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Rodent reeling

Is the squirrel attracted to the nut--or is it the other way around?

June 08, 2004|Ashley Powers

They swear it's catch and release.

Squirrel fishers tie peanuts to fishing lines, cast and wait. Shhhh. The critter creeps toward the bait, grasps it and ... I got one! Then the squirrel takes the nut and runs.

College kids love this.

Penn State had its Squirrel Fishing Rescue Rangers. UC Berkeley's Squirrel Fishers rates student organization status, meaning it gets some funding. University of Oregon anglers are campaigning for similar standing.

Does trawling for squirrel require the same skill and bait expertise as other forms of the sport? With no official experts to consult -- come on, it's squirrel fishing -- we asked a few presumed ones for tips on "hooking" one.

John Harris, small-mammal biologist, Mills College, Oakland:

Squirrels are picky like a toddler, Harris says, and prefer sweets to roughage. He has seen squirrels grub on pecans and scorn buckwheat. (Can you blame them?) Generally, they go where food is -- they're fishing for humans. The exception is the Mojave ground squirrel, a night-crawling desert-dweller that Harris has studied: "You'd die before you'd get one of them. They're very secretive."

Gregg Bassett, president, the Squirrel Lover's Club, Elmhurst, Ill.:

Put the critters at ease. Speak squirrel; use an even tone, the way you would talk to a puppy. Or repeatedly slip your tongue off the roof of your mouth -- the clackclackclack sounds like a squirrel's "bark." Peanuts are OK; black walnuts or acorns, better; macadamia nuts, best. At least, Bassett says, until someone invents peanut butter cologne.

Yasuhiro Endo, Harvard University grad, Sunnyvale, Calif., engineer and co-creator of a popular squirrel fishing website:

Fish where humans won't freak out the squirrels, like a campus, Endo suggests. When critter hugs nut, tug slightly and it will cling like a climber to rock. "I don't know what else," he says. "Maybe you have to be born with the talent." (The site -- hit count about 1.4 million -- is

Jason McIlhaney, co-president, University of Oregon squirrel fishers club:

Begin with peanut, unshelled, unsalted. "You don't want to kill the squirrels with high sodium intake," McIlhaney says. As with fly-fishing, let your line soar. (The club's casting coach, nicknamed Hawaiian Superman, was weaned on island fly-fishing.) "Some people get it all tangled or do this big arc thing," McIlhaney says. No arc needed.

-- Ashley Powers

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