Going to Extremes

These guys just don't know when to quit. Meet a handful of sportsmen who wring all the juice out of an outdoor experience.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

You've seen them: the guys who don't know when to quit. Their passion for fishing or hunting is so intense it's a little scary. When they're not in the woods or on the water, they're thinking about the last time or the next time. They're tough, they're focused and they wring all the juice out of an outdoor experience. Most of us like to put obstacles in our own paths as our skill levels increase, but these outdoorsmen go way beyond that. They raise the bar to treetop level and then proceed to clear it with room to spare.

Sharks and Marlins and Whales...Oh, My!
To Jim Sammons, kayak-fishing presents a whole new set of challenges, like fighting a fish that could pull a Volkswagen across a Wal-Mart parking lot.

"It's a marlin...it's bigger than my boat!"

Those were the first words that popped into Jim Sammons's head as he braced against a 200-pound striped marlin from the seat of his kayak. Then the fish took off, pulling his sleek 14-foot, 9-inch kayak so fast that Sammons wondered if it would ever stop.

Sammons was 11/2 miles off San Diego's La Jolla Beach, fishing a deep drop-off for yellowtail and using 20-pound-test line. Marlin gear it was not. The billfish didn't seem to mind. It scarfed the bait and dragged Sammons like a piece of driftwood for a couple of hours.

Sammons, the owner of La Jolla Kayak Fishing in San Diego, got into the sport 10 years ago after a bad back forced him to retire from his job as a truck driver. Someone told him that paddling was good therapy. He started guiding three years later when another astute friend told him that if he was going to fish 300 days a year, he might as well get paid for it. Usually, Sammons and his customers or friends go after the standard mix of West Coast inshore fish. For Sammons, however, the true "adrenaline fish" is the thresher shark. He has caught and landed threshers up to 172 pounds from his kayak, which is equipped with a bait tank, rod holders, a fish finder, a GPS and a cellphone.

It's not just hooked fish that keep Sammons's heart pounding: He's had pods of curious killer whales surround him and gray whales swim right under his kayak. Nosy sea lions have gone through their whole repertoire of annoyances, from scaring him with loud grunts and snorts to fouling the air around him with their pungent flatulence.

Sammons didn't quite subdue the marlin, and in the end there was some dispute about who had caught whom. After 21/2 hours of holding on, Sammons finally blinked first. He was eight miles out in the Pacific and could see land only when he was on top of a swell, and the 200-pound marlin was swimming around the kayak, looking annoyed. "There I was, far from shore, with this dangerous marlin two feet from my boat," recalls Sammons. "As I eyed its spear-for-a-nose, I decided not to land it." Smart move; Sammons tightened down on the drag, snapped the line and watched the marlin slowly swim away. Then he checked his GPS to see where he was and started the long paddle back, wondering with each stroke when he'd be that lucky again.
-Ed Zieralski

Chasing the Bite
Fishing is the tar baby that Russ Maddin grabbed with both hands as a kid and now can't turn loose At the Troutsman in Traverse City, Mich., the fly-fishing shop where Russ Maddin guzzles coffee and kibitzes at intervals between his 300 days a year on the water, he won't let bygones be bygones-to the point of bugging others. All too often Maddin is vexed, perplexed and otherwise broken and confused over a trout that wouldn't bite three days earlier. He paces. He pulls hair. He flagellates himself for 20 minutes before enough is enough-that is, for everyone else. "Finally, I have to tell him to shut the $@#^! up," says shop owner Kelly Galloup.

But it's Maddin's single-minded obsession-all fishing, all the time-that puts the 25-year-old among the world'elite fly-casters and angling minds. Maddin not only has the proficiency to put an offering where he wants it, but knows how to manipulate the offering depending on the fish's mood du jour. Aptitude is one thing. Hard-won wisdom is another. Then there's absolute extremism.

"I don't think there's a time Russ doesn't think fishing," Galloup says. "It's pretty hard to go 24-7, but I'd say he does 22-7. Guys who get really good can't think about gardening or taking their wives out to dinner or what color to paint the house."

Maddin's preposterous ascent began back in third grade, when his mother bought him a packaged rod and reel that lacked fly line. Neither she nor he knew any better, and Maddin strung up the outfit and began flailing. "Why do you think I cast the way I do now?" Maddin asks. "I started casting with backing." Madness indeed, but precious few can claim their first fly-caught bonefish at age 16.

Today Maddin lives in an apartment where lampshades and curtains are festooned with flies. From there, he launches out for salmon and trout on the Manistee River, the Pere Marquette and the Muskegon, chasing steelhead, guiding for chinooks or plying monster browns with bass bugs on hot summer nights. Of his 300 days at large, Maddin spends about 100 guiding and another 100 icefishing. Come open water on the Great Lakes, Maddin stalks the crystal flats, hurling streamers to potential world-class brown trout.

"Chasing the bite is a different way of life," Maddin says. "Most of the time you're away from home. Too often the bite will bring the Mayflower truck to your house and take your stuff away when your girlfriend leaves you. Fourteen hours a week in a relationship doesn't cut it."

Could it be that Maddin is worried? Not with all those fish in the sea.
-Dave Scroppo

The Bear Master
Roy Stiles and his pack of hounds can handle just about anything Appalachian bears care to dish out For more than 30 years, Roy Stiles has rambled through the hills and hollows of southern Appalachia, keeping up with his fascination for bear hunting.

A former high school teacher who lives in Stecoah, N.C., Stiles was first introduced to bear hunting by accident. "I had just bought a coon dog named Black Jack, and our first night out the hound hit a hot bear track," Stiles recalls. "I scrambled all night long trying to keep up with him, and four different times he bayed and fought the bear alone. The dog's grit and tenacity really captured my soul, and from that night on I've been a die-hard bear hunter."

Black Jack was a registered Plott and never came across a bear he didn't think he could whip. Nine times Stiles carried the fearless hound out of the high country astride his shoulders because the dog had been so badly crippled by a bear that he couldn't walk. He always mended.

Stiles and Black Jack won reputations as matchless bear hunters. The hound passed away at the age of 11 of pancreatic cancer, but his legacy endures. With succeeding generations of Plotts perpetuating Black Jack's genes, Stiles's devotion to the sport has grown exponentially. When he isn't hunting, he is training dogs, helping authorities in several states deal with problem bears (such as a 585-pound renegade he took in eastern North Carolina a few years ago) and playing a key role in hound and hunting organizations (he is currently the president of the American Plott Association).

And it all began with Black Jack, whose inclination to chase bears through the dark forests of the Old North State is still evident in his owner. Last year, Stiles's dogs treed 33 mature bears. During one typical three-day period last October, Stiles slept approximately six hours, helped an adolescent hunter take his first bear, participated in a fruitless 10-hour chase after a "fight-and-run" bear and searched most of one day and all the ensuing night for lost or wounded dogs.

Black Jack would have been proud.
-Jim Casada

The Shootinest Anesthetist
Lee Leone knows there are more important things than roaming around New England hunting grouse, and he'll get to them as soon as the season's over There's an old tongue-in-cheek maxim in the medical world: What anesthetists are really paid for is to wake you up again. In northern Vermont, wags that know him say that if the anesthetist on your case is Lee Leone, you'd better have a new bird cover to tell him about before he puts you to sleep.

Though he enjoys the kidding, his bird covers represent serious business, and Leone has collected enough of them across New England to fry the memory on your handheld computer. Good thing, too, considering how much he hunts. Once his "real" vacation begins in September, the week before Vermont grouse season opens (conditioning week for him and the dogs), there's no letup. Through October and November the man hunts. He hunts every day, all day. Relentlessly. He hunts in weather that keeps gentlemen shooters hunkered by the fire.

For Leone, hunting any upland bird without a pointing dog is anathema. His kennel usually houses four, including a trio of English setters plus a Brittany. Though the man obsesses over ruffed grouse, and only slightly less over woodcock, of late Leone has traveled west for a week or so each year. In Pennsylvania the quarry is pheasants, in Michigan more ruffs and woodcock and in South Dakota pheasants and all the grassland species.

His first wing-shoot, at age 15, was for waterfowl in Massachusetts using the shotgun his father gave him. Then a hunt behind a friend's setter changed everything. Upland birds are now his life, a fact reflected in the books and classic artwork in his home and his guns-all doubles, all side-by-sides. His workhorse is a high-grade AyA. In fair weather he'll break out the Piotti or, on special occasions, the 100-year-old Holland & Holland.

Once after a hunt I shared a drop of good single malt with Lee and asked him what kept the fire in the belly. "Luck," he said. "If you're really lucky in life you find a passion, true passion. But in my case the luck has just been recycling," he added, trying not to smile. "See, I'm convinced I once lived in the Edwardian era. Oh, the grand shooting...probably could have given Lord Rippon a run."

"Sure, and you want to go back, right?" I responded.

"Nah, I'm having too much fun right here."
-Jerry Gibbs

The Lion King of California
When you've got problems with rogue cougars, Dave Fjelline is the man who can make them go away Dave Fjelline hasn't had to shoot many cougars, but those he has put down included a man-eater or two. It was Fjelline who tracked down and eliminated the lion that killed and ate Califost or wounded dogs.

Black Jack would have been proud.
-Jim Casada

The Shootinest Anesthetist
Lee Leone knows there are more important things than roaming around New England hunting grouse, and he'll get to them as soon as the season's over There's an old tongue-in-cheek maxim in the medical world: What anesthetists are really paid for is to wake you up again. In northern Vermont, wags that know him say that if the anesthetist on your case is Lee Leone, you'd better have a new bird cover to tell him about before he puts you to sleep.

Though he enjoys the kidding, his bird covers represent serious business, and Leone has collected enough of them across New England to fry the memory on your handheld computer. Good thing, too, considering how much he hunts. Once his "real" vacation begins in September, the week before Vermont grouse season opens (conditioning week for him and the dogs), there's no letup. Through October and November the man hunts. He hunts every day, all day. Relentlessly. He hunts in weather that keeps gentlemen shooters hunkered by the fire.

For Leone, hunting any upland bird without a pointing dog is anathema. His kennel usually houses four, including a trio of English setters plus a Brittany. Though the man obsesses over ruffed grouse, and only slightly less over woodcock, of late Leone has traveled west for a week or so each year. In Pennsylvania the quarry is pheasants, in Michigan more ruffs and woodcock and in South Dakota pheasants and all the grassland species.

His first wing-shoot, at age 15, was for waterfowl in Massachusetts using the shotgun his father gave him. Then a hunt behind a friend's setter changed everything. Upland birds are now his life, a fact reflected in the books and classic artwork in his home and his guns-all doubles, all side-by-sides. His workhorse is a high-grade AyA. In fair weather he'll break out the Piotti or, on special occasions, the 100-year-old Holland & Holland.

Once after a hunt I shared a drop of good single malt with Lee and asked him what kept the fire in the belly. "Luck," he said. "If you're really lucky in life you find a passion, true passion. But in my case the luck has just been recycling," he added, trying not to smile. "See, I'm convinced I once lived in the Edwardian era. Oh, the grand shooting...probably could have given Lord Rippon a run."

"Sure, and you want to go back, right?" I responded.

"Nah, I'm having too much fun right here."
-Jerry Gibbs

The Lion King of California
When you've got problems with rogue cougars, Dave Fjelline is the man who can make them go away Dave Fjelline hasn't had to shoot many cougars, but those he has put down included a man-eater or two. It was Fjelline who tracked down and eliminated the lion that killed and ate Califo