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Texas Angler Breathing Easier

On his 17th birthday, a young Texas angler was diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a rare illness that can be fatal.

As he endured surgery after surgery, David Cosner attended college and competed in bass tournaments. He founded the Texas State University Bass Club.

In 2010, Cosner and his co-angler came with 9 ounces of winning the first FLW College Fishing National Championship.

Throughout his ordeal, fundraisers and donations from the angling community and others, including assistance from the Chive Fund, helped ease the financial toll on his family.

And on his 24th birthday, following his 150th surgery, Cosner awakened to some wonderful news.

Read the story here.


Anglers Must Stand with Hunters or Both Will Lose

Up through my teen years, I hunted as well as fished. But I love fishing so much that I eventually decided to forgo hunting.

That does not mean that I don’t continue to support those who hunt. Hunting is part of our cultural heritage, of who we are as a people.

Additionally, we wouldn’t have the abundant wildlife populations that we do today if not for hunters. In other words our woods and fields would be devoid of deer, turkey, and other species if not for them. They finance wildlife management, research, and restoration by state agencies through their license fees and the excise taxes that they pay for equipment via the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

And even more than anglers, hunters are in the crosshairs of those who want to stop us from fishing and hunting. Right now, Ground Zero for this battle is Maine, where a campaign spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is determined to ban bear hunting and trapping.

In case you are not familiar, HSUS is a despicable organization that preys on our love of pets to raise funds to finance its attacks on our outdoor heritage. If you watch television, you’ve seen their commercials with photos of pitiful animals and celebrities imploring you to donate.

Yet here is the truth: In 2011, revenues were $148.7 million, with just $528,676 (less than one half of one percent) going to animal shelters. On the other hand, $47 million went for fundraising, $3.6 million for lobbying, and $1.75 for ballot-initiative political front groups. (If you want to help care for abandoned and abused cats and dogs donate time, talent and/or money to your local animal shelters, as I do.)

HSUS and other animal rights activists believe that banning hunting is the more easily obtainable objective right now, especially if they focus on one species and one state.  It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy, as they are betting that hunters in other states and anglers in general won’t oppose them.

And Maine is their choice for a number of reasons, as detailed in this article at Outdoor Hub.

But make no mistake. They want to stop all hunting and fishing.

Outdoorsmen across the nation would be wise to remember these words from Pastor Martin Niemoller about people who allowed Hitler to rise to power:

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.


When Fish Aren't Biting, Check Out the Creepy Crawlies

The hellgrammite also is known as the "toe biter."

The next time the fish aren’t biting, you can always skip rocks or chase frogs. But here is another fun thing that you can do: Go exploring for creepy crawlies under the rocks and logs that lie in the shallows of your favorite stream or pond.

This underwater world is full of interesting critters, some of which are so strange that they look like miniature versions of movie monsters. And some of them can bite or pinch! So be careful. Don’t ever put your hand or foot where you can’t see.

If you do, you might get a painful introduction to the hellgrammite, also known as the “toe biter.” It has large pinching mandibles, or jaws, as well as sharp hooks on its tail.

In between, it has a tough, segmented body with six legs and eight feathery appendages on its stomach. Because it is a poor swimmer, it hides, captures, and eats smaller insects, as they swim by.

If it lives to grow up into an adult, the hellgrammite turns into a Dobson fly, one of the largest flying insects. But many do not, because smallmouth bass and other fish love to eat them.

Bass also like to eat crawfish, which you also will find in the shallows. Depending on where you live, they might be called “crayfish,” “crawdads,” or “mud bugs.”

(If you buy crawdads instead of catch them, don’t turn the leftovers loose when you are ready to go home. Sometimes bait shop owners sell exotic crawfish and their introduction into local streams and lakes could harm native species.)

Wherever you live, watch out for those pinchers!

Closely related to the lobster, most crawfish grow to about 3 inches long, but some can get much larger.

As they grow, crawfish must shed their skins, or “exoskeletons.” That’s because they don’t have inside skeletons like you and me. Bass like them best when they are between skins, making them softer and easier to crunch.

Along with hellgrammites and crawfish, bass also like to eat most other creepy crawlies, including dragonfly nymphs, leeches, and mud puppies.

You probably have seen paintings of bass leaping into the air to grab dragonflies. But, really, they much are likely to eat the “nymph,” or immature stage of the dragonfly, which has no wings and lives in the water.

With its big lower lip armed with spines, as well as large eyes and three pairs of segmented legs, the dragonfly nymph looks ferocious. And it is--- if you are mosquito larvae, its favorite food.

The adult dragonfly eats adult mosquitoes, as well as flies and other insects. As the world’s fastest flying insect, reaching speeds of up to 38 miles per hour, it has little trouble chasing them down.

The leech, meanwhile, likely is the slowest of the creepy crawlies that you might find. And don’t worry, it’s not going to bite.

Yes, some leeches, which really are segmented worms, do suck blood. But the ones that you are likely to find in a stream or pond have large, toothless mouths that they use to eat worms and insect larvae. They find their food with six to eight pairs of eyes.

No this kind of mud puppy. Photo by Wes Vasher at

The mud puppy, a type of salamander, has only two eyes, but it is, by far, the largest of the creatures that you might find crawling along the bottom of a river or pond. In fact, it grows so large that anglers sometimes catch it while fishing with live bait. Others use the mud puppy as bait for bass, stripers, and other large fish.

Also known as the “water dog,” it was named for the mistaken belief that it can bark.

With a reddish brown back and black spots, it can grow up to 12 inches long. It has bushy, red gills with no gill covers. Unlike other salamanders, it keeps those gills and never becomes an air breather.

(I wrote this article originally for young anglers, but advice applies to adults as well. Article appeared in CastingKids, a B.A.S.S. publication.)


As Mussel Threat Moves West, Feds Sit Back and Watch

The federal government is doing a pitiful job of protecting our waters from invasions by exotic species. And I’m not talking about its reluctance to remove the manmade connection between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan. Yeah, that’s a problem, but its failure is more all-encompassing.

During the 1980s, Asian carp escaped aquaculture facilities in the South, riding into the Mississippi and other rivers on flood waters. Within a decade, we knew that bighead and silver carp were crowding out native species, with the latter also a serious threat to recreational boaters because of its tendency to go airborne when frightened.

Yet, incredibly, the silver carp was not listed as an injurious species under the federal Lacey Act until 2007 and the bighead carp until 2011.

With the zebra mussel, the feds were a little more prompt. After it was discovered in Lake St. Clair in 1988, it was listed in 1991.

But the quagga, identified as a separate species about that same time, still is not.

What’s the big deal?  Well, invasive species don’t respect boundaries, and, under the Lacey Act, those who transport injurious species across state lines can be both fined and jailed for misdemeanors or felonies. Felony trafficking violations are punishable by a maximum of fine of $20,000, five years in prison, or both, and property used to aid the offense may be subject to forfeiture.

Had the weight of that law been hanging over his head, whoever carried quagga mussels across the Rockies in 2007 might have been a little more conscientious about cleaning his boat and trailer before beginning the journey to Lake Mead.

And if listing of both species had been combined with a more aggressive publicity and enforcement campaign by the feds, the two invaders might not now be threatening waters all over the West.

Already in the East, they’ve crowded out native species, disrupted food webs, fouled recreational beaches, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars in maintenance costs because of their tendency to clog water intake and delivery pipes and infest hydropower infrastructures.

“The little critters are a serious threat to the United States,” said Larry Dalton, recently retired invasive species coordinator for Utah, where mussels already have forced $15 million in repairs to water-delivery systems.

In a 2010 report, the Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species (WRP) estimated that zebra mussels already had been responsible for $94,474,000 in direct and indirect costs for Idaho.

And the Pew Charitable Trusts warned, “Their rapid spread threatens water supplies and energy systems in the West, a region heavily dependent upon hydropower and often gripped by drought. In response, state officials have stepped up boat inspections and cleaning efforts . . .”

Right now, western states are trying to protect their waters from quaggas with a patchwork of rules and regulations. But anecdotal evidence suggests the piecemeal strategy isn’t effective, especially as a deterrent.

For example, a trucker was stopped last fall as he entered Washington State, towing a boat that with about 100 zebra mussels attached. The offender had been caught doing the same thing in 2010. And during questioning, he said that he also had been detained in another state with a contaminated boat.

So why isn’t the quagga mussel listed under the Lacey Act? You’ll have to ask the bureaucrats at the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about that and why Pew estimates the agency could take as long as 10 years to take action.

“It basically takes an act of God to put something on the injurious wildlife list,” said Leah Elwell, WRP coordinator.

Or an act of Congress. That’s why Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada is sponsoring H.R. 1823, the Protecting Lakes from Quaggas Act of 2013.

And that’s why the Western Governors’ Association is supporting it.

“This (the act) would invest federal and state authorities with an important tool for containing and eradicating quagga mussels by providing for increased inspections of boats cross state lines,” they said.

The act makes sense, of course, and thus should pass with bipartisan support. But that doesn’t mean it will.

Nor would its passage ensure that federal officials would vigorously prosecute offenders.

If past performance is an indication of future actions, the feds will continue to sit back and watch as quagga and zebra mussels spread throughout the West, as they have in the East. 


Food for Thought

Something basic draws us to fishing when we’re young, I believe. It is the “hunter/gatherer” imperative, passed on from generation to generation as instinct or maybe through our DNA.

I’m a fisherman, not a scientist, so to delve deeper into what I’m talking about would be pseudo-intellectual at best.

But you know what I mean: Our species survived eons ago by hunting and gathering food. To not have done so would have meant death by starvation. Despite the passage of years, we have retained at least a semblance of that need, no matter how comfortable our existence is today.

And when a rod is placed in a child’s hands, a spark ignites desire, especially upon catching that first fish. If you’ve ever taken a youngster fishing, you know what I’m talking about. Inevitably, his first words as he admires his catch are, “Can we keep it?”

(This is an excerpt from an essay in my new book, Why We Fish.)