Pining for a feed of fresh-caught, wild Alberta fish

Recently I received a letter from John Gierach, arguably our finest contemporary writer of angling literature, telling me, among other things, that he has another book, his 17th he “thinks,” coming out next spring.

Recently I received a letter from John Gierach, arguably our finest contemporary writer of angling literature, telling me, among other things, that he has another book, his 17th he “thinks,” coming out next spring.

He says he is having trouble coming up with yet another of his “smart ass” titles (Sex, Death and Fly Fishing, and Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders, for two examples) and his publisher is not enthused about Gierach’s more subdued suggestions.

Then I get a phone call from Barry White, legendary and long-time Bow River guide. I last heard from Barry about a year ago when he asked if I would be willing to write a forward for his first book, and I replied I might, but not without reading the book first. Now he wanted to deliver the typescript.

Gierach’s first book, Trout Bum, was published in 1986 and subsequent success has wiped his bumhood.

White, about the same age as Gierach, sticks with it, having earned what he claims is a below poverty-line income for the last 34 years, guiding anglers on the lower Bow and, in the off season, as a professional, no stuffing, no false whiskers Santa. Barry’s book, on the lower Bow, will feature his superb photography and, with work and editing, shows promise.

Recently Robert F. Kennedy Jr. came to Alberta for his Waterkeeper Alliance and told us, without disclosing his sources or evidence, that 90 per cent of fish in Alberta are inedible owing to pollution, etc., thus creating a major uproar. But if you think about it at all, you’ll yawn and respond: “So, who cares?”

The sadder fact is that, for some years now, Albertans have been forbidden by law from consuming our freshwater fish, mainly for reasons of resource mismanagement and based on inadequate science. Because of politically-correct and often unjustified applications of zero limits and catch and release regulations, a person who likes the occasional feast of fresh-caught fish has to go to some trouble — and travel — to satisfy the craving.

Bull trout? Zero limits throughout the province. Other wild trout species? Zero limits on streams that are already at carrying capacity and could sustain some harvest. Walleye: the favourite fishing — and eating — of a majority of Alberta anglers? Zero limits again in too many lakes and rivers that have good populations: Sylvan and Pine Lakes are examples, as is the Red Deer River tailwater.

An email just in from constant angler Kelsey Kure reminds me that some people enjoy eating Northern Pike from Lake Newell in winter, for example. But other people would just as soon eat unplucked porcupine. By the time I was 16 I had caught — and consumed — my life-time fill of pike from anywhere, Lake Newell included.

Trout from Alberta’s stocked potholes are no substitute for river or stream trout for many fish eaters: they taste of hatchery pellets, mud and weed. The supermarket sells hatchery trout tasting of those same feed pellets. There are sometimes walleye at incredible prices and more reasonable whitefish, but they never tell you if they come from allegedly polluted Alaberta waters.

Most Alberta anglers who relish an occasional treat would respond to Kennedy that if Alberta would just let us catch and cook a few of those too many zero-limit fish, we’d take our chances and enjoy every bite.

A deadly silence from the outdoors recreation/conservation community has met the recent promotion of Hon. Ted Morton from Alberta’s Sustainable Resource Development ministry to Finance and the demotion of Hon. Mel Knight from Minister of Energy to Minister of Sustainable Resource Development.

Dr. Morton was a leadership rival of Ed Stelmach, so the Premier parked him out of the way in SRD. But Morton, a professor, as well as an outdoors person — an avid hunter, angler, cooker and eater of his harvest — did a good job in SRD and proved to be a Stelmach loyalist.

More importantly, most Alberta recreationists/conservationists would grudgingly admit that Ted Morton is the best minister we have had since the long-ago days of Dr.Allan Warrack, Minister of Lands and Forests, what SRD was then called.

Mel Knight, is a three-term MLA from Grande Prairie/Smoky River. Knight’s biography on the ‘net discloses his entire career has been in oil and gas — Alberta’s non-renewable, non sustainable resource empire. The only signs of hope in Knight’s bio for some understanding of non-renewable resource issues — particularly as regards conflicts with energy — are that he has been a member of a local gun club, and that he now lives on and operates a large farm near Valleyview.

The quick cabinet shuffle has deprived the annual conference in Edmonton next month of the Alberta Fish and Game Association in Edmonton of hearing a swan song from Ted Morton. Instead delegates will be listening closely and taking the measure of Mr. Knight, trying to decide if we are back into the bad old “elevator days” of lame duck ministers on their way up – or down.

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