Deciding who’s in-with-the-in-crowd — particularly when it comes to the family of fishes — was originally the responsibility of the British aristocracy.
Trout and salmon were deemed “game fish” and only worthy of a gentleman angler to pursue, almost exclusively on private, manicured spring creeks, called “chalk streams,” in southern England.
Or on Scottish salmon rivers, where the riparian rights were vigorously enforced by water bailiffs.
All other fish species were considered “course fish” so the common folk could have at ’em — with the exception of grayling, which were placed in an uncategorized no-man’s-land.
All this was mostly because trout and salmon were the best to eat, and protocols were codified on the southern chalk streams by writers like Frederic Halford, from the venerable Flyfishers Club of London, that trout must only be caught with an upstream dry fly to a rising fish.
Halford, in his famous book, Floating Flies and how to Dress Them, sniffed, “we southern anglers are far too prone to look down on what is described as the chuck-and-chance-it style.”
Then everything changed in 1939, when American flyfishing writer Lee Wulff published his Handbook of Freshwater Angling where he proclaimed “gamefish are too valuable to be caught only once.”
Wulff didn’t actually invent the catch-and-release angling concept when he said, “the fish you release is your gift to another angler.”
Halford made a similar observation about letting the little ones go to allow “yourself or some other honest angler a hope of sport in the future.”
But Wulff definitely promoted it, it caught on and today it is a primary conservation tool of the Alberta environment and parks department – particularly on the eastern slopes trout streams and northern boreal Arctic grayling creeks.
And because edibility, culture and social class are no longer the overriding criteria for what makes a fish a game fish, their numbers have exploded.
So saltwater species that nobody eats like bonefish, tarpon and permit are now destination game fish, while a four-day fly-in to a northern Saskatchewan trophy pike lodge will set you back $7,500.
It’s government bureaucrats who now decide what’s a game fish and what’s not.
So if you’re unfortunate enough to be caught by a fish cop with a walleye that’s a centimetre or so outside the slot limit, you’re in for a world of hurt.
But the 2018 Alberta sportfishing regs state there are “no restrictions on the number kept” for what the government categorizes as “non-game fish.”
Including long-nose suckers. Fill your wading boots.
So we had the ludicrous situation a couple years back when AEP stocked three Alberta lakes with tiger trout (a brown trout/brook trout hatchery cross) but had no regulations protecting them, while a time-wasting panel of Ottawa bureaucrats dithered on adding tigers to the Alberta game fish list.
It’s after the rains and I’m on the river in town with my walleye-fishing buddy Emmerson.
The sky is Alberta summer blue and clutches of green Canada goose goslings are about.
But the North Saskatchewan bears the storm’s after-effects. It’s coloured up and running 10 C colder.
The walleye are not enjoying the change.
So far, I’ve only caught a small one at the Rio Terrace Hoodoos on a chartreuse jig baited with a frozen shiner while Emmerson is doing only slightly better on mooneye, with a worm chunk suspended under his centre-pin rig.
At the Outfall No. 9 eddy we anchor the jet boat and begin working the seam between the fast and slow water.
I pop and pause the jig along the bottom and halfway back I feel the drug of the tug.
The fish has shoulders and fights hard and deep in the current.
When it finally rolls at first we think it’s a wayward lake whitefish.
But on further review it turns out to be a long-nose sucker – one of the AEP’s dreaded “non-game fish”.
I feel sucker punched, except I’m not sure why.
The fight, I have to admit, was pretty decent.
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