Delirium Piscatoria - Ernie Fedoruk's Corner
by Ernie Fedoruk
Depending on geography, the severity of "delirium piscatoria" - as my friend Fred Wooding calls the strange malaise -- varies at this time of year.
Fred is a naturalist who gave us "Lake, River and Sea-Run fishes of Canada," and therefore can, very competently, spew Latin. The rest of us see this disease as "the approach of the trout season." Before I sat down to my computer to write this, I debated between trimming and mowing my scruffy-looking front lawn, or beating a deadline to shock the poop out of my editor. Plinking the computer won. Besides, if I cut lawn too early, it nastily is inspired to grow far quicker than it ever did in the previous three months. (One cut since November, if you must know.)
But spring is on the way. My reviving lawn is one indication. The significant sign in other sections of North America is the angler. Metamorphosis happens. Servitude to spouse and house slackens; the angler is restless, shows signs of heightening irritability and wandering attention. Living on Vancouver Island, I never perceived delirium piscatoria to be as serious as in other areas. For one thing, there is a stream of never-ending alternatives to ice fishing during our winters. BC's fly-fishing purists can drop their flies in front of trout or bass on most low-level lakes during the winter months. As well, December to February is the most popular time for them to chase feisty steelhead in any one of several systems within easy driving range of home. Herring, a dinner favorite of chinook salmon, come in from the off-shore nursery banks to spawn, usually in March. The chinook -- not to mention seals and sea lions -- follow and success on the "winter springs" these days is as good as it gets. Winter winds permitting, of course.
In the summer and fall months, the timing of other salmon species is varied as the sockeye, pinks, coho and chum (along with the chinook) take their turns to drop roe into to gravel beds of BC's many streams. Many years ago native elders living only 14 miles from Victoria's city hall told me the timing of salmon spawns was so varied the aboriginals, as young 'uns, could catch salmon in the rivers 12 months of the year in the late 1800s.
Unfortunately, Canada's mismanagement of fisheries has changed that. Cut by glaciers during the ice age, shaken and altered by earthquakes and eruptions over time, Mother Nature formed geological and environmental wonders on and around the land that today is BC. Different strains of the same species all adapted to the habitat offered them. Consequently, a rainbow in one corner of the province can be genetically different to those swimming a few hundred miles away.
While choice of habitat, feed and water conditions varied considerably over the centuries, our fish adapted so marvelously BC inherited a myriad of strong, genetically-powerful strains of several different fishes. Vancouver Island is about 340 miles long. The north and west coasts experience heavy rainfall. The deluges, combined with snow melts, tend to dilute the prevalent nutrients in that area's waters. That is in marked contrast to the south and east coasts which enjoy a climate that is identified "almost Mediterranean." These waters are rich in nutrients.
The genetic differences are understood by biologists but may not be understood by the weekend angler. BC's super waterway is the mighty Fraser. It has created significant genetic differences between same species, as have the many inlets on the rugged coast fed by ice melt and rain water. Time and the conditions have created wondrous fish -- the mighty Girard and Kootenay strains of mainland lake trout, for example.
When a change of nature locked a strain of sea-going sockeye salmon into a freshwater system, BC inherited -- after some changes over many years -- the kokanee trout.
Despite the many and varied rivers in BC, only one does NOT feed the North Pacific. The Peace River has its origin in northeastern BC and is the only system able to cut through the Rocky Mountains. It first empties into Athabasca Lake in Alberta, then later its water eventually reaches James Bay and the Atlantic. These works of magic by nature give BC anglers fishing the Peace a chance to catch strains of whitefish, grayling and rainbow that, genetically speaking, are different to others of their ilk in the west coast province.
Until the development of fly-in and helicopter fishing, some BC streams and many small mountain lakes were never exploited until the second portion of the 20th century. There is sadness in knowing that extraordinary wilderness lakes, some if which were unnamed when we first experienced unbelievable successes, have fallen victim to "accessibility." Still, BC fish, by and large, are alive, reasonably well, and, in some out-of-the-way tarns, remain incredulous.
The sportfishing industry in BC has exceeded the half-billion-dollar mark as a clean, enjoyable industry. In not too many years, it may become a multi-billion-dollar business. The worries standing in the way are politicians and bureaucrats. A few have turned their thinking around and finally are able to recognize sportfishing's huge economic potential. Others will eventually see the light, and come on board to protect our waters and the habitat. Given that, the many fishes with different genes and from different species will rebound.
They, our fish, have proven they can adapt and overcome. Today's concerns are directed squarely at the politicians and bureaucrats who are not able to change or adapt. How often must we flush before these dunderheads will go away?
Ernie Fedoruk is Vice President of the Outdoor Writers of Canada and former B.C. Director with the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. Winner of 26 awards in the last 16 years, the sports/outdoors columnist retired from a 48-year newspaper career in 1996.
"A man's passion for fishing should not allow it to interfere with his love of family. But if the glue binds, then please consider the angler's passion also a love for family."
Ernie Fedoruk retired in 1996 after a 47-year journalism career as an outdoors and sports columnist, has just completed 14 years as director/officer of the Outdoor Writers of Canada, also was director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association for 11 years. His passion is fishing – to find and to protect – and insists his greatest contribution as a conservationist is incompetence.
Ernie Fedoruk Freelance Journalist
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