Fishing is fine, but beware of thin ice

I can’t stop shivering just thinking about the angler who was recently fished out of the lower Bow River in very tough shape, then hauled off to hospital.

A brown trout poses nicely in open water on the Red Deer River tailwater on Boxing Day.

A brown trout poses nicely in open water on the Red Deer River tailwater on Boxing Day.

I can’t stop shivering just thinking about the angler who was recently fished out of the lower Bow River in very tough shape, then hauled off to hospital.

In summer, some of the best fishing days are cool, dark, and drizzly. In winter, quite the opposite: the best days always seem to be during those sunny, warm spells after periods of deep cold, days that lure anglers to Alberta’s few running waters where non-ice fishing for trout might be found.

Great care must be taken, because shore and anchor ice on the bottom greatly increase the normal hazards of wading. Take a spill and you’ve got five, 10 minutes left, max, in the icy waters of even those Alberta rivers and streams that don’t freeze in winter.

The fishing is seldom fast, and rising fish are rare in winter, but the rewards of some fishing action as we head into darkest cabin fever season can be great.

A reliable venue for some winter fly fishing is the upper end of the North Raven River, and readers have been reporting good North Raven fishing since mid-November. Ken Short has had some good days up there with small brook trout taken on black beetle imitations.

The main hazard for me of the North Raven in winter was always the odd dunking, when the shore ice shelf I was standing on broke off and gave me a frigid, but fortunately shallow baptism.

From the open water of the Red Deer River tailwater below Dickson Dam, a few readers report some trout action. The ice hazards there are similar to those on the lower Bow, and the fishing is similar too, mostly streamers for fly fishers, Rapala plugs for the hardware-heavers.

Dwayne Schafers had an unusual Boxing Day bag using a favorite streamer pattern below Dickson Dam on the Red Deer River: first fish was a large, and rare for this water, rainbow trout; the next two were also large, but the more usual brown trout. Dwayne sends a net shot of the rainbow and an underwater portrait of one of the browns, among his first pictures taken with his new Pentax Optio W90 camera.

One of my favorite cabin fever treatments, to get my batteries charged and harvest a batch of stories, for more than 45 years now, has been my attendance at the annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Alberta’s largest and most widespread conservation organization. I’ll be going again this year, to the 82nd annual conference, February 24 – 26 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Centre in Edmonton.

Conference theme this year is “Saluting Volunteers in Conservation,” appropriate, considering a couple of major recent accomplishments of the AFGA’s more than 20,000 volunteers.

Most recently the AFGA joined with the Alberta Wilderness Association in blowing the whistle on and stopping “Potatogate,” the under the table selling off of 16,000 acres of rare and priceless native grassland, allegedly to grow potato chips.

Two years ago, AFGA opposition led to the end of the Interim Metis Harvesting Agreements, yet another under-the-table government initiative in wasting the heritage of all Albertans.

There has been much celebration of the recent Provincial Court wildlife act conviction of a Metis in one of the southern Alberta “test” cases Metis activists have set up to argue that their alleged aboriginal subsistence hunting rights have been violated by the current government policy that most Alberta Metis will be charged if they hunt out of season, without licences, etc.

Basically, the court ruled that this was not subsistence hunting at all. Rather these are deliberate violations of the law, solely to set up a test case, and anyway, there never was an identifiable Metis community in southern Alberta that traditionally hunted for subsistence.

My long legal experience tells me that we’ll soon realize this story is just getting started and that it has a long hang-time.

It has already taken more than three years to get just one of more than two dozen of these “test” cases through Alberta’s lowest court. The Metis have already appealed this first conviction, and they’ll go on until they run out of courts.

Meanwhile, the other pending similar cases will likely be adjourned until this first one runs its course. I may never know the final result.

I have always supported aboriginal hunting rights the Alberta government agreed to guarantee in return for what our natives had lost, or given up, in the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement whereby the government of Canada transferred Alberta land to the province. But I have always opposed the tendency to dole out more and more rights over our natural resources to anyone who asks and who hasn’t given up much of anything.

It is a good thing that “we” won this first “test” case at this first and lowest level; we are thus mercifully spared trying to persuade a penny-pinching, politically-correct, fish and wildlife-wasting Alberta government to appeal on “our” behalf.

Bob Scammell is an awarding winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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