By NEIL WAUGH
Back in the day when we had an Assistant Superintendent of Fisheries (not Fish) – and believe me folks there’s a subtle but profound difference in those five extra letters – the position was occupied by Marty Paetz.
Marty was off the ranch at Youngstown and went on to be Alberta’s chief fisheries biologist for a long spell in the 60s and 70s.
In 1970, along with his University of Alberta fish doc buddy Joe Nelson, Paetz authored The Fishes of Alberta, which was published by the Alberta Queen’s Printer as part of an innovative and progressive government program to catalogue the province’s floral, avian and fish species.
The four Edmonton-area fishing clubs who developed the Muir Lake quality stocked trout lake project a few years back honoured Paetz with a commemorative sign acknowledging his contributions to not only fish. But also Alberta fisheries.
But what makes Fishes of Alberta more than just another dry scientific accounting of fishy critters, as much as the format would allow, Marty and Joe added angling tips and strategies to their text.
So we are told that northern pike are “an extremely popular game fish.
And “Alberta is generously supplied with them,” they noted.
How “angling success is usually best after spawning season in May and June” where fish can be “readily taken” near weed beds and lily pads in shallow water.
And here’s a gem.
“Considerable attention is now being given to the trophy aspect of northern pike fishing in Alberta,” the book revealed. It specifically identifies Winefred, Seibert and Athabasca as potential “trophy” pike lakes. Mainly, I suspect, because of their remoteness.
Fast forward 48 years and my pike fishing buddy Emmerson and I are on Devil’s Lake west of town celebrating the opening of lake fishing season hereabouts.
We hold no delusions about catching a trophy pike – which Paetz/Nelson considered as 30-plus pounds – on our 8-weight fly rods.
Although for a few brief years following Canadian National Railway’s fortuitous 2005 oil spill into Lake Wabamun – when Alberta Health Services beat the dithering environment department to the punch and imposed a consumption ban turning the popular cottage lake effectively catch-and-release – the size and number of pike possible turned cosmic.
Then AEP decided to dump 6 million walleye fry into Wabamun and the trophy pike fishery that Paetz was promoting was done and dusted once the competing predators grew up.
Devil’s Lake is designated a “default” lake in this year’s new regulatory system, which means three-fish daily over 63 cm.
Because it’s open to angling year round (with the exception of the six-week spring spawning closure where the ice is mostly too treacherous anyway) there are only two chances of a pike reaching “trophy” dimensions. And Slim just left town.
There were other boats out on opening day. But the stiff northwest breeze was clearly against us and we went looking for shelter along the west-end cattail beds.
We found the drop offs on the Lowrance and anchored in 8 feet of water.
Then fished Lefty’s Deceiver flies with weighted heads in all the usual pike colours – red and white, yellow and red, but mostly chartreuse and white – in strip-and-pause retrieves.
We caught a few but to say the action was fast would be an exaggeration.
Until Emmerson figured if you crawled the fly slowly along the bottom and our strike-rate picked up a little.
While the cormorants and goldeneye ducks came and went.
The other anglers began to leave and soon we were the last boat standing.
We had the count up to an uninspiring eight when Emmerson got what felt like a solid hit mid-retrieve.
The weight at the end of his line was impressive but the battle strangely less than dynamic.
Over the gunwale came his prize.
A pair of heavy duty linesman pliers with Emmerson’s Deceiver impaled in the grip – the right tool for the job.
But not exactly the “considerable attention” trophy Marty Paetz had in mind.
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