As we approach the Alberta Free Family Fishing weekend, I can’t help but think back on several great family fishing trips. Some stand out because of the stunning location, others because of the fish that were caught.
My first serious fishing trip came when I travelled to Gardner Lake, a fly-in lake in Alberta. Also on the trip was my new (at the time– I’m still married to the same guy) husband and three of his friends. Okay, so they planned the trip and I invited myself. The tiny plane with floats landed on the pristine lake and we were taxied along to a dock where we disembarked and unloaded our gear. We followed the path to a rough cabin with– one room. It held three sets of bunk-beds, a tiny kitchen along one wall with a window looking out over the lake, with a propane cooker, wood stove, old chrome and formica table and chairs, and no running water. Oh, and the “bathroom” was out back in it’s own little house, otherwise known as an “outhouse.” We all slept in our clothes and there were no showers that weekend, although I took a dip in the lake. I have never heard snoring like that before or since, and I vowed I would leave the men’s trips to them in future, and my husband I would have our own family fishing trips.
The first thing one of the guys did was to set-up a contest. Each day, the one who caught the largest fish would win a prize. Dan had brought little prizes with him, including lures and other outdoor/fishing miscellany. I’d brought along my SLR camera, so while I was preoccupied snapping stunning white pelicans (in northern Alberta?), my husband fished in our boat while the others were also fishing in aluminum boats at other spots on the lake.
After I grew tired of taking photos, I dangled my line in the water. There were a few schools of White Fish around, so we would pull anchor and move; when we catch that type of fish, we did not seem to catch Walleye, which was our goal. White Fish are very boney and the Indigenous people fed them to their dog teams rather than eat them. Once we found a good spot with some variation in the bottom topography, we began to get bites. One of the guys, Brian, was extremely competitive. He determinedly fished all day. Every now and again, my husband and I could hear a shout from another boat some distance away as someone pulled-in a nice one. Towards the end of the day, when we were hungry, not when the sun went down since in the north the sun barely goes down in the summer, we were about to call it quits when I felt a strong tug on my line. I thought I had snagged bottom. Then the “bottom” began to move.
I was careful to keep the tip of my rod up and the line taut. I reeled in slow and steady. As it neared the boat, the Walleye thrashed and shook its head, making me tense-up, thinking I might lose it. I kept the pressure on and finally had it close enough to the boat so my husband could scoop the net under it and pull it safely into the boat. We pulled anchor and headed for shore.
Once on the dock, we did the weigh-in of the day’s catch. Brian was beaming as he had caught a Walleye that looked like the largest of them all. His weighed in at four and half pounds. He was already bragging and strutting around with his chest puffed out. My fish was weighed last.
It was the largest fish I had ever caught. It had barbed fins and bulging eyes. Since I was quite new to fishing, I was not into holding them up for the camera. I let my husband do that. He scooped the scale-hook through its gills and lifted it up. The needle slid back and forth for a few seconds until it settled on five pounds. “Dee is the winner!” Dan called out, using my nick-name. I beamed, but feeling a twinge of pity for Brian who had wanted to win so badly, I patted his back and said, “It’s okay, Brian. Mine is only half a pound more.”
All the guys laughed uproariously. Brian had been beaten by someone new to fishing.
Since that trip, my man and I have fished in many places in Alberta as well as British Columbia. We spent many hours fishing on Canada’s West Coast, particularly on the Georgia Straight: fly fishing on the Little Qualicum River, and down-rigger fishing out between the little islands, such as Gabriola and Lasquitti. We were surprised by sudden gales a couple of times with ocean swells as tall as a two-story house, and I kissed the ground when we returned to shore, but it won’t stop me from going out again.
My father-in-law, who raised my husband to be a fisherman, always had one sort of boat or other. We caught an incredible variety of sea-life from his boat: ling-cod, blue-backs (young salmon), larger Coho and Springs, and several sharks which he snagged with his gaff-hook. I miss those early-morning trips, when we would set-up the down-riggers with our lines clipped on, put them in the rod-holders and then I’d catch a few winks until the bell on the end of a line jingled. I’d start up and grab my rod and reel-in like a son-of-a-bride because the line was down fifty or eighty feet. Most often there was nothing on, but Tom had a fish-finder so we tried to find the schools of salmon and follow them around the Straight. When the bite was on, we really cleaned-up. Tom had a routine of filling his quota and then canning fish in a giant pressure-cooker filled with glass jars. Every year, he would give us cases of canned salmon. As for the blue-backs, they were best enjoyed straight on the BBQ, including their crisped-up skin.
I really miss those fishing trips, all the canned salmon, and Tom–but mostly I just miss my father-in-law, Tom. He was a great dad. We enjoyed many great outings fishing as a family.