In the eastern sky, forks of lightning ominously streaked through water-saturated black clouds that threatened at any time to release their heavy burden downward to earth.
It was an inauspicious beginning to what was slated to be a fun-filled morning of fishing on Winnipeg’s two great rivers during the annual Fish Winnipeg Media/Corporate Challenge.
But Manitoba's weather is fickle and can change at a moment’s notice. As the participants from 13 media outlets from Grand Forks to Winnipeg proceeded to the dock at The Forks, the clouds rapidly dissipated and the sun emerged in all its glory — it would be a pleasant short-sleeve day after all.
For 10 years, Fish Winnipeg has hosted the morning media fishing event and the afternoon corporate event to raise awareness and funds so that inner-city youth-at-risk can have an opportunity to enjoy angling in an urban setting. The afternoon fishing challenge is actually a fund-raiser for Fish Futures Inc., but the money raised is given to the city so that it can be channeled to inner-city youth through the Urban Angling Partnership.
Fish Futures is a non-profit corporation and a registered charitable organization dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of Manitoba’s freshwater fishery.
This year each corporate participant in the afternoon fishing challenge donated $700. Don “The Complete Angler” Lamont said Fish Futures kicked in an extra $500 to bring the final total to $17,500.
Every year through the Urban Angling Partnership, 600 children from the inner city — to date 6,000 youth have received free rods and reels — who are exposed daily to violence, drugs and gangs get a chance to put aside their troubled existence and partake in the excitement of catching the “big one.” Becoming an urban angler won’t completely wash away their woes, but they can briefly be transported to a calmer environment.
Although adults are equally enthusiastic about fishing, it is the smiling face of a child which truly shows the rapture of catching fish.
I know from experience how a child reacts to hooking the “big one,” having spent many a carefree day throwing out line as a young lad at the Gimli dock. Armed with very low-tech equipment — a length of green twine, a hook, a weight and minnows for bait caught from Lake Winnipeg by using a towel — I frequently caught perch, pickerel, sauger and sunfish.
But one doesn’t have to travel tens of kilometres to Manitoba’s vast network of lakes to become an accomplished angler. Some of the best fishing in the province is found right in Winnipeg — blessed with over 160-kilometres of river waterways filled with a great number of species — making it an angler’s paradise.
Some refer to the city’s urban sport fishery as one of Winnipeg’s “hidden treasures.”
Historically, commentators on the fishery were amazed by the numbers and species of fish that swam in Winnipeg’s rivers and streams.
What makes Winnipeg’s fishery even more special is that it’s accessible to everyone by either foot, bus, bike or car. A boat is not needed to enjoy Winnipeg's urban fishery as there are numerous landings (many are found in city parks) and docks (the inner-city Alexander Dock is popular) right from the downtown to the suburbs where an angler can cast a line into the water directly from the shore.
In particular, Winnipeg’s rivers are filed with monster catfish, which was emphasized when Dennis Chartrand of NCI-FM landed a master angler-sized “cat” during the media portion of the day-long challenge. Of course, Dennis' fish ended up taking the “big one” prize for the media event.
In total, 72 fish were caught during the media challenge in the morning — everything from Manitoba’s famous goldeye to “cats.”
The Winnipeg Real Estate News team of general manager Jo-Anne Wood, REALTOR® Tom Derksen and myself landed a modest total and finished down in the standings. That certainly didn’t impact our appreciation of an enjoyable morning on the Assiniboine River in the company of our affable guide Jeff Goethals from A+ Financial Services.
It should be noted that all the guides are volunteers who use their own boats and supply fishing gear for the event. It was the first year that Jeff has participated as a volunteer, coming all the way from Beausejour with his boat in tow to take part.
“I’ll be back,” replied Jeff with a broad smile during the media event wind-up pickerel breakfast at Branigan’s Restaurant at The Forks, when he was asked if he enjoyed the morning’s fishing and intended to volunteer his boat and time next year.
The co-ordinator of the volunteers is REALTOR® Stephen Yuffe, who has been with the challenge since its first year of existence. Yuffe presents the Conservative Award that he established 10 years ago. It’s a good-nature ribbing given to the media team that caught the least fish.
As everyone recognizes, catching a fish isn’t always the ultimate satisfaction — it’s often just the challenge presented when the fish refuse to take bait or just tantalizingly nibble at it, eluding any attempt to set a hook.
For the second year in a row, the team from Shaw-TV topped the media event, netting a total length of 766 centimetres in fish. Next was Hot 103 with 744 centimetres followed by Global News with a total of 594 centimetres.
Each fish caught during the event was carefully released after its length was measured. Fittingly it’s a catch-and-release challenge emphasizing that resources should be preserved for others to enjoy, especially the youth who receive new rods and reels and instruction in the “art” of fishing through the Urban Angling Partnership.