it is banned on many areas of the Danube River. Along stretch of the Danube in Serbia, only commercial fishermen are permitted to clonk. But then again, commercial fishermen there can also use dynamite.
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October 3, 2007by
We all hate taxes of course. But because of excise taxes American fisherman and hunters pay on sporting gear, and because of our fishing and hunting license fees, I believe we’ve done more for fish and wildlife than any other nation on earth.
In other countries there’s collective whining by both equipment manufacturers and sportsmen and women when they’re asked to put their shoulders to the wheel to support their resources. Consider this.
In Europe, many of whose nations consider their ways smugly superior to ours, the European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFTTA) is warning countries there not to introduce sea fishing licenses. Period. The feds in Australia say they’ve ruled out taxing recreational fishing tackle (though they gave nearly $200,000 to a fishing lobby group—RecFish—to come up with ways to make recreational fishing self-sustaining).
In the U.S. we contribute some eye-opening hard cash via license fees and sport equipment taxes but the majority of anglers and hunters seem not to know where that money goes, according to a recent pole by Southwick & Associates.
Consider the figures some serious research by my writer friend Janet Lebson uncovered. Fishing licenses fees amount to $557 million a year. Hunting license contribute $724 million (plus another $700 million from the Federal Duck Stamp since that wetlands program began). All this money is divvied up and goes 100% to state fish & wildlife agencies. There’s much more.
Excise taxes paid by consumers and manufacturers of sporting gear (and motor boat fuel) also are pumped back to state fish and wildlife agencies. That comes to $349 million yearly for fishing gear and motor boat fuel, $267 for hunting and shooting gear.
Since the inception of licenses and excise taxes over the past several decades, we’ve contributed more than $36.5 BILLION for everything from fish and wildlife research and monitoring, habitat restoration, fishing facilities, launch ramps, outdoor safety classes, shooting ranges and more.
Do you think the fishing/hunting hate groups know that? Or even the general public, who often think of us as simply consumers? Keep some of those figures in mind. They’re something to be fired across the bow of any misinformed soul who thinks fishing or hunting are harming wild critters or the environment.
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October 1, 2007by
So everybody’s waving their hands about US toys made in China, but how about fish? If you don’t know, you should, that we’re all eating more farmed fish these days, and more of it is being imported from other countries, many of them in Asia and Southeast Asia. That prompted the US Food and Drug Administration last June to issue an import control on farm-raised catfish, basa, shrimp, dace and eel from China, and I’d wager more controls are on the way for farm-raised shrimp and fish from other foreign nations. Right now the Feds aren’t saying you shouldn’t eat any of the imports. They’re simply holding products from China at the borders until importers can prove the stuff is free of various antimicrobials and other stuff that we don’t allow.
No way are the Feds trying to tell you that fish aren’t good for you—especially fish high in those heart-happy Omega oils. Recently a tongue –in-cheek (literally) Canadian wag proposed getting your fish oils from local catches while enjoying a toddy or two. Here’s his recipe for Salmon Colada:
3 ounces of light rum
2 cups crushed ice
3 tablespoons pineapple juice
3 tablespoons coconut milk
1 oz. fresh salmon
Blend all ingredients and garnish with a salmon head
If anyone at the party starts talking about the importance of Omega-3 fatty oils, simply point to your drink and say, “Hey, Dude, whattayou think I’m doin’ here?” As the night wears on you might even give the salmon head a name, says the recipe originator, maybe have it deliver a monologue on the importance of healthful eating—and drinking.
Well, at least you’ll get folks’ attention.
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