Does anyone else out there in Wild Rose Country remember when fishing was pure fun that did not involve plodding through 96 letter-size pages of regulations just to find out where and when you can go and what you can legally do when you get there?
In those good old days you could even legally keep a few fresh stream-caught trout to eat, one of the greatest gifts of the gods; all you needed to know to be legal was what “trout” were and how to count them.
On the one hand, I get the glad tidings that a government — stakeholder task force is working on shortening and simplifying the sportfishing regulations by 2015; on the other hand, anyone fishing in Alberta may soon have to take and pass a test on trout and char identification before being permitted to keep any trout from east slope rivers and streams.
That last suggestion is contained in the recently-released April, 2013 report, “Salmonid Misidentification by Anglers,” by ERSD biologists Jim D. Stelfox and Jennifer E. Earle.
A wide range of anglers, in terms of experience, took a test involving identifying from pictures fish found in our east slope rivers and streams.
The average first-attempt overall score was 57 per cent, and bull trout, on which there has been a zero limit in Alberta since 1995, was correctly identified only 46 per cent of the time.
Results improved on subsequent testing but only after training the subjects with key identification points.
This was bad news for biologists who would like to increase creel limits on non-native fish, brook trout for sure, and probably also rainbow and brown trout, in an effort to protect native species (“threatened”west slope cutthroat and “at risk” bull trout) from being out-competed and/or hybridized by the hardy non- natives.
So, the report says, passage of an identification test might enable permitting “harvest of more trout in flowing waters on the east slopes while reducing the potential for harvest of protected trout due to misidentification.”
Sadly, Alberta’s native bull and cutthroat trout were well on their way to doom more than half a century ago from degradation and destruction of their largely wilderness habitats by the resource extraction ravages we permit.
Without the introduction of exotic species (brook trout excluded) that better handle siltation and pollution, we would have little stream trout fishing left in Alberta today.
That said, Alberta has a long and humorous history and tradition of misnaming and misidentifying fish.
For example, it was only in 1984 that biologists told us our native char is really the bull trout and not the Dolly Varden trout as we (including biologists) had been calling it forever.
As a kid, I was a fanatic about the flora, fauna, fungi and insecta that inhabited my world, and learning their habits and names.
Among my ancient archives is a well worn little book, Fresh Water Fish, A Guide Book Illustrated in Color, that I pored over and was frustrated by 65 years ago.
The book’s Pickerel looked more like our pike than the fish every Albertan then called a “pickerel,” but which the book called a Walleyed Pike, which looked nothing like a pike, but more like its real relative, the perch.
At the Bassano Dam on the Bow River, anglers frequently caught what they called “steelhead,” but which I knew had to be simply rainbow trout.
Recently Superstore has started labeling what they formerly sold as “steelhead trout” as “steelhead salmon,” a creature unknown in nature.
Don’t even get me started on what people called “grayling” when I first fished in central Alberta in the early ‘60’s, which looked nothing like the grayling in my little book (and later caught in the Little Smoky and the Berland Rivers) because they were really rocky mountain whitefish.
Heaven forbid that we should ever get into puzzling over hybrids: cutbows, tiger trout, and bulllkies, etc..
My dad could unfailingly identify hundreds of native and exotic plants.
But everything was simply “trout” that he and the cook would catch to feed the entire logging camp back in the ‘20’s from a Bull River tributary in the East Kootenays.
When I was 14 and we were so far up the North Fork of the Belly River that we were probably in Montana grizzly country, I conducted a tutorial for the old man on the names of the two very different trout of which we were creeling possession limits: the fat, gaudy throat-slashed native west slope cutthroats and the slim native char, the bull trout with the pink spots on a grey background, the same species he and the cook caught all those years ago.
But it never stuck; just as I fear fish identification will never stick with most Alberta anglers.
I also know that the last time I tried the North Fork there wasn’t a trout to be found in it, native or otherwise, and that misidentification had nothing to do with it.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.