Fishing challenge

A brief news item in 1891 said that 9 1/2-year-old “Little Miss Curry” of Winnipeg landed a 20-pound catfish while fishing in the Red River. One hundred and seventeen years later, there will be at least 600 youngsters this summer hoping to duplicate “Little Miss Curry’s” feat. 

Inner-city youth will be given a chance to enjoy a world-class fishery in an urban setting through the work of Fish Winnipeg volunteers.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Don “The Complete Angler” Lamont at the wind-up luncheon following the 2008 Fish Winnipeg Media Challenge Championship last Tuesday morning. “It’s all about our Kids at Risk program.”

Annually, the program funds rods and reels for less-privileged inner-city children, who  then are able to participate in the “fun of fishing” — an opportunity otherwise  denied them due to their circumstances.

Lamont, who has been hired as the provincial youth angling co-ordinator for Fish Futures — the host of the media event and the fund-raiser corporate challenge that followed in the afternoon — said the strong selling feature of Winnipeg’s urban fishery is its accessibility.

“You don’t need to catch fish from a boat — you can do it right from shore,” he said.

“Our aim is to get kids out and have them enjoy the resource,” said REALTOR® Clancy Solomon, who was the boat-owner volunteer guide for the WREN media challenge team. 

In the morning session, 14 boat owners volunteered their time to guide the 

media anglers. For the corporate challenge in the afternoon, a total of 25 boat owner/guides took anglers to their favourite fishing holes on the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The corporate teams each paid for the privilege of fishing, with the funds raised used to purchase the rods and reels for the young anglers, as well as fund children’s fishing programs. 

Fish Futures is the fund raiser, but the money is channeled through the Urban Angling Partnership.The Urban Angling Partnership is made up of private-sector and government agencies working together to develop the urban recreational angling potential of the Red and Assiniboine  rivers in Winnipeg. The programs are designed to introduce youth and families to angling, as well as provide residents and visitors to the city with an opportunity to experience the fishery on Winnipeg’s rivers.

“Urban angling has seen a dramatic increase over the past few years,” said Lamont, which is helped in part by the reporting from news agencies participating in the fish challenge. “The news is that we have great fishing right here in the city. The whole point is to get out there with the kids and enjoy the fishing.”

“We have a world-class fishery and we want to enhance it,” added Solomon, a member of Fish Futures. Fish Futures is heavily involved in education programs, fish studies and restocking across the province. “We need to manage our resource correctly to keep it viable into the future,” Solomon added. “The kids are the real beneficiaries of all that we do.”

“I love to go fishing with kids, they’re so much fun” said Frank Normand, a first-year guide for the two challenges on Tuesday. 

One doesn’t have to be a child to be enthusiastic about Winnipeg’s urban fishery. Normand was the guide for the boat that landed the biggest fish during the media challenge. Conway Black reeled in a 91-centimetre (36-inch) catfish. Black later said he had difficulty containing his excitement as he battled to bring the fat-bellied cat into the boat. The sales representative for Thunder Voice News, an aboriginal publication, said it was only the second time he had been out fishing. When he accepted his prize for catching the big one in the morning, Black’s only comment was that he “wasn’t a fisherman.”

“You are now!” shouted a voice, earning spontaneous applause and hearty laughter from the media teams gathered at the presentation ceremony at the Inn at The Forks.

Whether or not he believes himself to be an angler, when relating his “fish story” to the people at our table, Black grinned with delight and emphasized the size of the “monster cat” with gestures indicating an imaginary rod bending to nearly the breaking point while pretending to reel in the fish. 

The digital camera photo of the massive fish made the rounds of the audience to wide-eyed amazement. Black later commented that he intended to have the photo enlarged and framed to prove to others that the “monster cat” he landed wasn’t just another fishing tale. The two challenges are catch-and-release, so Black was wise to record his prize-winning catch for posterity.

REALTOR® Stephen Yuffe, the co-ordinator of the guides for the media and corporate challenges, said the boat owners should be commended for making the two challenges possible, since they all take a day off from their business work schedules to ensure the program’s success. Yuffe also presented his annual Conservation Award, which, as the name light-heartedly implies, is handed out to the team failing to catch any fish. This year, the team using the best conservation techniques was from the city.

Although the sky was clear and the sun bathed the anglers in its warmth, the fishing conditions were not ideal, resulting in fewer fish being caught than in past years during the challenge. After  days of rainfall, the water in the two rivers was running high, fast and a little dirty — the surface was cluttered with fast-flowing debris and bottom silt was churning up to the surface. A total of 70 fish were caught by the predominately three-member teams in the 14 boats. But only a week earlier, Lamont said conditions had been ideal and plenty of fish were landed.

Although the WREN team of sales representative Justin Séguin, REALTOR® Tom Derksen and myself was not overly successful, we did not finish last. The eventual winner of the media challenge was the Hot 103 team, which landed fish measuring a total length of 768 centimetres. Next was the CJOB team with 540 centimetres of fish, followed by Shaw Cable-TV with fish measuring a total of 259 centimetres.

Whatever success one has, Winnipeg’s rivers are truly an angler’s paradise. Hopefully this summer, the 600 young anglers will have “Little Miss Curry’s” luck and land their own monster catfish.