Fishing community is a family

As another National Fishing Week (July 3 – 11 this year) ends, I am amazed at how my attitude to it has changed in the 11 years it has been in existence.

Bob enjoys his last wade through the Cabin Pool; the legs are indeed the first to go.

Bob enjoys his last wade through the Cabin Pool; the legs are indeed the first to go.

As another National Fishing Week (July 3 – 11 this year) ends, I am amazed at how my attitude to it has changed in the 11 years it has been in existence.

In its early years I was just too busy taking myself and others fishing to notice an event aimed at raising the profile of recreational fishing and increasing angler numbers; but anglers age and change, too

There’s the old debate: do the eyes go first, or the legs, or vice versa? Angling author Arnold Gingrich wrote this in his The Joys of Trout: “wielding a fly rod is the most fun you can have standing up.” But what if you can no longer stand up (wade) in running water, and risk your life if you try, because you lack the leg strength to get up if you fall in?

Suddenly I realize my perspective has changed back to what it was 60 years ago, when I was consumed by the urge to fish and plotted and schemed to start my dad fishing, so he could take me, and increase my mobility beyond the range of my bike. From my bankside seat last week, as far as I can see upstream, is the ford I helped my Dad cross 34 years ago, then went back, picked up son John, then 4, and packed him across, like a wriggly football under my arm.

As we crossed, John chattered like a Kingfisher the words I am hearing loud and clear now: “That’s nice. Today you help Grandad and me across. Some day I’ll help you across.”

Far down the steep bank from where I am sitting is the Cabin Pool. If I managed safely to descend that bank, I’d never get up it again. The pool itself is best fished from the far side and, to get there, you must cross fast, navel-deep water, around and about huge, slippery boulders, a wade that has given many an able-bodied angler an impromptu swim.

Three years ago, on a fine September afternoon, John helped me across and stood lifeguard duty as I enjoyed a great day on the pool I have fished more often than any other since I came to central Alberta in 1962. When the fish stopped coming, we waded slowly and carefully back and have not tried it since, but those angling urges are strong as ever.

About that same time I took a picture from where I sit now of an old and older angling friend plying a wading staff and wading his way carefully up the Cabin Pool. Why haven’t I seen him fishing the creek, even once, since?

The websites and pamphlets of National Fishing Week explain that it “promotes our favorite outdoor pastime … an excellent and affordable outdoor activity … that brings families together in a meaningful way.” That’s not half of it: fishermen are an extended family, one of the biggest, best and closest there is and now that it is no longer safe for me to fish alone, I am starting to realize and reap the benefits of my membership in that family.

Fellow fishermen understand the hell of yearning to go, but not being able to fish without more help than just a wading staff. Recently my friend Todd Irwin helped me to the ideal spot for me to cast from the bank and help him with the slack line cast. I can’t wade, but I can fish from a drift boat. Next week, kindly fellow anglers are taking me on my first Bow River float trip in several years and my inbox contains a couple of other offers of fishing from boats.

The extended fishing family cares, not just about other family members, but about the resources upon which all outdoors recreations depend. Increasing the family size is important in these days of fewer and fewer government watchdogs against the exploiters and despoilers of habitats, human and those of our fish and wildlife.

Coincidentally, on the last day of National Fishing Week, a call comes from the old and older friend, last seen with wading staff in the Cabin Pool. He hasn’t been fishing in at least a couple of years, he told me; his knees have gone beyond wading rocky streams.

But he still cares enough about those streams, and his legs are still strong enough for a long walk to look at the machine mess made by a subdivision owner along a quarter mile of the banks and shores of a truly fine trout stream. What do I know about it, he asked?

I know that the subdivision approval of a former owner required him to donate a ten-foot public reserve along the stream. Thus, the new owner is destroying public, not his own land and you can bet we, wonky legs or not, and other anglers are going to do something about it.

To paraphrase Calvin and Hobbes: “Is this a family, or what?

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