Learning to cast a line in the water isn’t just about filling stringers full of fish, although for some, including me, that’s no insignificant objective. Learned well, angling is a skeleton key that can unlock our understanding of the natural world.
The naturalist angler learns about stream insects, water types, even the sort of teeth a fish might have.
Goldeye, for instance. You don’t find them around Yellowknife very often but you certainly do on the south side of Great Slave Lake. The name of the genus they belong to, Hiodon, literally means “tongue tooth.”
Some years ago, there was a big fuss after a fish from Lake Athabasca turned up that appeared to have two mouths.
It was actually a decomposing goldeye whose heavy, bony tongue had fallen through the rotten flesh of its lower jaw – thus, making it look like it had two mouths.
Anyway, that toothy tongue helps goldeye catch and devour its favourite food, mainly insects that have fallen into the water.
It also makes them hard to catch because there is nowhere for the hook to dig into.
I know this from experience, standing on the shore of the Hay or Buffalo River and cursing their name as dozens of tempting fish dimpled the water and stayed uncaught.
I’m a middle-aged man whose had time to make some wise or not so wise observations over the years. My two-year-old son Mason, on the hand, at this stage of the game, is simply happy to jump up and down and scream, “Big fish, big fish!” whether one is present or not.
Mason and I have been fishing together since last winter, or I should more properly state, he has been destroying my fishing tackle since last winter.
But that’s OK. It’s all part of growth and learning.
So what if he dumped two of daddy’s ice scoops down the ice hole or feeds all his expensive, rubber swimbaits to his pet dinosaurs.
His older sister Alexie has already become a somewhat accomplished angler with seven species under her belt, including some really neat ones from down south, such as fallfish, pumpkinseed and channel catfish.
Mason is also very keen to do the catching.
We’re still having a few problems executing, which means we usually both wind up very wet.
He has a whole lifetime to develop the passion and knowledge, and I hope he does, of course.
A much maligned creek
Being that this Yellowknifer is a special edition on kid sports I find it appropriate to dedicate a column to youth and fishing, and to bless it on the banks of the much maligned Baker Creek, which despite its proximity to Giant Mine, is a fun little place to bring the kids and observe nature in action.
Before the spring fishery was closed, a local group called the Fly Kid Foundation had erected a number of informative signs about the fish that – even after decades of contamination that had rendered the creek entirely fishless – had returned within the past couple decades to spawn.
Even though mining has ceased and water from the mine is treated before entering Baker Creek, arsenic levels remain high.
Nonetheless, every year it is typically the first body of water around Yellowknife to show life as grayling and pike, and then longnose suckers come to spawn.
Unfortunately, while a lot of people enjoy fishing a great many of them don’t know how to handle them. I must confess that includes my young son.
They drag them up onto rocks and rub off their scales, or are otherwise unprepared for the M.A.S.H. surgery of trying to remove deeply embedded hooks from a pike’s jaws.
The people and the rough handling proved too much and thus fishing was banned during the spring spawning run in 2013.
Personally, I think it would be helpful to have some educational programs tied to the classroom and sport fishing licences when people are buying them for the first time.
For now, it’s up to us, the parents and the guardians, to teach children to do it right.
If we can do accomplish they will love it even more and the fisheries will remain when it comes time to teach their children.