Let’s get it straight on the barbless hook law

More than a decade after I retired from 37 years of practicing law, matters of law and public policy — politics, even — can still intrude on my thoughts, even as I am engaged in outdoors pursuits.

Hooks

Hooks

More than a decade after I retired from 37 years of practicing law, matters of law and public policy — politics, even — can still intrude on my thoughts, even as I am engaged in outdoors pursuits.

On one of the few perfect June mornings we have enjoyed thus far, I was delivering the news to a friend that his new rifle was in legal limbo, registered, maybe, not registered, who knows. There was documentary proof that the former owner had applied to register the rifle, but he never heard back, and especially did not receive a registration certificate.

Nobody seems to have better than a rough estimate, but the high end is that many thousands of gun registration applications are adrift out there in cyberspace somewhere, having been lost in the many computer crashes experienced by the billion dollar boondoggle that is our national gun registry.

Thus come evil thoughts of the stupid political posturing in Ottawa over the coming crucial vote on a pair of Private Members’ Bills to execute, terminate, end a gun registry which is demonstrably both ruinously expensive and utterly useless. The Bloc will vote as blockheads, Conservative and NDP members are free to vote as their consciences dictate, but Iggnay, the Liberal leader, has “whipped” the vote, ordering Liberal MPs to vote against ending the registry, totally against the tradition that votes on Private Members’ Bills should be free votes.

After several looks in several places, I decided that a favourite floatable creek was at perfect height and condition and the aquatic hatch timing was such that we should be thinking about a float fishing trip or two. As I cannot emphasize too often, nobody should ever embark on a float fishing trip from any kind of craft without first checking on their launch site and, even more important, where they hope to land and take out.

There are many floatable fishing rivers and streams in Central Alberta, but we are far behind Southern Alberta in the provision of public access sites with safe launch and take-out sites for boaters. The situation on the Red Deer River tailwater is a disgrace, until you are in the city itself, which has provided several launch-land sites.

But on virtually all other floatable-fishable rivers and streams in Central Alberta, there are no public access sites whatever, let alone with launching-landing facilities for boaters. Many miles of one of my favorite float-fishing streams are difficult to impossible to reach by land, especially dragging a boat. On my hunting wanderings one November I found a likely launch site for a day-long float down to a take out spot on a provincial highway. Beyond an unlocked gate and a sign, “Keep Gate Closed,” there was a short road through a grazing lease on public land to a low bank on the creek. Many times I have enjoyed drifts from there.

But late last year locks appeared on the gate, so I drove down this June morning for a look. There were two locks laced on the chain. While I was taking pictures an oilfield service worker drove up and opened the gate. He told me that they were oil company locks and that the grazing leaseholder had no right to keep people out, but he had no comment on why the oil companies could exclude the public. Bafflegab to rival any I heard, maybe even uttered, while practicing law.

On the way home we stopped by one of my favourite treasure hunting places anywhere, Caroline Supplies. Eventually I got to their hardware wall. It’s a good thing I buy spoons, spinners, plugs and jigs only once every five years or so, because it puts me in a foul mood.

Along the whole of what I estimate to be a 50-foot wall of thousands of lures from many manufacturers, I could find none with barbless treble hooks and only a few, from one manufacturer, with a barbed single hook.

It is illegal in Alberta for an angler “to use a hook that is not a barbless hook,” which “includes a hook the barbs of which are pressed against the shaft of the hook so that the barbs are not functional,” whatever that means.

So, why is it legal to sell nothing but lures with barbed hooks? Why should the angler have to replace the barbed trebles with barbless or pinch the barbs down to the satisfaction of some wildlife officer with his own diabolical test for a barb that is “not functional?”

What is truly non-functional is a government imposing the mandatory use of barbless hooks against the advice of its own biologists that going barbless is a useless tool in fisheries management. Because it makes it easier for anglers to extract the hooks from their own vital organs, some reply. Fine, make barbless optional, and let those who choose pinch down till they constipate, or have the guts to make it illegal to sell barbed hooks in Alberta.

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

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