Make removal of ice huts mandatory

Tom Maccagno, lawyer, former mayor of Lac La Biche, multi award winning environmental activist, naturalist, and a fine wildlife photographer died at 72 on Jan. 7th while undergoing heart surgery.

Tom Maccagno, lawyer, former mayor of Lac La Biche, multi award winning environmental activist, naturalist, and a fine wildlife photographer died at 72 on Jan. 7th while undergoing heart surgery.

I first became acquainted with Tom around the time I ran as a Liberal in the 1967 provincial election, when Tom’s father, Mike, was party leader. The electorate had their big chance, found me wanting, and I have accepted their decision ever since.

Tom also won a National Recreational Fisheries Award 10 years ago for his efforts to improve the fishery in his area, and was an engaged angler, particularly for yellow perch. As I read Ed Struzik’s Lifetimes tribute to the man in The Edmonton Journal, suddenly, as from his phone call to me from long-ago, Tom spoke again: “Bob, there are no three pound perch.”

Maccagno was giving me hell for a column I wrote supporting for the provincial record an alleged three-pound, 10-ounce (1.6 kg) perch caught in Sylvan Lake in 1976. The problems were that the angler was then 14, he promptly sat down and ate his trophy that was a full one pound six ounces heavier than the previous record perch and that Sylvan, as it does today, harboured both perch and close relative walleye.

No matter, heart strings were tugged, a circumstantial investigation was conducted, and it was determined the fish “must have been a walleye,” and the kid’s fish became the provincial record perch. Tom Maccagno was outraged, mainly because, he contended, Alberta waters simply do not produce three pound perch.

Eventually minds, including mine, changed, and the government concluded the fish was more likely a walleye and that it is just not good enough for credible records that someone claims he ate a record fish of this or that species. In 1989 the previous record perch was reinstated.

I checked the 2011 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations and was surprised to see that Tom Maccagno made it to his eternal rest with his perch prognostication intact, but barely, just by half an ounce.

Some time since 1989 a new record perch of two-pounds, 15.5-ounces has shown up, allegedly and variously taken either in Moose Lake, or Island Lake, in either 1982 or ’83, and probably by one Ron Hanchuk.

Obviously this is another of those “after the fact” entries that seem to afflict Alberta’s Sportfishing records. I am surprised I, or someone, hadn’t heard from Tom Maccagno on this one, right from when it first appeared as the new Alberta record perch. In Tom’s memory I am going to have a look at the supporting documentation for the current record perch.

My personal best Sylvan Lake perch, maybe 10 or 11 inches, was taken through the ice from about 20 feet down on a day when we otherwise caught only gazillions of three and four inchers. We used bobbers and had no hut — total old-style ice fishing.

Susan Samson, mayor of Sylvan Lake, can wax poetic on old-style ice fishing: “The sport of ice fishing has evolved over my lifetime.

I remember going out with my Dad to Wabamun to catch whitefish. We had a hand auger to cut the hole. We put down a flattened cardboard box covered with a sleeping bag to lie on and threw a blanket over our head to shut out the light. I remember looking down the hole with my nose inches from the water’s surface, gazing into the aquarium of the natural environment.

To actually watch a fish swim up and examine the hook and maybe, just maybe, take a bite . . . well, that was something.”

Something else altogether are the ice-fishing hovels that now huddle in “hot-spot” slums on the ice of many Central Alberta lakes — including Sylvan — too many of which become abandoned and derelict after the April Fool closure.

Last year there were still 25 huts on the softening and hazardous ice, 15 days after the season was over. These cheap shacks and all the junk they contain pollute the lake and its shores and can become hazardous to other recreational uses and users.

Voluntary hut registration and educational programs are being tried, and will probably help somewhat in having owners remove their fishing shacks and clean up the ice well before break-up.

But this is really a matter for provincial jurisdiction: the beds and shores of the lakes are public land and the water in them belongs to the province.

The province should make the registration of ice fishing huts and their removal by a fixed date mandatory. There would be little need for sanctions, as The Public Lands Act provides lots of those whenever law enforcement officers ever get around to looking at it.

Ooops! . . . How could I forget one of my favourite days and critters? It’s Groundhog Day! The best of your day to you, West Country Wilma, and all the little ground chucks that dwell under the shed with you.

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

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