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America’s National Parks Need Our Help Now More Than Ever

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OWAC Writer of the Year

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Stories from OWAC's Spring Conference in Placer County

Stories have begun to pour in from OWAC members' adventures at the Spring Conference in Placer County. See below for links to what...

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Who's interested in an international climbing story? This summer my brother, two friends and I are going to Tanzania to climb Mt. ...

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Innovative FISKAS Balances introduce alluring designs, undeniable fascination for fish

Saline, MI (March 28, 2017) – Ever fished a balance? You know, those eccentric-looking, horizontal hanging contrivances with Scandinavian ancestry? Chances are, if you’ve been paying attention to trends in walleye, ice and even bass baits these past few years — even if you’ve never heard anyone utter the term “balance lure” — you probably have.

Ironically, even though the origins of the balance reach back at least fifty years, these steadfast fish catchers are just now garnering serious attention from anglers on ice as well as open water. Pioneers in innovative lures of Scandinavian design, FISKAS has long offered one of the most complete lines of panfish to walleye sized balance lures in North America.

’Balanced’ jigging minnow lures, like the FISKAS Swimmer, produce exceptional fishing for walleyes, bass and big panfish.

Interestingly, though anglers quickly recognize some of the walleye-sized balance lures armed with multiple hooks and a rear swim fin, additional unique designs from FISKAS (yourbobbersdown.com) give anglers a vast array of intriguing, potent presentations.

While many companies sell but a single swimming balance lure, FISKAS crafts and offers no fewer than 29 different varieties, all available in up to 15 hand-painted, fish-catching color patterns. Each intriguing model, in fact, boasts a unique body shape and specific balance point, resulting in its own lively swimming action. The FISKAS N23 Bug Eye, for example, darts on the up-stroke, and glides and wobbles appealingly on the drop.

The fun and challenge of fishing a FISKAS Balance, says Phil Morse, exceptional angler and 2005 North American Ice Fishing Champion, lies in experimenting with and discovering each model’s built-in aptitudes.

“Right now, as ice leaves big lakes and reservoirs, one of the sweetest presentations for shallow water perch and other panfish is a FISKAS Balance dressed with a microsplastic Little Atom Nuggie,” says Morse, who lives near Michigan’s perch-rich Lake St. Clair. “The beauty of a FISKAS Balance model N46 Minnow or an N25 Dogleg is that every time you jig it, the lure darts away from and then returns immediately to center, maintaining a natural, horizontal posture all along. Rigged with different plastics, each balance also exhibits its own distinctive swimming, gliding, quivering action.”

When covering water and casting, Morse fishes the FISKAS / Little Atom plastic combo below a stationary float, rigged with a small piece of rubber tubing on the bobber stem for quick depth changes. Hanging below, the compact, heavy FISKAS Balance provides extra horizontal coverage when jigged, widening its attraction radius relative to traditional jigs. Because each FISKAS Balance always returns to horizontal, the lure hovers in exceptional hook-setting position.

Morse adds: “The hooks on FISKAS Balances are sticky sharp—they always pass the fingernail scratch test. Fish get hooked with just a slight hookset; means I miss very few bites.”

Beyond casting and retrieving, Morse calls out the lures’ talents for vertical jigging presentations. In particular, he’s been hush-hush about a certain secret lure . . . until now.

“We’ve spent a ton of time watching how perch and sunfish bite lures on an underwater camera. When they’re touchy, it’s common for panfish to blow on lures, just nip at the jighead, or simply mouth a small portion of the jig without detection by the angler.

FISKAS N25 DogLeg

“I’m amazed more anglers haven’t discovered the FISKAS N24 Gill Getter. It’s a tiny (1/70-ounce) balance with a single hook protruding from either side of the jighead.

The Cat and the Fool

Most guys would not have been able to call me back to fishing after I quit. Gary Lamont maybe, the Miss L’s “Captain Jack” Montgomery, and Bob McMasters. Bob persisted even after I told him No for a week. He would make every accommodation, having his oldest daughter Lorraine work on Saturdays, for example, so I could take the day off.

I liked Bob, of course, and I liked his boat the Cat Special a lot, but I had turned a new page on which to write the story of my life. In his easy-going manner Bob shot down all my arguments. I wrapped things up in Ventura, put a temporary forward on my mail, and headed back to San Diego for another albacore season.

One group, out for a two-day charter, was hungrier than most. On Day 1 I cooked a first round of breakfasts, and every last man came back for more. At 11 am, I was just cleaning the grill after the second batch when guys began ordering cheeseburgers. I grilled the 20-patty stack in nothing flat and reached for another, but it was still frozen. No problem. I took my wide-bladed galley knife and inserted it between the first two patties. The blade slipped across the ice crystals and into my left palm. NO! Problem.

Rinsing it beneath cold running water did little to stop the flow of blood. I cupped my hand and stepped up into the wheelhouse, where Bob estimated that I’d need four stitches. I worked one-handed for the next several hours until the Miss L came to take me away. I recall standing on the Cat’s port rail, and when Bob said “Go!” I stepped out just as the boats rocked apart. By some miracle, Nick Cates was outside the Miss L’s starboard rail and caught me in the air.

Back at the dock, I drove to the emergency room for my four stitches, then back to the docks. There I learned that Bobby had brought the Cat back in to retrieve me so I wouldn’t lose my big tip from these notoriously generous passengers. That’s the kind of guy he was. I climbed aboard, and we headed back to the fishing grounds.

The season wound down. My resolve to give up fishing entirely was being seriously tested.

Then came the night we tied up at the bait receiver as usual. I wasn’t needed for the transfer of anchovies from the receiver’s nets into our bait tanks so I sacked out in my bunk in the starboard passenger bunk room. Dead to the world, as usual. So I didn’t hear the roar of the Fish N Fool’s engine as she bore down on us, nor the rush of water from the Fool’s bow wake. Not even the sound of the Cat’s structure breaking apart as we came down hard on the receiver’s dock and put a hole in the bottom of the boat.

Afterward I learned of the shouting between the two captains, and how mild-mannered Bob McMasters untied from the receiver to roar forward and try to do the Fool what had just been done to the Cat. Without success.

All I knew was that one of the deck twins woke me to tell me to get off the boat “because we’re sinking.” We were tied up at the Fisherman’s Landing dock and the pumps were humming away. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, gathered my overnight bag, my tackle box and my rods and headed up the dock. It looked like the end of the season after all.

With participation growth over 120 percent in recent years, it is exciting times for standup paddleboarding.

WRITTEN BY Margaret Littman 

Since exploding in popularity a decade ago, paddleboarding continues to be the wunderkind of the paddlesports world. More than three million Americans paddleboarded last year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, contributing to a 120-percent growth in the sport over the year prior.

Early adopters purchasing expensive, high-performance gear are slowly giving way to the popular consumer at a lower price-point, says Andre Niemeyer, publisher of industry mag SUPConnect. “As is usually the case with new technology adoption cycles, highly educated, 35 to 55-year-olds with incomes north of $100,000 per year dominated the early years of standup paddling, generating lots of demand for high-end, expensive, specialty product constructions,” he says. “As the industry matures, college educated paddlers with incomes around $50,000 per year are coming in droves and represent the majority market,” adds Niemeyer. “There are far more of them, so we'll likely continue to see downward pressure on price points but steady participation growth, at least in the short-term.”

Find the world's best boats and gear with the Rapid Media's Paddling Buyer's Guide                 

From that pool of new users, board manufacturers expect a percentage will become hooked on the sport and become enthusiasts of a specific discipline, while most will remain occasional recreational users. “The majority of participants will continue to simply want to go out and enjoy being on the water with friends and family. All of us that are heavily involved in the sport need to remember these folks,” says Jimmy Blakeney, marketing manager at BIC SUP. At Outdoor Retailer’s 2016 Open Air Demo there were many rec-focused designs directed at this audience, prioritizing fun and fitness on the water rather than speed or surf performance. Hobie’s new Mirage Eclipse is one such design. The pedal-powered 54-pound board gives riders an elliptical-style fitness experience, but can easily be converted into a traditional paddleboard thanks to removable fins and removable handlebar.

Another hit at the Open Air Demo was Hammocraft’s mounted hammock system, which can support five hammocks stretched across two boards for the ultimate relaxing day on the water with friends. “The growth in paddleboarding will level off eventually,” predicts Sea Eagle’s president Cecil Hodge. “[Manufacturers] need to look at new ways to use paddleboards or people will give up on them.”

With an eye on this area of growth, Sea Eagle debuted the QuikRow. The QuikRow is an aftermarket add-on that transforms a paddleboard into an on-water rowing machine in minutes. This solution is designed to be a quick and inexpensive way to multi-purpose a paddleboard into a rowing skiff for those who love to both paddle and row. While these innovative designs and alternate propulsion methods represent areas of potential future growth, it’s the fishing market where the industry expects to see immediate growth.

Discover the trip of a lifetime with the Rapid Media Paddling Trip Guide         

“There are lots of demands in that area but very few companies making a deliberate and concerted effort to serve [them],” Niemeyer says. He also predicts that “surf, race and river—which command most of the SUP media landscape—will probably continue to command five- to 10-percent market share each.” As the sport matures, paddleboard safety has also become a growing concern. Though PFD-less beach bodies remain the norm in ads and some media, paddler education around safety gear is thankfully growing.

“Safety is big now after 24 deaths last summer and Andres Pombo’s high- profile accident at Hood River in 2015,” says veteran instructor Rob Casey. An experienced racer, 29-year-old Pombo drowned while training for the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge and reportedly was not wearing a PFD or leash. Over the last year, Casey says he’s heard more paddleboarders discussing PFDs and leashes, and is “luckily seeing more of them on the water as well.”

BISHOP— Despite heavy rains and even record snowpack at higher elevations the Lower Owens ran gin-clear just below the Pleasant Valley Reservoir. The stretch of water was devoid of anglers due to crisp, cold 34-degree temperatures, but with broken clouds and still air, the day looked to be perfect fly fishing conditions.

The drive up to Bishop had flown by in six-hours flat, and other than constant distractions of changing scenery, the trip was uneventful. Leaving the less-than-attractive high desert of Palmdale, passing the airplane graveyard at Mojave, and finally catching sight of the huge Cinder Cones alongside highway 395 as it climbs toward the mountains, cares of the work-a-day world simply slipped away along the road.

Roadside signs pointed out the Hollywood Museum at Lone Pine, celebrating the rich film history of the area. Many of the hills along the way have been the backdrop for westerns shot on location nearby. Further up the road between the old towns of Lone Pine and Independence, is the travesty that was Manzanar, where 10,000 Japanese citizens were held during WW2. Now a national historical site the grounds and buildings are being restored in hopes of bringing enlightenment to future generations and perhaps a warning about the miss-use of government powers.

Those distractions had to wait for another day, perhaps when we return to Bishop in April for the Outdoor Writers Association of California spring conference.

Some great little motels await in Bishop and the folks at the Chamber of Commerce had recommended the newly remodeled Holiday Inn Express. The fresh décor and friendly staff really made getting in from the road a pleasure.

Finding the motel to be right down the street from the best damn BBQ, Holy Smoke Texas BBQ, I made a beeline for the dry-rubbed ribs and chicken.

With sunrise came the realization that the day was going to be bright and lovely. The fortunate chance that news having report exaggerated the incoming weather might have played into anglers not showing up along the river. Whatever the reason, the short drive north to the foot of the reservoir was easy and full of anticipation.

Local guide, Gary Gunsolley, had spent some time with me, giving tips on the Czech Nymph-no-indicator technique used most commonly along the Lower Owens. Simply a matter of wadering-up and getting into the shallow water of the river, then high-sticking the fly-rod, while searching the line for a tremble or change of direction. Nothing to it.

Two-hours after stepping into the knee-deep, frigid water I at last saw the tell-tale tremble and struck for the first fish of the day. This brown decided it would show me what L.O. trout are about and quickly I found the need to push up river, regaining some of the rapidly disappearing backer being ripped from my reel.

As I glanced around I was amazed to not see a single angler anywhere up or down the river. There’d be no help with this one. Gingerly stepping along the river bottom as fast as was prudent in such a chill, with the rod held high and constantly grinding the old Ross reel on my Sage, the line came in and at last, so did the 18-inch-plus fish.

Getting photos and releasing fish on your own is an art and every artist knows the difficulties of achieving desired results. The fish flipped out of the net and recovered very nicely before even one picture could be taken.

But lessons learned early in the day paid dividends as the day drew on. A few more fish at a few more spots though the tranquil afternoon were more than enough for any report and soon it was time to call it a day.

The ease of getting to this stretch of water and the lack of competition for spots and likely layups, makes winter fishing the Lower Owens a go-to option for this fly-guy’s next trip. Surely, I won’t wait till April before the road and the river call upon me to make the short drive up to Bishop and these beautiful waters once again.

Exploring Auburn on Foot

  • Thursday, 09 March 2017 21:16
  • Meade Fischer

Kotomyan Big Hill Preserve and Auburn SRA

For years I’ve passed the Auburn area without stopping to investigate the area’s outdoor opportunities. I see now that I’ve been missing something.  Hiking trails abound near this charming town in the foothills of the Sierra. 

Recently, as part of the Outdoor Writers Association of California spring conference, I got the chance to explore a small part of this trail network. This was the tail end of the spring season, before the onset of the hot, dry summer .

As an introduction to the area, I joined a docent-led hike at Kotomyan Big Hill Preserve, on the edge of town. This 160 acres on Big Hill in the Bear River watershed was protected in 2007 and isn’t open to the public other than on scheduled hikes. Contact them at Phone: 530-887-9222 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or go to www.placerlandtrust.org for more information.

The area between Coon Creek and the Bear River represents the largest contiguous area of oak woodlands remaining in Placer County. Approximately 331 species of wildlife inhabit Placer County’s oak woodlands including mountain lions, bobcats, several species of hawk, rodents, snakes, owls, and songbirds. There are also many shapes and sizes of metamorphic rock outcroppings, which, mixed with the oats and wildflowers, make the area visually stunning.

We explored a four-mile loop starting at the gravel parking lot. We walked the gravel road for perhaps a quarter mile and then started climbing up an unmarked trail on the right.  This steady uphill had us wandering around and between these colorful metamorphic rocks until we reached a place where we could look through the trees at the Sacramento skyline, some 30 miles distant.  Along the way we encountered fences where we had to open and close the gates to proceed. We continued to climb, catching site of the Sierra, still covered with snow in late May.  Finally we reached a dirt access road, where we turned right for a short walk to another unmarked trail and a few dozen yards scramble to a large rock-face, the view point. There we took a break and enjoyed the view. We could see the sierra in one direction, the valley in the other. This was the high point on the property.

On the way back we took another trail downhill and soon discovered ourselves back on the trail we had climbed. As in all good trails, things look different coming down than they did going up.

On the way out to Big Hill, on Bell Road, Placer Land Trust is working with Placer County and area landowners to construct a public recreational trail connecting Hidden Falls Regional Park along Coon Creek and up to the Bear River. You can access Hidden Falls, for a fairly short climb to the falls along the Poppy Trail, with a another short walk to the observation deck. Look for the sign along Bell Road on the way to Big Hill. Note that there is very little parking at Hidden Falls, and it fills up early on a weekend.

Another place to hike near town is Auburn State Recreation Area, a multi-use area that, while close to town, makes one feel that the unban world has been left behind. Back in the 70s there was a plan to build a dam and inundate the huge valley carved by the confluence of the north and middle fork of the American River. Seismic activity put the plan on hold, and nothing has happened since. In the meantime this has become a recreation mecca as well as the final stage of an endurance contest, the 100 mile foot race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, over some very high mountains. While I think running 100 miles is damn near crazy, it has brought much publicity to the area.

We started out at the ranger station along highway 49, a short way out of Auburn. Our guide was Scott Liske the head ranger and a fountain of information about the history of the area .  He led us along the Manzanita Trail from the parking lot. This single track trail undulates high along the hillside, giving occasional views of the river below. 

After close to a mile, the trail ended at a dirt road, offering more views and easier walking.  We paused at a bench to take in the rivers, the roads along them and the people enjoying a day on the water. Then we came to the Tinker Cutoff, which we took down to the highway, three tenths of a mile down through a dense forest  to Highway 49 and all the cars parked along the road, people sunning and fishing.

After  stepping out on Hwy. 49, we walked across the bridge to the Old Forestville Road: gate number 150. Walking around the gate, we started up a gradual rise along the Middle Fork of the American River. This old road is the last stretch of that very long run from Squaw Valley. Walking along, I looked down to see people sunning themselves on cement abutments that were built for reasons I’ve not learned.

Shortly after starting down this road, we came to No Hands Bridge, originally a railway bridge. Just before crossing it, was found a trail junction. The left fork leads to the town of Cool, three miles away and to Squaw Valley, 97 miles and a twenty-four hour run away.

The road climbed until it passes two abutments, places where a railroad bridge was to be built many years ago. After the road became a single track trail it crossed a small creek right by a trickling waterfall, a place where a family was enjoying playing in the water.

After a bit the trail started to become a road again, and then we saw the sign for the road heading off and up to the right: .4 miles to the ranger station. Since we’d come a long way down, we had a serious climb that last .4 mile, a real aerobic workout. Short and steep, this trail took us back to 49, and all we had to do was cross the highway and walk a few yards to our cars.

On this hike, according to Laske, we walked 4.5 miles with an elevation gain of 925 feet, with great views of the confluence  of the two forks. The entire canyon we walked above and then down through almost became a lake, and while the project is still open, it’s unlikely that this lovely valley will ever become inundated.

To access Auburn SRA, from downtown Auburn find where High St. and Lincoln Way come together and take El Dorado Street (Hwy49) down into the canyon. The ranger station will be on the left.

For Big Hill and Hidden Falls, take Grass Valley Highway from I-80 about 3.5 miles to Bell Road, Turn left. You will see the sign for Hidden Falls, and Big Hill is at the end of the road.

 

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 Lara Kaylor

My name is Lara Kaylor and I have worked as a journalist for more than a decade covering everything from the outdoors to small town politics. I joined OWAC in 2007.

 

 



This is Placer!

This video shows the wonders of Placer County, California. Breath-taking scenery, a rich history, year-round recreation – and Lake Tahoe – need we say more? Those are just a few of the reasons more than 360,000 people call Placer County home and hundreds of thousands more come to visit us each year. Our territory stretches from the Sacramento Valley all the way to North Lake Tahoe.