Fish are jumpin’

Fishing is a sport that is in the blood, not in the mind

Roy MacGregor August 17 1981

Fish are jumpin’

Fishing is a sport that is in the blood, not in the mind

Roy MacGregor August 17 1981

Fish are jumpin’


Fishing is a sport that is in the blood, not in the mind

Roy MacGregor

No mysteries here. This boat is not under control, but in control. There is nothing Bob Izumi does not know about the northern shoal off ever on Sturgeon Lake. The water temperature is precisely 63.5°F.; a switch beneath the steering column tells him that. The depth here is six feet, no more, no less, and the stern sonic sounder can be double-checked against the independent readout in the bow. Izumi could, if he thought it necessary, check the water with a pH meter to determine if it is the right alkaline condition for pickerel, or he could use his special disc to see if the light penetration is to that species’ liking. But it’s not necessary: the graph paper readout over the instrument panel shows none of the nervous eyebrows that mean the sonar has detected any fish. No mysteries here. No use even bothering.

Izumi pushes the throttle forward and the beat rises slowly, plowing; then, like a slingshot, the 150-horsepower outboard throws it into a hyperspace plane along the fingertips of light waves. At 100 km/h it is impossible to look anywhere but straight ahead, wincing. To the side rolls the early green of Ontario’s Kawartha hills; above, high cirrus clouds hang sheers before the sun; but in the boat below there is only the speeding tunnel toward tomorrow, the fourth-annual CanadaU.S. Walleye Tournament in which Izumi, in partnership with his brother, Wayne, is entered as Canada’s first professional sports fisherman. The boat hurls on toward the rented cottage where a fishing magazine has fallen open to an article entitled HOW TO CATCH TROPHY WALLEYES. Last night, Izumi fell asleep reading it, office work as much as escape, and when he moved from the printed dream to his usual dreams, the only difference was that he no longer had to turn the pages.

££ V W e would dream that the sumI mer was nearly gone and he -M—M.hadn’t been fishing,” Ernest Hemingway wrote. “It made him feel sick in the dream, as though he had been in jail.” And so, with a buttered June sun thick along a secluded twist of the Madawaska River, Ottawa businessman Doug Sprott found himself at midweek letting his energy consulting business take care of itself. Here there were no calls, no traffic, not even another person, only the quickening heartbeat of a drumming partridge, a mallard anxious about her nest, the soft kiss of a paddle in clear water. He fished in the black water of the shadowed south side, a hook, a worm and some hope, the world slipping away with every cast. “If you’re too busy to go fishing,” old Pete McGillen once wrote in his Toronto Telegram outdoors column, “you’re too busy.” By day’s end there wasn’t even a fish worth keeping, but Sprott would be the last to say he had left empty-handed.

There are no longer catches such as that recorded by Napoléon Comeau on Quebec’s Godbout River on July 9,1874, when, fly-fishing alone, he landed 57 salmon with a net weight of 288 kg. Even so, this year some six million Canadians will Go Fishin’. They will be joined by more than a million foreigners: Japanese, West Germans, but mostly Americans, ranging from former Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, who owns his own lodge on New Brunswick’s legendary Miramichi River, to the packed 737 jetliners flying nonstop from Minneapolis, Minn., to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. Whether it’s by the standby dew worm, as Doug Sprott was using, or by the Space Invaders technology of a Bob Izumi, some 300 million Canadian fish will be caught. There will be blackand-white snapshots of children’s first sunfish and full-color blowups of halftonne bluefin tuna. And more than anything else, there will be lies.

Rev. Elmer J. Smith will wade the cool waters of Burpee Bar on the St.

John River, near Fredericton, a spot that he argues “may be one of the best salmon pools in the whole world,” and which has become so incredibly popular that a shore sign has to be posted to ensure proper etiquette is observed by the crowded boats lining up to fish down through the pool. Such activity would hardly be to the liking of Sandy Ings, an assistant buyer for a Winnipeg sporting goods chain, who likes the isolation of northern Manitoba lakes so well she even has her own half-ton and sleeping cab. “Sometimes I fish alone, but I never feel lonely,” she says.

“Sometimes getting away alone is the best way of getting your head together after work.” For Ings, the reward of a good day is a meal of lake trout, as fresh from the lake as the pan.

But sustenance for the stomach has nothing to do with the type of angling sought by Ehor Boyanowsky, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. By catching and releasing nine-kilogram steelhead on British Columbia’s Thompson River, he feeds his head through what he calls “Zen fishing.” Boyanowsky even writes poetry about his experiences: A time for the Island, thrumming with the expectation of rebiti h/The hillsides are drenched blood-red with salmon berries.

Fishing is a recreation so taken for granted that it is difficult to grasp its immensity and increasing popularity. It involves fully a quarter of the population and an annual economy in the neighborhood of $3 billion. With money so tight that some leisure activities, racket sports, for example, have seen sales fall by as much as 30 per cent, it is remarkable to note that boat sales in 1981 are booming, and fishing tackle sales are approaching an annual $200-million level.

Yet such popularity requires no explanation for Montreal’s Dave Delcloo. When he arrived one recent weekday at 5 a.m. to try his luck along Rivière des Prairies, he found 15 fishermen had risen even earlier. The following Sunday, this time after shad on the Milles Isles River, Delcloo lost a beauty: “I had it, but there were 25 people below me, and so my line ended up wrapped around 25 pairs of legs.”

Such crowds pale when compared to what the mouth of Lake Ontario’s Credit River will be like in September, when the salmon begin their fall run, or what it can sometimes be like in B.C.’s Georgia Strait, where a recent survey discovered there are 79,190 pleasure boats, most of them bought and used specifically for recreational fishing. For those who prefer not to fish from stuffed telephone booths there is, of course, escape. But it costs. To be one of the 140 or so taking the MS Lord Selkirk II from Selkirk, Man., to Beren’s River for five days of exotic pickerel fishing runs $565, and that doesn’t even include small boat or bar costs. Wealthier anglers can fly in to Harry Connolly’s lodges at Mingan on Quebec’s North Shore where, for around $225 a day, Harry will even play the honky-tonk piano during the evening cocktails. There’s Bransons Lodge on Great Bear Lake where, for $1,645 a week, one can challenge for the lodge’s enviable trophy records (a 29-kg lake trout and 13kg arctic char, among them) and enjoy

Cornish hen and freshly flown-in ice cream at night. Anyone wanting to join the 140 West Germans coming this summer to Rosie’s Lakeshore Cottages on Ontario’s Lake of the Woods is out of luck, though. Owner AÍ Windsor has been booked solid since April.

For some, the distance is not in air miles but in years, to return again to what Hemingway called “the old feeling” that fishing brings on in a person. Others, such as Canada’s late and renowned fishing authority Roderick Haig-Brown (see box, page 42), go because, to them, rivers forever remain “places of enchantment.” But it may be best put not by a famous writer but by a typical Canadian angler, Fredericton housewife Sheila Reed, who can often be found at the Burpee Bar as dawn fries off the last mists of a warm summer’s night. “It’s a beautiful way to start the day off,” she says. “There’s no telephone—and no kids screaming for peanut butter.”

At the Bobcaygeon, Ont., curling rink 250 men sit down to the walleye tournament dinner. Thanks to baseball hats and shallow breaths, they imagine themselves athletes of the first order, filling the air with hyperbole and their bellies with beer. Bob and Wayne Izumi wisely decide to make an early night of it, knowing that 6:30 a.m., and the official start, will soon arrive and some of their opponents will need to be helped into their boats. The Izumis will use this time to sleep and to make some final decisions on what to fish with; not bait, which is forbidden, but tackle. It is not a light decision. Bob Izumi has a half-dozen rods with him and a massive box of intricate lures. And this is already after a great deal of decision. Back home in Blenheim, Ont., there are another 30 rods and perhaps 10,000 lures.

Fishing has, until recently, been far more traditional than innovational. Claudius Aelian noted as far back as 200 BC that his artificial flies worked best along the current edges, and Izaak Walton, when he published his landmark The Compleat Angler in 1653, was still concerned with the same basics. But today even Bob Izumi could be said to be rather restrained in his approach to fishing. He does not use a citizen’s-band radio, as some do; he has no sonar video sounder capable of interfacing with a cassette tape recorder for permanent records of lake bottoms, as many do; he does not use a sophisticated trolling gauge, a hand-held digital depth finder or even invest his money in a mystical so-called 100-year-old gypsy scent to wash over his lures. Nor is his boat equipped with downriggers, diabolical contraptions which, by using heavy lead weights and trip levers, allow fisher-

men to get their light line and lures down into the deep holes where, legend has always held, the true lunkers hide.

Naturally, many of the more tradition-bound anglers are outraged by this trend. “Trout fishing is an art,” says George Boddington, a ministerial aide to the Ontario government, who treasures his quiet fly-fishing on the Beaver River. “It used to be, anyway. Call me a snob, if you want, but fishing is getting like downhill skiing. They’ve got downriggers, electric calls, lures that look like fish, smell like fish and, for all I know, taste like fish. I’m waiting for the

new micro-chip lure that can sing 10,000 variations of the salmon song. When they make fishing high-tech it’s just not the same anymore.”

“It’s all fishing,” counters Bob Izumi. “It’s like golf. Some do it to relax; some have to compete. But the guy in the rowboat benefits from our type of fishing. We’re finding out things and passing them along—new lures, new techniques, new knowledge about fish. And heck, we don’t even keep what we catch.”

That fishing has been revolutionized by this new Star Wars arsenal of gear has been with one purpose in mind: the

growth of competitive fishing. “I was out the other day with a guy and he wanted to win so badly I could smell it on him,” says Bob Izumi. “We weren’t even in a tournament. Just fishing. A lot of people would hate that, I know. But I loved it. It was super.”

These electronic devices—called

“disco fishing” by detractors—show up first at the fishing derbies which, while not yet to the manic state of the United States, are becoming increasingly common in Canada. Some American professionals are said to make upward of $200,000 a year in winnings and endorsements—the life Bob Izumi dreams about at night—but a winner in Canada, say of the Bobcaygeon walleye tournament, could expect to take home only $7,000 in cash and prizes. However, the delight Bob Izumi and the eager manufacturers feel is not universally shared. “At best,” Haig-Brown said of

the derbies, “they are a perversion of the real nature of the sport; at worst they can be seriously damaging to the resource itself.”

In light of this, many derbies have moved into “catch-and-release” rules. At Bobcaygeon, for example, anglers received a 57-gram bonus for all fish successfully released alive after weigh-in. Fully 92.5 per cent of the hundreds of fish caught were returned to the water virtually unharmed. Many of the anglers there shared Wayne Izumi’s simple philosophy: “Once you eat them, you can’t catch them again.”

Even fishermen not bound by derby rules have made their own decision to fish with grace. Dave Delcloo of Montreal lets his best catches go free after a quick photograph. “Fishermen who kill

their limit every day are looked down on,” says Ehor Boyanowsky, the B.C. Zen fisherman.

There has been some effort to legislate fairer fishing, but it has not always been successful. Fly-fishing only is the law for salmon in Nova Scotia, and Manitoba has had a GO BARBLESS program for the past three years, aimed at getting anglers to use less-damaging hooks. In Ontario, however, an effort this spring to ban downrigger use in a small area of eastern Ontario where lake trout were being over-fished was vigorously protested by fishermen who feared the law might spread to the larger lakes, and might eventually include a ban on sonar fish finders. The government, unable to provide statistics to back its suspicions, backed down.

Similarly, when federal legislation would have forced the use of barbless hooks in British Columbia two years ago, resort owners fought and the government once again capitulated. On the West Coast this year, downriggers were actually banned between February and the end of June, but when anglers and manufacturers yelled, the regulation was suddenly lifted at the end of April.

When it comes to fair-play arguments, the quiet fish have little chance against the vested interests. Their defence, could they make it, might well echo what Roderick Haig-Brown wrote in 1976: “The word sport, in any connotation, implies a sense of generosity toward the opponent, a desire to meet and test honourably under conditions fair enough to ensure that the outcome is uncertain.”


ome fishing is better than others; but there is no such thing 'as bad fishing,” Maj. J.W. Hills wrote in his 1921 History of Fly-fishing. There are cases, however, of tragic fishing. At Montreal’s McGill University, Professor L.D. Spraggs has been taking effluent deemed fit for dumping and, by further diluting it to a mere one one-thousandth of its initial level, has scientifically demonstrated that fish will purposely avoid any contact with this virtually undetectable pollutant. “There’s intelligence there which we hadn’t suspected,” says Spraggs. “They are smart enough to start moving from the chemicals at the same levels we can detect them ourselves.” For those who wonder why salmon will often suddenly quit a traditional spawning ground, thereby effectively committing suicide, there is more than a subtle hint here. When Campbell River lodge owners in B.C. began fighting, so far successfully, a proposed $50-million coal stripmining project which would be dumping silt and heavy metals into feeding streams, they knew that the salmon were threatened with death and

they themselves with an end to their livelihood.

Far more insidious, however, is the continuing acid rain problem. In Ontario, 140 lakes are already dead, and 48,000 threatened. In Nova Scotia, Jim Gourlay of the provincial Salmon Association predicts there will soon be 22 fewer salmon rivers, in addition to the nine already lost to acid rain. With lit-, tie hope in the foreseeable future—one of Ronald Reagan’s early acts as president of the largest acid rain producer in the world was to replace the head of the Environmental Protection Agency,

Douglas Costle, easily the single American most sympathetic to the Canadian dilemma—the early despair regarding acid rain is, in some cases, giving way to cynicism. One natural resources manager in the Sudbury, Ont., area, where Inco Ltd. spews out some 1,200 tonnes of sulphuric acid daily, says that he has decided to ignore the very catch limit rules he was originally hired to protect. “I may as well catch as many as I can before there’s none left,” was his rationalization.

In pollution’s tragic assault on the freshwater fisheries there is, however,

one exception—hopefully the one to prove the rule. Alberta’s Bow River is a wide mountain-fed stream which twists through Calgary and then, for a 65-km stretch, offers up what is considered by many to be the finest trophy rainbow trout stream in the world, full of ninekilogram fighters whose natural growth has mushroomed in the nutrient-rich sewage that the city dumps in daily. There is even a Bow River Protection Society which lobbies politicians to protect this habitat where, naturally, catch-and-release is a necessity rather than a rule. The fish are beautiful to see, challenging to catch, but, says one who fishes the Bow, there is little to be said for broiled rainbow trout that has been “marinated in a toilet bowl.”

It is difficult to cheer the Bow River. True excess fish stories are rare and to be treasured: the marvellous stocking of coho and Chinook salmon in the Great Lakes over the past 15 years; the rivers leading into James Bay; the magic of the Northwest Territories where it is at times impossible to take a single cast without snaring a three-kilogram great northern pike (Greg Robertson, president of the Territories Fish and Game Club, once caught one on the anchor string of a duck decoy he was setting in the water). The renowned fishing holes, such as New Brunswick’s Miramichi, are indisputedly in decline. The sports anglers blame the commercial fishermen, the large net catches of the native population and the polluters, and small, but not insignificant, blame is also aimed at the obsessed individual fishermen who insist on measuring their own self-worth in fish flesh.

“We all start out as fish hogs at

heart, I suppose,” wrote Arnold Gingrich, former Esquire publisher and noted fly-fisherman, “but if we stick to it long enough we finally educate ourselves out of it.” For too many North Americans fish size is like breast size, the bigger the better, and the magazine racks are filled with glossy American tributes to the notion that only the “lunkers” are worth going after. HaigBrown pitied this “awkward machismo” and it is perhaps worth noting that the largest of what many Canadians believe to be the finest of game fish, the lake trout, was a 46-kg monster taken by net from Saskatchewan’s Lake Athabasca, and that scientists later discovered that the fish had grown to this preposterous size because it had been incapable of taking part in the spawn. The fish was born without gonads.

44 V V owever bad the sport, it keeps B-1 you young, or makes you AXyoung again,” wrote Andrew Lang in 1890. “It’s a Walter Mitty kind of dream,” says Wayne Izumi of his brother’s ambition to make a living by doing nothing but fishing. But Bob Izumi believes in it strongly enough to have gone, then unemployed, to a bank manager for a $10,000 loan to buy the boat that seems to do most of the work. But to say Bob Izumi is idle would be a lie. “People keep coming up to me and laughing and asking me, ‘How do I get an application for this job?’ ” he says. “But they don’t realize how much time and money and effort I’ve put into this. They think I’ve just gone fishin’. Well, I haven’t.”

He refers, for example, to his homework. As fishing becomes more and more like computer science, the pressure builds on one who cares enough to keep up. No Gregory Clark tales for him: Izumi reads voraciously about esoteric topics such as “neutral or negative fishing moods,” wonders whether “total angling” is the next obvious step beyond “structure fishing,” studies the walleye suspension effect, the edge effect, the new technique of flipping casts for bass. The payoff this weekend was a disappointing seventh-place finish and cheque for $150 each, but someday, he’s convinced, he will walk off with something like the $25,000 first-place prizes they offer at the big American tournaments. All thanks to dedication, study and “maybe 10-per-cent” luck.

For most anglers, however, fishing is the opposite of being goal-oriented. For them, fishing is in the blood, not the mind. It does not have a beginning, or an end, and it does not require explaining. “My father was that way,” says Dave Symonds, an avid trout and salmon fisherman from Dartmouth, “and his father before him.” And one day his own children will tack on the obvious next line.

Ernest Hemingway’s final letter, written three weeks before his suicide, was to a nine-year-old boy in a hospital. Showing no signs of his own massive depression, Hemingway turned to what he believed would cheer anyone up, no matter how ill they were. “Saw some good bass jump in the river,” he wrote and then signed off. And Roderick Haig-Brown once wrote, speculating on what might happen should he, by chance, be somehow aware of his own passing, “I shall think, among other things, of the fish I haven’t caught and the places I haven’t fished.”

He knew, as all Canadian anglers should, that he wasn’t going to heaven—he was leaving it.

With files from Anne Beirne, Michael Cluyston, David Folster, Malcolm Gray, Gordon Legge, Ann MacGregor, Anna Prodanou, David Thomas.