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From a perch above a boulder-strewn ravine, we peered with binoculars up canyon walls and across a steep jumble of rocks and dirt for endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.
The arrival of spring in the high country is when Sierra bighorns feast on fresh, water-saturated forage in the front country of the Eastern Sierra Nevada outside Bishop.
A warm, dry breeze pushed out of the north. The scent of sage was in the air. At the mouth of Sawmill Canyon, on a steep mountain face below a towering monolith, we found pockets of greenery amid the rocks. We scanned sections, segment-by-segment, for the silhouette of a Sierra bighorn, attracted there to feed.
“Nothing yet,” I said to Tom Stephenson, our mentor and program leader for the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery Program of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We know they’re in there,” he said.
Sierra bighorns, he noted, can seem nearly invisible. Their ability to blend against the rock is a defense against predators. When you finally see one, others nearby can suddenly appear as if out of nowhere.
To some, the spike in population also seems to have come out of nowhere. In the late 1990s, about 100 Sierra bighorns were thought to be left on the planet; the latest count was roughly 600. This spring’s count is expected to be lower, Stephenson said, “as a result of heavy snow and mountain lion predation.” But Stephenson said the Sierra bighorn population could sustain its long-term expansion in the next few years and could be relisted from endangered to threatened.
Landmark breakthroughs could help assure that:
Domestic sheep threat: In March, the Mono County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to reject a grazing lease for domestic sheep near the range of the Sierra bighorn. That is critical because domestic sheep remain the biggest long-term obstacle to recovery, Stephenson said. In the 1850s, when early pioneers arrived to California, thousands of Sierra bighorns roamed the high country, Stephenson said. The pioneers brought herds of domestic sheep, which infected the bighorns with disease, killing them.
Mountain lion threat: For several years, the Mountain Lion Foundation has softened its stance toward the DFW killing lions in favor of protecting endangered Sierra bighorns. Without pushback, the DFW has identified and killed 24 lions that were specifically targeting bighorns in threatened herds. “When there were thousands of Sierra bighorns, the size of the herd could handle occasional predation,” Stephenson said. “When you have a few hundred animals of a species left in the world, every individual becomes important.”
End of a severe winter: In the desolation of the Eastern Sierra, the arrival of spring means more water-filled plants are available, which can lead to better health of ewes and higher survival rates of lambs. “We believe we have turned the tide for the recovery of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep,” said Ginnie Chadwick, a scientist who volunteers with the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation.
The best place to find and see Sierra bighorn is out of the town of Bishop, about an hour south of Mono Lake. From San Francisco, Sacramento or anywhere else west of the Sierra, it can be a mind-bending drive.
The range of the Sierra bighorn includes some of the most foreboding, steep and desolate high country in America.
Over the years, I’ve spotted and stalked Sierra bighorn in several areas. In the Eastern Sierra, I’ve had the best luck up Pine Creek Canyon, the canyons just above the floor of Round Valley, Sawmill Canyon and Taboose Canyon. Another good spot, east of Bishop, is up Silver Creek Canyon on the flank of White Mountain, for a subspecies, the desert — or Nelson — bighorn. For that trip, which includes a creek crossing, a four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is required.
A new herd was transplanted in 2015 in the Cathedral Range of Yosemite National Park. It takes a combination of backpacking, trekking and rock climbing to get close. Jen Joynt of Berkeley, who won the DFW’s first-place award for best wildlife photo of the year in 2016, said she made the attempt last fall, but was unable to get a photo.
Morro Bay, CA, March 28, 2017 - There’s an abundance of pure unadulterated cuteness going on from the recent increase in California Sea Otter families living in Morro Bay. Mommas and babies are everywhere eating and grooming each other as if no one is watching. But we are and we can’t look away - they are so dang cute! Now is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of these sea creatures in their natural habitat since Morro Bay harbor is experiencing the highest count to date of these adorable critters. A survey taken last May of the Morro Bay harbor documented 36 adult sea otters and nine pups, a significantly higher number than the typical five or fewer otters frequenting the harbor in the early 2000s.
“Large gatherings of otters throughout the harbor have attracted tourists and locals all along the waterfront to experience them in their natural habitat,” explains Jennifer Little, Executive Director of Discover Morro Bay. “You can watch along the shore or rent paddleboards and watch from a safe distance on the water as they forage for food and groom their young. They use rocks and other tools to break open crab and local food sources and are so fun to watch. We’ve seen up to 30 - 40 of them at a time floating around on their backs and enjoying life in Morro Bay.”
Just plop down a beach chair along the Morro Bay Harbor Walk and start watching - they’re everywhere and easy to find. If there isn’t a family of otters hanging out already, they will soon appear. The southeast side of Morro Rock is a great landmark for sea otter viewing as is Coleman beach at the intersection of Embarcadero and Coleman Drive. There are also public viewing spots all along the Embarcadero for wildlife viewing in between the plethora of restaurants, boutique shops and wine bars. To get an even closer look, paddle out in a kayak or rent a boat at Bay Cruisers and Electric Boats. Visitors can also take a ride on the Lost Isle Tiki boat to see the otters and the ever-barking sea lions, which includes a quick detour to the Morro Bay natural sand spit. Kayaks can be rented at Kayak Horizons and the Kayak Shack.
Otter Population Growth
Over the past three years, the average count of sea otters in the California range hit 3,272. This is the first time that the index, which started in 1982, has exceeded 3,090, the threshold suggested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the species should be delisted under the Endangered Species Act. The threshold would need to be surpassed for at least three consecutive years before the species is considered for delisting. The index hovered in the 2,800 only one decade ago.
Experts say what’s really driving the population increase is the abundance of food they find in the waters of Morro Bay. Sea otters are integral to the health of the Morro Bay harbor environment. When viewing otters be very careful as they are wild animals and may react poorly if approached. When viewing from the water, it’s best to stay at least five kayak lengths away at all times and enjoy them in a responsible manner.
For information on all the exciting things to do and see in Morro Bay, visit www.morrobay.org.
PLANO, IL (March 27, 2017) – Sitting on a scant total of just 8 pounds, 9 ounces of bass at noon on day two of the three-day 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe, Texas, 25-year-old Bassmaster Elite angler Jordan Lee had no idea where he’d be standing just 28 hours later. As it turned out, he’d be living his dream of holding high the most coveted trophy in professional angling on competitive fishing’s grandest stage.
Jordan Lee is one of the hottest anglers in the Bassmaster Elite Series. Since winning the Carhartt Bassmaster College Championship as a member of the Auburn University Fishing Team in 2013, the young gun from Alabama has finished in the money an astonishing 33 times at 41 events, earning 14 top-ten finishes in just three Elite seasons. So what happened at the Bassmaster Classic between noon on Saturday and the final weigh-in on Sunday at Houston’s grand Minute Maid Park – while unexpected, dramatic and remarkable – really can’t be considered too surprising.
After coming to the stage with less than nine pounds at the end of day one on Friday, the Plano Fishing pro shocked the crowd at Saturday’s day-two weigh-in with a four-fish bag weighing 21 pounds, including a single bass over seven pounds.
“I found a spot in practice and I really thought if I could catch ‘em off of it I could do really well,” Lee told fans and Bassmaster Elite Emcee, Dave Mercer. “I rolled up to it this afternoon and caught that biggest one, and there was a whole school of five pounders with it,” said Lee, who dredged the spot with a Strike King Football Jig to get back in the game. “I knew it was something special.”
Legendary names – St. Croix Rod and Angler’s Inn – unite to offer the pinnacle in bass fishing
Park Falls, WI (March 26, 2017) – Proving grounds. It’s where companies go to push the envelope in product development, punishing and testing gear to the nth-degree. Say, for example, you wanted to produce the most cold-tolerant car battery on earth. You’d be packing for International Falls, MN (“Ice Box of the Nation”) and The Cold Weather Testing Facility, where Pluto-like temperatures push prototypes to the limit.
In similar fashion, if you claim to build the “Best Rods on Earth,” you better be testing them on what might be the best bass lakes on earth. And that precise thinking is behind St. Croix’s union with Angler’s Inn International.
Located in the beautifully bucolic outskirts of Mazatlán, Mexico, Lakes El Salto and Picachos are shoreline basecamps for two epic Angler’s Inn fishing resorts, and where St. Croix recently pitted man against fish (hundreds of them) in the final development stages of the new, extra-long Legend Glass and Legend Tournament Bass rods. In the end, the rods won, but the black bass put up one heck of a fight.
Angler’s Inn International owner Billy Chapman Jr. sings high praise of his new relationship with St. Croix. “It’s an honor to be with St. Croix Rod. They make great products. My customers are going to love it.” Moreover, Chapman says his guests will be appreciative of not having to carry their own rods, because of the wide variety of St. Croix rods he carries in camp. Flippin’, buzzing, cranking, dropshotting.... whatever. St. Croix and Angler’s Inn have it covered.
Choosing between Lakes Picachos and El Salto could be the toughest decision you make all year. The newest lake in North America – quite literally – Lake Picachos offers an unimaginable biomass of bass.
Northern California-based kayak angler explores Florida offshore for first time
Old Town, ME (March 31, 2017): There’s a chaos that comes with kayak fishing, especially in saltwater. But it’s a chaos that’s pursued by thousands of anglers on top of Ocean Kayak ‘craft each year, many pushing the future of the sport into new, unimagined territories.
Along those lines, Ocean Kayak is proud to introduce a series of saltwater fishing videos for 2017, which will cast a spotlight on the pros, guides, and passionate everyday anglers who rely on Ocean Kayak boats day in, day out.
Sonoma County, California-based Annie Nagel is one of those anglers, a West Coast fish-head who pursues lingcod, cabezon, rock fish, halibut, steelhead and salmon… pretty much everything that swims around the San Francisco Bay area.
Annie’s versatile, and her main boat is equally adept in varying conditions: from the open Pacific to behemoth bass-filled California lakes. Her vessel of choice? Ocean Kayak Trident 11, Trident 13 and Trident 15 models, stalwart boats recently revamped for 2017 with the same legendary hull but improved ACS2 seating, center pod redesign, and a whole lot more.
With the goal of challenging her angling skills, Annie recently flip-flopped coasts, traveling with her Trident 13 Angler to the Ft. Lauderdale area for some multi-species spring break fun. Call it fishing “cold” or “blind,” Annie had no idea to expect other than shattered expectations. As anyone familiar with the Atlantic Florida coast knows, it can be a real mixed bag of species, as the video reveals.
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.