Nutty Goodness

No squirrels were harmed in the making of this column. Bryan would like to thank Marcy, Virginia and particularly Jenny P. Respond at [email protected].

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UC Berkeley squirrels have been handed a new lease on life.

Slow and obese from years of soliciting students or roaming around in campus trash cans for lunch, local squirrels are now getting a run for their money at the hands of an oft-misunderstood campus group: Berkeley Squirrel Fishers.

In my two years editing news in Berkeley, I must mention that this is the most bizarre thing I've ever heard of.

"I actually think it helps (the squirrels), because they get a little workout," said Andrew Mizell, president of Berkeley Squirrel Fishers and a UC Berkeley junior.

"They're a lot more active in Southern California. They get kinda fat around here."

Initially, I had mental images of local bums who had found squirrels-gone-barbecue to be an alternative to begging for money, but thankfully I was sorely mistaken.

Before you run off to call the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-which was surprisingly unknowledgeable about the "sport"-you should understand that squirrel fishing isn't nearly as painful or bloody as it might sound.

The setup is simple: Squirrel fishing requires a fishing rod, some string and your choice of bait-unshelled peanuts are preferred.

After attaching string to the rod and baiting the end of the string, the goal is to get a squirrel to take the bait.

However, from there you make your own rules-some prefer trying to see how far they can drag a squirrel while it is latched on to the bait; others attempt to get airtime, lifting the critters off the ground while they are still trying to secure the peanut.

What happens when someone catches a squirrel? The group members simply set it free; the fishers don't harm the squirrels in any way.

"We're misunderstood. Some people think we're going to eat the squirrels," Mizell said.

There has only been one injury while squirrel fishing; it took place when I went to join the group last Saturday. Someone attempted to feed a squirrel by hand-a practice that is strictly discouraged-and found out the hard way that fingers look a little too much like peanuts.

Berkeley Squirrel Fishers, which is sponsored in part by ASUC and has received a sizable donation from a residence hall association, is in its first year of being officially recognized as a group. The sport was founded five years ago by Mizell and his brother.

Believe it or not, the group is actually part of the United States Squirrel Fishers Association, a larger national organization. The Berkeley chapter boasts having more than 80 members.

The group is, however, noteworthy not only because of its activities, but also because of its nonpartisan approach to fun.

It is a widely held belief that UC Berkeley is overly divided and factional; outgoing ASUC President Wally Adeyemo's One Campus Campaign tried and failed to draw the many factions closer together.

"All the clubs around here are political, religious, minority-based-I wanted to find one that was fun," Mizell said. Thus, Berkeley Squirrel Fishers was born.

With more groups like Berkeley Squirrel Fishers, the campus stands to benefit where prior efforts have fallen short-people come together under the premise of having fun, and gain a better understanding of each other in the process.

None of this detracts from the squirrel fishing though, said Dom Walterspiel, a first-time squirrel fisher and a UC Berkeley junior.

"It's all about the fishing."


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