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Paul Lebowitz – IT'S JUST FISHING



It's Just Fishing


WON's first kayak fishing columnist, Paul Lebowitz writes about the affordable and sneaky little boats that are increasingly popular and deadly fish catchers. The native Southern Californian also covers other facets of the fresh and saltwater fishing world as a WON staff writer, often shining a light on lesser-known pursuits such as abalone diving or lobster hooping. Lebowitz strives to bring a unique and fresh perspective to his work.
Accurate’s new stars
It’s an odd feeling to show up for a fishing trip with no gear in hand. Unarmed, if you will. You’re reliant on friends or even strangers for the tackle that will determine the day’s success or failure.


On this given early morning I wasn’t worried. I was meeting Accurate Vice President of Sales and Marketing Justin Poe at Dana Point Harbor, where we were jumping aboard the beautiful vintage Skipjack 20 skippered by WON Director of Sales Chuck Buhagiar. We were off on a paddie hunting expedition, visions of dorado in our heads.


terntakesadorado
TERN TAKES A DORADO — Justin Poe of Accurate with the dorado he caught using the company’s new Tern 400 star drag matched to a likewise new Valiant rod. Tern reels are small but mighty, dishing out an impressive 30 pounds of drag.


Justin arrived with an angling arsenal in hand, enough outfits to fill every one of the multitude of rod holders aboard Chuck’s boat. Justin had brought a variety of Accurate’s powerhouse reels, but I’ll be honest. I only had eyes for the company’s new Tern star drags mounted on brand new Valiant rods. Both products were announced at the ICAST trade show earlier this year and are just coming onto the market.


Why, I asked Justin, had the company famous for its TwinDrag lever drag designs cooked up its first star drag reels?


He answered without hesitation. It was due to customer demand. “Anglers still want that star drag,” he said. And while the company hadn’t produced a star drag previously, they had experience modding and improving Penn star drag reels with AccuPlates, so they weren’t starting from scratch. “We had already seen the fail points and weak points in star drag reels,” Justin added.


I examined the Tern 300 and 400. Both reels are the same size but a little heavier than the equivalent Valiant reels. They are compact and buff and look and feel every bit like any of Accurate’s high quality and lightweight reels. But what about the internals? What sets the Tern apart from other star drag reels?


Justin said the number one design goal was castability, as anglers in Southern California cast more than any other market. Accurate’s engineers were inspired by the legendary performance of Newell reels, and like Newell, they designed their eccentric gears to pull the reel into free spool, instead of pushing it out of gear like most manufacturers. This results, Justin said, in better durability.


There’s another huge difference, and that’s in the drag system. Justin said the Tern boasts the first TwinDrag in a star drag reel. Stainless steel and carbon fiber washers are situated on each side of the main gear (both the main and pinion gears are made of very hard, very precise 17-4 stainless steel, not softer brass or hardened aluminum) rather than stacked against one side, doubling the drag’s surface area and increasing the possible max drag output.


How much? Each of the Terns makes 30+ pounds of drag. Actually more, but 30 pounds is the maximum Accurate’s engineers think the Tern should be fished. “We don’t want to fish until its breaking point, for smoothness and efficiency. We don’t rate stuff with a hammer in one hand and a scale in the other. Maximum fishable drag is an important number for us. It’s way more important than max drag,” Justin said. “It’s a fact, the Tern gets more drag than any star drag of its like size,” he added.


About 22 miles south of the harbor just shy of the 209 we hit our first kelp and it was holding. Dorado cavorted, jumping and rolling, setting our hearts beating. Chuck set up the drift away from the paddie. I grabbed a Tern 300 mounted on an 8-foot Valiant rod, nose-hooked a lively sardine, and lobbed a cast off the stern. I didn’t have to wait long. The spool accelerated, I clicked into gear and just like that I was on.


Moments later Justin hooked up on a Tern 400, quickly busted off, then retied and connected again, this time on a better model that skipped high across the water. Drags sang.


We were only on 20-pound so we didn’t come close to testing the full capabilities of the Tern’s TwinDrag system, but I can affirm it was silky smooth. A little over 14 ounces, the reel was comfortable in my hands, each crank putting down plenty of power. Soon my dorado came to the gaff. Justin’s larger fish took a bit longer, but it too hit the deck.


The bite at our kelp died – before we knew it we were surrounded by another six private boats, so we moved on hopeful of more action. We stopped at a good dozen kelps over some 60 additional miles, but all were empty. It left us a lot of time to talk.


I asked Justin to break down the Tern models and MSRPs. The 300, which holds some 300 yards of 30-pound braid, retails for $280. The 400 is $290 and holds 400 yards of 50-pound braid. The 500 is $300, with a 400-yard capacity of 65-pound braid. The Accurate website indicates each is available in a 6:1 or 4.7:1 gear ratio. Justin said a 500 narrow, a 600 and a 600 narrow are coming later this year. Every one is made in their entirety in Corona, the bolts, screws, gears, handles… everything, and comes with two years of free service. Yes, even the lower-priced Terns.


“We are the innovators of small reels, big fish. We think our fans will want to fish with the smallest reels they can get away with,” Justin said.


What about the Valiant rods, also new this year? Justin said customers would call, asking about rods that perfectly matched their powerful but small Valiant reels (and now, Tern star drags). “Most rods were heavy, built for older style, larger reels,” Justin added.


The new Valiant rods are an ideal fit. The components match Accurate’s reel feet and avoid high-rise guides because the reels are so compact to the rods. The ones I looked at feature a locking ring on the reel seat. All are of composite construction. “We really don’t get into the modulus or the guide type because that’s not what’s important to us. These rods are made for fishing with your Valiants, and they are the best rods we feel we could make to pair up with reels that our customers were having trouble making a match,” Justin said.


With Valiant reels attached, only three combos in the whole mix are over two pounds. The lightest outfit is 14.6 ounces. Rods and reels together often weigh less than the previously recommended third party rod itself. “It really increases the enjoyment of fishing because you’re not fighting your tackle, you’re only fighting the fish,” Justin said. You can fish 60 on a 2.2-pound combo!


Rod models include four 7-foot boat rods rated ML through H; 2 extra fast action 7-6 boat rods rated MH and H, four 8-foot boat rods rated ML through H, and two 6-8 slow pitch jigging rods rated M and MH.


One fish on the new Tern star drag and matching Valiant rod isn’t much to go on, but from here it looks like Accurate has a couple new winners on its hands. I’d show up again, hands empty of fishing gear, any time I could be sure to borrow one.


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Mac Huffman dies in plane crash
machuffman
MAC HUFFMAN, owner / operator of Sitka, Alaska-based Frontier Charters, has died in a plane crash. He’s shown here with a king salmon caught during a WON charter in 2016.


SITKA, Alaska — The news is shocking and sudden. Mac Huffman, longtime friend of WON, and we dare say, of every angler who ever had the pleasure to feel the warmth of his hospitality at the rustic Sitka fishing lodge he operated, has died.

Details are scant as WON went to press. We know Mac was at the controls of his Alaskan bush plane when it presumably went down on Saturday. Search and rescue found him early Monday morning. There was nothing they could do for him. His lone passenger remains missing.


Mac was an authentic character, a man who had Alaska in his blood. “He was larger than life. Mac loved the Alaskan life and he loved the adventure as much as he loved running his business at the lodge,” said WON Field Reporter Bob Semerau, who was fortunate to get to know Mac during his six trips covering WON charters at Frontier Lodge.


Look for an updated story in next week’s edition.


Fish and Game furball heads for another dust-up
Muck and Grime column

Fish and Game Commission President Dan Richards still has a few of his nine political lives. As the Humane Society of the United States, assemblyman Ben Hueso, and 39 other Democratic assembly members learned the hard way, Richards is one tough cat.

They tried to hound the independent-minded stalwart into resigning over a successful Idaho mountain lion hunt. It’s not legal in California — so what? It’s the law of the land up north. Richards, never one to toe the party line of the paid operatives of the environmental crisis industry, isn’t one to back down.

That hasn’t stopped the commission’s “environmental” block of Michael Sutton, Richard Rogers and Jack Baylis from continuing to press their assault on Richards, who succeeded Jim Kellogg as commission president in that odd February 2-0 vote when Sutton and Baylis abstained (Rogers was absent) in the wake of a failed political hit. Richards’ term runs through January.

Sutton and pals have orchestrated another run for Richards’ hide. The gloves will come off when they convene for their May 23-24 meeting in Monterey. Officially, they’ll consider a motion to repeal the section of code governing the election of the commission’s sole officer. In theory — and this is uncharted ground for the body that derives its authority from the California constitution — the expected 3-2 vote against Richards would set up a new vote for commission president.

But not so fast! There’s red tape. If they vote to change the law, the Secretary of State and state Office of Administrative Law will both have to weigh in. The anticipated rubber stamp is likely to take until August. The commission could vote sooner, with the president elect — probably the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s own Sutton — set to take office once the ink dries.

As far as Richards is concerned, he was elected for a one-year term. If we take him at his word, he’ll bitterly contest Sutton’s coup attempt.

Last month, Richards stated his position in unmistakably clear terms. “There’s a very concerted effort by the enviro-terrorists to infiltrate and take over the Department of Fish and Game. They want the money and they want the people to implement their agenda. These enviro-terrorists don’t spend one penny on conservation. All they do is...they’re lawsuit machines. That’s their business. They sue people, departments and commissions like us, public agencies, and they get settlements and then go and appeal to the public that they somehow are out making a difference. But they aren’t out doing any conservation work. They are engaged in the process. They’re manipulators. I’m just sick and tired of it, and I’m sick and tired of nobody calling it like it is,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Ed Zieralski.

Richards has never said so, but presumably he’s just as tired of Sutton, Baylis and Rogers. Which brings us to this puzzlement: What’s at stake? Why doesn’t the Gang of Three wait until February, when Richards’ term as president ends?

They could. Richards doesn’t expect to be reappointed, but then again Governor Jerry Brown seems indifferent about the commission. The sell-by date on Rogers’ term passed eons ago. He continues to serve in the absence of a replacement. Not that it matters. Unless Brown looks down from on high to shuffle the deck, on most matters hunters and anglers care about, it’s still 3-2 in favor of Sutton, Baylis and Rogers.

According to commission executive director Sonke Mastrup, the president has very few powers. “Commission president is largely a symbolic position. The president serves on the Wildlife Conservation Board as a voting member,” Mastrup said. The Wildlife Conservation Board determines how to spend state conservation funds for the purchase of “land and waters suitable for recreation purposes and the preservation, protection and restoration of wildlife,” according to the agency’s website.

The Fish and Game Commission president is also a member of the California Fish and Wildlife Strategic Vision Project executive committee. It’s too complicated to get into here, but the take-home is Richards is one man among seven bureaucrats hailing from the upper echelons of state and federal resource agencies. Whether he’s there or not wouldn’t seem to make a lick of a difference.

That’s it. There’s nothing else. For now at least, this is about influence, prestige and symbolism. Outdoorsmen won’t have any trouble reading the message if Sutton, Baylis and Rogers continue their attacks. The “antis” lost one battle to Richards. They aren’t done with their war.   one battle to Richards. They aren’t done with their war.

* * *

Muck and Grime is a political column that runs, usually, once a month, written by Paul Lebowitz who covers the political beat for WON, and was a Stakeholder during the SoCal Regional MLPA process. He writes a kayak column for WON each month, and edits a national kayak magazine. 
LIVE FROM THE FISH AND GAME COMMISSION
New Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards is here. So is a roomful of interested public. I'm reporting or trying to while standing at a press table. Updates will appear at the top of the blog, just below this note.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It seems we're done with comment on Richards and his cat. Public speakers with other commission business are now taking their turns. 

Commissioner Kellogg (who has been reappointed according to rumor), felt compelled to stop the meeting to point out that Richards' supporters are preaching to the choir. The FGC is not and cannot remove Richards.  Rogers chimed in that such matters are well above the FGC's pay grade. Richards thanked the public for their input, noting that the meeting is broadcast across the Internet to a wide audience.  

Still holding at five Richards ragers versus uncountable supporters. Outdoor writer Ed Zieralski, one of the deans of the profession who has covered the Fish and Game Commission since the 1980s, points out that today's hunting turnout is the largest he's ever seen.

"I don't want emotion. I want science. I hope facts and science prevail," an NRA representative says after offering Richards congratulations. "Nice cat!"

An Orange County resident asks why he can't go for a walk with his kids without getting stalked by mountain lions. Lion numbers in Southern California are outrageous. "We're letting mountain lions destroy our deer and eat our wildlife. Somebody needs to speak out and get the authority (to manage mountain lions) back to Fish and Game."

10:30
Do we want extremists making decisions and deciding what's best for our wildlife? Each commissioner here has an obligation to support Mr. Richards.

A speaker asks: Where were all the anti-hunters when non-native wildlife was removed from the Channel Islands?

Robin Parks of the Mountain Lion Foundation: "I'm not a tree rigger, not a witch hunter. Please don't attack my patriotism. It is not an issue of whether what you did was legal. It was clearly legal. We need to get beyond that. You are on the payroll of California. Californians have voted twice to protect mountain lions. Those are the people who pay your salary. It absolutely was poking your finger in the eyes of Californians. It is for that sole reason, it's because you essentially poked your eye in the fingers of Californians" that Richards should resign (sic)." That makes five Richards critics - supporters still own the room.

Another CRPA representative: "We are troubled by the unfounded allegations" leveled against Richards. "Are California residents now required to check with a higher moral authority" before taking part in out of state activities. "We are a country that operates on rule of law, not based on emotion. this is an outright attack on all California sportsmen by extremists."

California Rifle and Pistol Association: "We are in strong support. Richards is the epitomy of a Fish and Fame commissioner. We feel this is a tremendous waste of time. A really sad state of affairs. Dan Richards was exercising his personal right to hunt in a very legal way in Idaho."

10:00 am
The Imperial Valley Fish and Game Commission supports Richards says Merit McCrea, one of their number. "Stop this radical, nanny state madness. This is nothing but a political with hunt by an arrogant group of self-righteous zealots trying to force their way of life on others."

The fiery Wendy Tochihara takes aim at Ben Hueso, the HSUS, and others persecuting Richards for their own ethical lapses. She respectfully requests Hueso's letter be flushed down the toilet along with Hueso's own ethics. 

"This issue is about the precedent the removal of a commissioner would set for all of you and future commissioners. Anti-hunters are armed only with emotion and misinformation. What might happen to one commissioner might very well happen to another."

Another California Waterfowl spokesman: "Hunting creates a funding stream and provides an important incentive for landowners to maintain their lands as open space."

We're back in session and about halfway through the speaker cards.

"President Richards, we stand with you," says another supporter. That takes us to a ten minute intermission.

California Waterfowl Association, recently recognized for its passion for  conservation and wildlife. "The attack on Richards is an attack on science-based management. It's a witch hunt and it's dangerous."

Coastside Fishing Club shows its support for Richards.

On Richards: "Great leadership as president and on the commission."

"Mr Richards was appointed to the position to protect them," a "concerned taxpayer" says, calling it "a slap in the face. You showed poor judgment." That's four.

Staunch free dive advocate Paul Romanowski is reminding the commission of unintended consequences such as the closure of every disabled accessible ocean access in Laguna under the MLPA. "We'd like you to get back down to work," he says.

An LA attorney who says she recognizes the rights of hunters is castigating Richards for poor judgement. That's 3 against.

Another assemblyman's spokesman says they'll only consider signing the Hueso resignation demand letter when every member of the assembly is held accountable for sports betting.

90 speaker cards were submitted according to a count Richards shared prior to public comment. It's easy to keep track of the antis. So far there have only been two. At the end of the day it'll be a decent quick and dirty way to gauge Richards' support.

"He's not a one-way guy," says the owner of Corona Lake of Dan Richards. He's a guy that uses his judgment. "Commissioner Richards has done nothing illegal."

The former mayor of Rancho Cucamonga says it is shameful that Richards is under attack for a legal hunt. "I think we need to go back to scientific management of mountain lions. We had to pay people to come in and control problem animals," in the interest of public safety he says - hiring people  because the state has abdicated its responsibility. "We're very proud of you," he adds towards Richards.

Saying she's surrounded by an audience of "bloodythirsty psuedo neanderthals," a woman rips into Richards. "I wish sometimes that the animals would turn around and point a rifle or something in our direction. This is below our civilized life," she says.

9:15
So far every speaker supports Dan Richards. Where is HSUS, his chief critic? Apparently not here.

George Osborn is presenting photos taken from an underground poaching operation. They show mountain lions and bears illegally taken within two hours of the state capitol, highlighting the serious issues the state faces in enforcing its own fish and game laws. This is where the state assembly should focus its efforts, not on a commissioner's legal out of state hunt. Osborn represents the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans and the Coastside Fishing Club among others.

A member of the public just challenged the other commissioners to raise their hands if they think Richards should step down. Predictably, none did. The speaker then continued. "If they do, they shouldn't be on the commission."

Quail Unlimited: We are firmly in support of you Dan.

Bill Gaines, California Outdoor Heritage Association: The hunting community is still the cornerstone of California's conservation community and we're proud of it. We have grave concerns. COHA respects authority of legislature to have that right (to remove a commissioner). Hunting legally outside the state of California has no bearing on (Richards') ability to make sound decisions for the state of California. We urge the legislature to focus on other issues rather than the removal of Dan Richards.

The California Rifle and Pistol Association supports Dan Richards and wishes that he'd continue in his present position.

"We feel he is a commissioner who represents our interests," says John Riordan of United Anglers of Southern California.

9:00 am
Public comment started with a letter in enthusiastic support of Dan Richards, delivered by a spokesman for state assemblyman Bill Donnelly, R-53rd district. Judging by the reaction of the crowd, Richards doesn't lack friendship.




8:40 am

Here's your manufactured controversy update. In the matter of the Humane Society of the United States vs. Dan Richards, legal and unapologetic cougar hunter, point to Richards. HSUS doesn't appear to be here, nor were there any of the promised animal rights demonstrators marching a picket.

The law enforcement presence is heavy. There are more wardens here than I've ever seen in any one place, explained by the violent comments and outright threats "brave" Internet posters submitted here at WON and many other news sources.  

With the scene set, I'll try to settle in and keep up a commentary as long as my equipment and uncertain connectivity allows.
TRUTH HUNTED
Is it the missing piece of information that puts the fizzle to the Fair Political Practices complaint against Dan Richards? Kathy Bowler, a former executive director of the California Democratic Party, accused embattled Fish and Game Commissioner Richards of violating the state's $420 annual gift limit for politicos when he went a' lion hunting.

While Richards has defiantly defended his legal hunt far and wide, he has refused to clear up questions surrounding the complaint, choosing only to maintain his innocence.

It looks very much like he's right, and the complaint is little more than political mud slung at the behest of the shrill anti-hunters at the Humane Society of the United States and those who were gunning for Richards' spot on the commission since who knows when - but certainly predating the cat controversy. 

The key is an Associated Press interview of Flying B Ranch manager Joseph Peterson. Peterson told the AP that Richards paid for a two-day bird hunting trip at $3,200.

Peterson denied that it was a gift. "It (the mountain lion) was going to die anyway. I was going to kill it. The purpose of shooting it was to reduce the population. I don't do much for gifts. I'm here to turn a profit and keep people employed," Richards said.

That $3,200 rate matches the Flying B price list found on the Internet. A wing-shooting trip includes two days and three nights including lodging and no meals for that price - that's $1,600 a day. The $6,800 that Bowler cites is for a 7-day, 8-night cougar hunt lists for $6,800, or $975 a day.

Assuming Richards didn't extend his 3-night stay, it looks from here that Richards is due a $625 rebate per day of cougar hunting - but Peterson and his hands should keep it to make up for all the HSUS fuss. 

For further details, read the prior story "Hunting for the Truth."

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