Member Monday: A Hot Summer Day in Chico Creek Canyon by Steve Callan

Welcome back to Member Monday.  We kick off our July theme on “Summer” with a piece  from member Steve Callan.  Steve is the author of Badges, Bears, and Eagles.  You can hear more from Steve on his NPR interview.  

A Hot Summer Day in Chico Creek Canyon

by Steve Callan

One of my most memorable trout fishing trips took place during the summer of 1964.  My fishing buddy, Paul Martens, had heard that some trophy browns could be caught in upper Chico Creek.  The only way into this treacherously steep canyon was an overgrown caterpillar track that hadn’t been traveled in years.  Throwing caution to the wind, I shoved my 1947 Chevy pickup into first gear, stepped on the gas and inched forward.

“I just bought a new Mitchell 300,” said Paul, obviously excited.  “I can’t wait to try it out.”

“If this road gets any narrower you might not get your chance,” I said

Walking might have been faster than the old truck moved in first gear, so it took us almost an hour to reach the end.

“OK, where’s the trail?”  I asked, climbing out of the truck.

“It’s supposed to be here somewhere,” answered Paul, in a sheepish voice.

“It’s only nine o’clock and already hot,” I complained.  “The temperature’s supposed to hit a hundred today.”

Paul and I peered over the canyon’s edge.  All we could see were giant boulders, scrub oaks and what appeared to be an impenetrable wall of poison oak.  Reasonable adults might have surveyed the situation and decided it wasn’t worth the risk, but we were sixteen year old boys, not reasonable adults.  Besides, we could hear the trout stream rushing and rippling below.

Paul discovered what might have been some kind of human foot path a short distance from where the road ended.  I looked it over and was convinced that it was no more than a deer trail, but that was all we could find so we gathered our gear and began the day’s adventure.

Both of us carried cloth fishing creels and two piece spinning rods, with reels attached.  “Watch for snakes,” I warned, as we carefully squeezed between two patches of poison oak.  About fifty yards down, the trail disappeared and the canyon became even steeper.  Sweat poured off our faces and into our eyes.  We had already forgotten about avoiding poison oak.  The fear of stepping on a rattlesnake paled in comparison to the anticipated joy of reaching the stream and flopping into the refreshingly cool water.

Expletives rolled off our lips as we charged forward, pushing brush and sharp branches aside.  “It’s too late to turn back,” I shouted.  “Keep going, Paul, we’re almost there.”  I reached a clearing, fifty feet above the stream.  It was then that I heard Paul cry out, “Sheiiiit!”  I looked up just in time to see my fishing buddy burst through a patch of poison oak.  He was still on his feet, but sliding on the soles of his Converse All Stars.  Paul’s fishing rod, with his new Mitchell 300 reel attached, was still firmly clutched in his right hand.  Suddenly his feet flew out from under him and he fell backward onto the hard red clay.  The impact loosened Paul’s grip on the fishing rod and away it went, bouncing down the canyon, over the rimrock ledge and into the stream below.

Fortunately, Paul’s rod and reel didn’t break into a hundred pieces.  They did, however, land in what had to be the deepest pool in Chico Creek.  Paul was devastated.   He had not only lost his new reel, but after all of the work getting there, he didn’t have anything to fish with.  “Cheer up,” I said, still laughing.  “I’ll get your rod and reel back.”  I reached into my creel and pulled out an old diving mask.  “I brought this to see if there are any big browns in this stream, like you said.”

Paul and I carefully climbed down the remaining rocks to the water below.  I marveled at the beauty of this Northern California trout stream.  The water was crystal clear as it rushed over car sized boulders, creating one deep pool after another.  Alders provided much needed shade, creating an ideal environment for fish and other aquatic life.

Ditching my shoes at the water’s edge, I carefully maneuvered across the rocky bottom until the swirling water was shoulder deep.  My face mask had not been used for some time, so I rinsed it out, spit on the inside glass and thoroughly rubbed saliva around before rinsing it again and putting it on.  Leaning forward, I stuck my head under the water.  The sounds from above were immediately silenced and replaced by the muffled sound of rushing water and millions of foaming bubbles flowing downstream.  Pushing off from the stream bottom, I skimmed across the surface toward the steep cliff on the opposite side.  Tucking my upper body and straightening my legs, I began my descent.  Within seconds I was ten feet below the surface, continuing downward.  The water became dark and suddenly colder.  Pressure began to build in my ears.  Peering toward the bottom, I saw several eight-inch rainbow trout dart upstream toward the falling water and disappear into the bubbles.  My peripheral vision was limited by the sides of the old face mask, but I managed a short glimpse of something larger, much, much larger…

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Bears and Bad Guys: An Excerpt from Badges, Bears, and Eagles by Steve Callan

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s a pleasure to showcase another installment from member Steve Callan’s book Badges, Bears, and Eagles.  You can read previous excerpts here and here.  Then mark your calendars because Steve will be signing copies of Badges, Bears, and Eagles at the Redding Costco on Saturday April 26th from 10am to 4pm.  Today Steve shares a chapter about a three-year undercover investigation that turned out to be one of the most successful wildlife-related criminal investigations in California history. 

Bears and Bad Guys: An Excerpt from Badges, Bears, and Eagles

by Steve Callan

 

securedownload

“So what’s been going on?” Westerby asked. “I tried calling you a dozen times.”

Hoang convinced Westerby that he had been out of the country.

“I figured you was,” said Westerby.

“These aren’t too bad,” said Hoang.

Westerby began to act impatient: “What’ll ya give me for ’em?”

“These aren’t too fresh,” Hoang said. “When did you take them?”

Westerby blinked a few times and looked around some more, as if stalling while he decided how to answer. “One was killed two days ago, one was four days ago and the other was five days ago. I’ll be gettin’ more, too.” he added.

“Yeah?” said Hoang.

“I killed two cougars yesterday,” said Westerby

“Wow!” said Hoang.

“Ya know, I just got home about two nights before you called,” said Westerby.

“I’ll give you four hundred,” said Hoang.

Westerby puffed himself up and pursed his lips, unhappy with the offer.  The diminutive undercover agent realized that the much larger man-a classic bully-was going to try to intimidate him, so he played along, milking his role as the timid, soft-spoken Asian.  Agent Hoan had become quite proficient at his temporary job.  The more he negotiated over price, the more convincing he appeared.

 

“I can get two apiece for ’em right up the road here,” Westerby growled, gesturing wildly.

Having recently listened to a recorded conversation near Jason Lee’s mountain rental house, Hoang immediately realized who Westerby was referring to.

“The guy right up the road gives me two for the small ones and three or three and a half for the bigger ones,” Westerby boasted.

“Who are you dealing with?” asked Hoang.

The easily excitable Westerby launched into a tirade. “Every hound hunter in the world.  Ya know what I mean? Hell, there’s only a hundred hound hunters around here who have connections, ya know. And Jason does better than that.”

Westerby’s recorded statement validated what Szody and I had suspected for some time: many of the area houndsmen were selling bear gall bladders and most of them were selling to Jason Lee, either directly or indirectly.

The cat was out of the bag.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles by Steve Callan

Welcome back to Member Monday.  Today it’s a pleasure to feature Writers Forum member Steve Callan.  Steve’s book, Badges, Bears and Eagles, released on March 1 and can be purchased  now on Amazon.com.  His book describes what it’s like to be a California Fish and Game warden during the last quarter of the Twentieth Century-working routine details from one end of the state to the other and conducting some of the most successful wildlife-related investigations in California history.  

An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles:

Chapter 14 “Gill Netters”

by Steve Callan

By the time Albert reached the bridge, there was plenty of sunlight, so he dropped behind a railing and directed his binoculars toward the gill net. He was just in time to see a man paddling across the river in the little orange boat. A few minutes later, the same man was freeing the gill net from the cement piling.

It’s getting light, thought Nick. It figures that this guy might be getting ready to leave. Should I wait for backup here by his truck or move in now, catch him in the act and make sure he doesn’t get away?

Twenty-four years and two promotions later, now retired Patrol Captain Nick Albert provided me with a little insight into the decisions he made that day: “Catching a gill-netter in the act was so difficult and rare that I was desperate not to let the violator escape. On the North Coast it was one of our major violations. I had hoped to catch him before he made it very far but that isn’t what happened. Even though things worked out in the end, in hindsight I would have done it differently.”

Without waiting for backup, the young, enthusiastic warden crossed the bridge and began a slow sprint up the south side of the river. Most of the south shoreline was exposed sandy beach with very few hiding places—Nick would have to stay out of sight the best he could and hope for the best. Fortunately, the original suspect and an adult female were busy pulling in the gill net as Albert approached.

Warden Albert stopped behind a pile of driftwood and watched the two gill netters remove a large salmon from the net. The woman was medium height, thin and looked like she hadn’t used a hairbrush in weeks. She wore a bright red, full-length coat. Albert watched her pick up the salmon by the gills and carry it across the beach toward a patch of high grass. The adult male suspect was about Albert’s size, with short brown hair and a mustache. Both subjects appeared to be in their early to mid-thirties. The man continued to work on the net, removing debris and attempting to untangle a large steelhead.

I’ve seen enough, thought Albert. It’s time to end this thing.

Stepping away from his cover, Warden Albert walked across the beach toward the violators. The woman, later identified as Marla Kay Vinuchi, spotted the warden first and dropped the salmon she was carrying. “State Fish and Game!” shouted Albert. “Stay right where you are.” The male suspect, later identified as Ronald DeWayne Tucker, was preoccupied with trying to untangle the steelhead. When he finally saw the officer approaching, he jumped to his feet and stared, wild-eyed, back at him. Brandishing a large hunting knife, Tucker began walking toward Warden Albert.

“Drop the knife and stay right where you are,” ordered Albert. Tucker ignored the command and kept coming. When he had reached a point Warden Albert considered his minimum danger zone, Albert drew his revolver. “I am not going to tell you again, drop the knife!” Tucker finally came to a standstill and tossed the knife aside. His eyes still had the crazed look of a trapped animal. Although no longer armed with a knife, Tucker was clearly weighing his options. Albert flashed back to the suspect’s green pickup, which was missing both the front and back license plates; this scofflaw had little use for society’s rules and regulations.

“Show me your ID,” Warden Albert demanded, without lowering his gun.

“Gotta take off my chest waders first,” Tucker said in a gruff yet whiny voice.

“Go ahead,” Albert said, gesturing with the gun.

“That net ain’t mine,” said Tucker, as he took his time removing the chest waders. “Me and my girlfriend … we was just camping on the beach. We seen the net and thought we’d get it outta the river.”

“I’ve been watching you for the last hour. You’re both under arrest.”

Upon being advised that he was under arrest, Tucker jumped to his feet, dove into the river and began swimming toward the other side. Vinuchi ran off in the opposite direction.

With the ambient air temperature in the thirties and the water not much warmer, Tucker’s stunt took the young warden completely by surprise. Determined to prevent Tucker’s escape, Warden Albert threw all caution aside, dropped his radio on the beach and dove in after him—in full uniform, including gun belt, boots and jacket. He caught up with Tucker about a third of the way across the river. Already tiring, Tucker grabbed at Albert, trying to climb on his back. Warden Albert came to the wise conclusion that an arrest in ten feet of water could be extremely dangerous, particularly with a .357 magnum revolver hanging from his waist and the overwhelming weight of boots and a wet uniform pulling him down in the brutally cold water. He pushed Tucker away and swam back to the south shore.

Albert reached the shore and sloshed his way toward the orange rowboat. Water gushed from the hole at the bottom of his holster and his soaked jacket weighed him down with every awkward step. Tucker had continued swimming across the river and was now crying out for help.

What a mess, thought Albert. Now that crazy son of a bitch is about to drown.

Albert picked up his portable radio, dragged the tiny row boat to the water’s edge and jumped aboard. With a single oar to use as a paddle, he thrashed across the river, fighting the fatigue overtaking his frozen, water-soaked body. A few minutes earlier, Warden Albert’s primary concern had been preventing the gill-netter from getting away. Now it was saving the man’s life.

Meanwhile, Marla Vinuchi had made her way to a nearby road, where she tried to pay a couple fishermen to drive her into town. One of the fishermen happened to be the original informant. When he told her that he knew she was involved with the gill net and the game warden was after her, she ran back into the brush and disappeared.

Tucker continued to swim toward the north shore, all the while yelling for help. He managed to reach the shore just ahead of the rapidly paddling warden. In his stocking feet, Tucker climbed the steep riverbank and, for a few minutes, was out of Albert’s sight. Warden Albert beached the boat and grabbed his radio.

“Outrun this,” said Albert, gasping for breath and still soaked to the gills. “Humboldt Dispatch, Fish and Game 1313.”

“Go ahead Fish and Game 1313.”

“I would like to request a BOLO” (be on the lookout).

“Go ahead with your information.”

“The adult male subject was last seen at 0845 hours, on the north bank of the Madd River, approximately one half mile downstream from Highway 101. He is running in the direction of Highway 101.” Albert paused to catch his breath. “The subject is described as a white male, approximately thirty-five years old, five feet eight inches tall, with brown hair and a mustache. He was last seen wearing brown overalls and a blue jacket.”

“Ten-Four,” said the dispatcher.

Water dripped from Warden Albert’s clothing as he reached the top of the riverbank. He could see Tucker running across a pasture, in the direction of Highway 101.

 A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Member Monday: An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles by Steve Callan

Welcome back to Member Monday.  Today it’s a pleasure to feature recent Writers Forum member Steve Callan.  Steve’s book, Badges, Bears and Eagles, releases on March 1, but can be preordered now on Amazon.com.  His book describes what it’s like to be a California Fish and Game warden during the last quarter of the Twentieth Century-working routine details from one end of the state to the other and conducting some of the most successful wildlife-related investigations in California history.  Congratulations, Steve!

An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles

by Steve Callan

One September morning in 1975, California Fish and Game Warden Dave

Szody and I were working dove hunters down along the Colorado River.

A few miles south of Blythe, I spotted two men sitting in the shade of an old

Cottonwood tree. “Pull over there,” I suggested, pointing to a wide spot on the

opposite side of the road. “Let’s see what those guys are up to.” As Szody turned

his patrol car to the left, two citation books and a stack of mail slid to the right

and across his dash. “When are you gonna stop using your dashboard for a

book shelf?” I said. Without responding, Szody picked up a filthy, tobacco-stained

coffee cup and deposited a wad of freshly chewed spittle.

“How does your wife like that disgusting habit?” I said, as I directed my

binoculars toward our suspected dove hunters.

“She hates it,” answered Szody, laughing. “What do you see?”

“Looks like a couple old timers. They must be finished hunting for the

day; their shotguns are leaning up against the tree.”

“Let’s go see how they did,” said Szody, opening the driver’s side door and

preparing for a 200-yard hike across the field.

“You might want to wipe that stuff off your chin first,” I said.

At a distance, the elderly dove hunters might have mistaken Dave Szody

and me for brothers. We were only a year apart in age and recently out of the

academy. Both of us stood six feet tall or a little more and weighed about 180

pounds. Unlike most game wardens, who preferred the traditional “cop-like”

appearance, my working partner and I went a little longer between haircuts.

As Szody and I approached, one of the hunters stood up from his lawn

chair and greeted us. Tall and slim, this elderly gentleman wore a wide-brimmed

hat, a tucked in long-sleeved shirt and neatly pressed Khaki pants.

What I noticed most was the curious grin on his face that told me he knew

something I didn’t.

I asked to see the man’s hunting license, while my partner contacted his

companion. The name scrawled across the top of the license looked familiar,

but at the moment I was more interested in how many doves these guys had

killed. “Looks like you had some luck,” I said, staring down at a heavily laden

game bag that was hanging from the back of his chair. The man smiled and,

without my asking, handed me the bag. I counted exactly ten doves—the legal

limit. About the time I had pulled the last bird out of his bag, it dawned on

me who this man was.

“You’re George Werden,” I blurted, a look of surprise on my face. “Why

didn’t you say something?”

Werden laughed. “I was just letting you do your job.”

In his eighties, Werden had retired many years earlier as a patrol captain.

He will always be remembered as Warden Werden, one of the pioneers of

California wildlife law enforcement. Szody and I enjoyed a brief conversation

with this Fish and Game icon and were about to leave when Werden called

us back. “Do you boys mind if I give you some advice?” We had only been on

the job about a year, so questions raced through our minds: What did we do

wrong? Did we miss something? Werden seemed to enjoy making us squirm

a little. With great anticipation, we waited for his words of wisdom. The old

gentleman looked us both in the eyes and said, “You boys are just starting out

on the best job in the world. Don’t take yourselves too seriously and above all,

always think of it as a game.”

We never saw George Werden again, but his simple advice remained

with us for the rest of our careers. Anyone lucky enough to become a wildlife

protection officer should think of his occupation not as a job, but as a career-long

adventure. We were getting paid to roam the fields, forests and waters of

California, searching for anyone breaking the law or harming our precious

natural resources.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!