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Best and worst of 2009 outdoors

Tiger Woods getting a holiday cell phone to his grill may be the best you-couldn't-make-this-stuff-up event of the past year, but it certainly isn't the only time the world got a bit whacked out in 2009.

The outdoor world this past year has been rife with moments of history, hilarity and just plain weirdness, and much of it has been chronicled here in the Mail Tribune's Oregon Outdoors section and the Southern Oregon outdoors blog "Fish Hack at the Fish Wrap."

From chasing bears through Medford backyards to trying not to wreck while being the first one to row the Rogue River's reconstituted Savage Rapids, the stories about the stories that ran are often better than the stories themselves.

And occasionally, the e-mails and voice-mail messages from readers are better than all of it.

Here's a look back at some of the best and worst parts of living the life of the Fish Hack at the Fish Wrap throughout 2009.

Clearwater, 41, was a former upper Rogue River houndsman accused in September of a misdemeanor wildlife charge as an alleged member of a loose group blamed for poaching black bears around Shady Cove this past year.

In a telephone interview, Clearwater said the alleged crime sounded like him, but that this time it wasn't him.

"That's the type of (expletive) I used to do, but I'm out of the game," Clearwater said.

"When I was doing it every day, they couldn't catch me," Clearwater said of Oregon State Police fish and wildlife troopers. "I've been on their wanted list for a long time."

Clearwater insisted police are "swinging at the fence" in one last — yet too late — attempt to label him as a convicted bear-poacher.

"They wrote me some tickets, but they never caught me," Clearwater said. "They missed their window."

Clearwater and five co-defendants are scheduled for trial in March.

Tax Deduction No. 2, aka 9-year-old daughter Maggie, got in the best dig of the year, as detailed in the Dec. 16 post of Fish Hack at the Fish Wrap.

While we were Christmas shopping together at Target, a guy walking past gave me a double-take and said "hi." I said "hi" back.

Maggie asked if I knew him. I said no, never seen him before.

"He must read your crap," she said.

A beautiful black bear weighing 92 pounds ambled into the Lone Pine Elementary School playground in east Medford Oct. 14 as kids entered their classrooms. Many got to watch as Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Vargas darted the bear in a tree, fitted it with ear tags then whisked it to far eastern Klamath County for release.

It was a biology lesson those kids won't forget.

Ten days later, the same bear — after traveling 78 air miles across the Cascade Range — was shot and killed legally by a hunter off Hillcrest Road just outside of the Medford city limits.

Kids cried.

After any story in which I refer to a reservoir as a lake, long-time reader Y.S. usually fires off an e-mail deriding the reference to man-made waterways as lakes. His Sept. 9 missive was most succinct.

"You are proving again that you are ignorant and unable to be educated," Y.S. wrote.

When Evan Brannock thumb-tacked a photo of his little forked-horn blacktail buck on the Sportsmen's Warehouse "Bragging Wall" in September, his smile was wider than the puny deer's antlers.

And the Eagle Point bowhunter had to step out of a wheelchair to do it.

Brannock, who has spina bifida, shot the deer from his wheelchair while bowhunting near Wimer with help from Jim Piotter, a fellow Sportsmen's Warehouse employee.

It was the 28-year-old Brannock's first buck, and he never really considered rifle-hunting for one.

"I like just the fact that I actually got myself out there and did it," he said. "I know able-bodied people who won't go out and do it. Not me. Even if I need help, I'll ask for it, whatever.

"I'll always find a way to do what I want to do," he said.

While doing a story about rubberneckers watching the dismantling of Savage Rapids Dam from the Rogue River, I interviewed some random guy at length about how he comes there daily to make sure the construction guys are doing it right.

He turned out to be a Grants Pass fishing guide named ... Marcus Freeman.

"People ask me all the time, 'Are you the guy who writes the fishing stories?' " he said. "I usually say, 'No, but it could have been me.' "

I told him I hoped sharing my name doesn't get him in any trouble.

"They still take my checks," he says. "And no one's punched me yet."

I said I was glad and that I'd continue making sure I don't soil his not-too-good name in Medford.

"Yeah. I'll do the same," he said.

Rehabbers at Wildlife Images in Merlin successfully removed a fish hook that had become lodged in an osprey's stomach by force-feeding the bird cotton balls.

The 10 cotton balls created a "pellet" the young bird eventually regurgitated, bringing the offending hook with it.

Just how do you make an osprey eat cotton balls?

"It's exactly like it sounds," said Amber Lynn Daniel, the center's marketing coordinator. "It's like force-feeding any other animal."

BEEEEP. "Hey, Freeman. Where's the @$&*! Fishing Report? The whole world doesn't stop just because you go on $&*@! vacation." (Editor's note: Mark Freeman is on vacation this week. The Fishing Report will return when he does.)

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.