As a scruffy little youngster, I always looked forward to spring because I could put on my over-sized rubber boots and sneak down to the lazy old Battle River with my buddies to try our luck at fishing. Not too many of us could afford a real fishing rod, so we cut a strong willow branch with our jack-knifes, tied some tough Co-op store string on the end, then jabbed a fresh wiggling worm on a hook made out of safety pin. It actually worked a few times, but on most hot afternoons we got bored and went wandering in search of new adventures, maybe even a few girls, but hopefully not too much trouble.
The old Canadian Pacific Railway dam just over the hill across the road from the Royal Hotel was a great place to fish and even go for a swim. At this time of the year, the jackfish were always real hungry, but hard to snare, but among the rocks on the spillway of the dam, there were hundreds of slippery old suckers, which were easy to catch by hand if you were fast enough. If we took any fish home to our mothers, they would likely throw a hissy-fit, so we took our prize catch up to the local Chinese restaurants, who usually hollered at us a little, but paid us 50 cents for the whole works, then put them on the sizzling F/C supper special. My biggest thrill came one day when I got to borrow my dad’s fishing rod and tackle box, and just under the south bridge, I actually caught and hauled in a nice 10 pound jackfish. It was awful heavy but I managed to haul it all the way home cross-country to Riverside, Mike Sr. showed us his expertise as a surgeon’s assistant in the army, and we enjoyed several great meals from what was left of that big clunker. I heard on the radio the other day that there wasn’t that many fish left in the Battle because most of them had been fished out or had been polluted by all of the junk that is now going into what once used to be real clean and fresh water.
Along the way, our family did some camping so we went fishing quite a bit at the lakes, and one of our friends had a real nice boat, and always liked to cruise around in search of the ‘big ones.’ It was there that I learned how to ‘troll’ from the slow-moving boat, and while I got excited lots of times when I felt a tug, it was usually only a bunch of seaweeds or a log. As I got older, I think that the most fun I had fishing was with one of my favourite workmates at the old Ponoka Herald, Gordy Galbraith, who has a beautiful cabin on the Bentley side of Gull Lake, and took us out many times in his nifty pontoon boat in search of some really big jackfish, and a few nice pickerel. He always loved to clean them on the fish rack beside his cabin, so the rest of us sat back and watched until they were ready for the BBQ, then broke open the beer and enjoyed a meal fit for a king until long after the sun went down. My wife’s father was also an avid fisherman and we also enjoyed many weekend sessions at Medicine Lake, Buck Lake, Buffalo Lake and all the rest, but by that time we had to take along the kids, and they would usually manage to get the lines tangled up, got snagged with a hook, or made so much noise that it scared all the fish away.
So why, you ask, is fishing so good for the mind? It is the perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and go stressless, to visit with friends, and to silently contemplate about your future plans as you dangle your bobber in the water and wait for something to happen. Do you remember when good old Huckleberry Finn used to tie the line to his toe, and then had a snooze until he felt a big tug? I love to go for a stroll and watch the seniors and youngsters fish for those lively little trout that will soon be stocked at Centennial Pond in the Lion’s Park, while a real challenge now for the wiliest of fisher folk is using barbless hooks, which makes it a real skill and thrill to land the fish on the line, but a whole lot easier to toss it back after you have taken a picture. One old timer told me that you should only take home what you can eat or give away to the neighbours, and the laws and restrictions are pretty strict now because the fish population has dropped drastically. Boating rules and courtesy are also very important, and include not overloading the boat, not standing up and rocking the boat, always wear a lifejacket, reel in your lines if some-one else yells ‘I got one’, and remember that patrols are out on the water watching for liquor or other violations.
Whatever the case, many of us will always be ‘fish and chip’ fanatics, while others claim that all ‘finned creatures’ contain lots of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are good for heart health and many other things that might ail us. Have a safe and great fishing season, try to help a youngster get the really big thrill of catching his or her first fish, and have a great week, all of you.