Not many cities can make Winnipeg’s boast of possessing a network of rivers totalling 160 kilometres that allows residents to conveniently drop in a fishing line and catch master-angler catfish, or a multitude of other fish species of varying shapes and sizes.
The fact that Winnipeg is in the midst of such plentiful waterways means it is blessed with a world-class sport fishery that has gained increasing attention over the years through the promotional efforts of Fish Winnipeg.
Every year, Fish Winnipeg hosts a media and corporate fishing challenge to ensure more people become aware of the plentiful fish species inhabiting the city’s rivers.
“The news is that we have great fishing right here in the city,” said Don “The Complete Angler” Lamont, who is the co-chair of Fish Winnipeg and emcee of the two annual challenges.
The real selling feature of Winnipeg’s urban fishery is its accessibility, as anglers can just as easily catch fish from shore as from a boat. In fact, there are numerous spots along the entire lengths of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in Winnipeg where fishing from shore is readily accessible, many of which are within the inner city.
The two annual fishing challenges are ultimately held to benefit inner-city youth-at-risk, as Fish Winnipeg’s goal is to provide a free rod, reel and tackle to as many underprivileged children as possible.
The media challenge in the morning is designed to have participants later spread the message about Fish Winnipeg’s programs and the city’s fabulous fishery, while each corporation participating in the afternoon pays a fee that goes toward the purchase of the fishing equipment for the children. This year, Fish Winnipeg expects to raise $15,000 from corporate sponsors.
“Fishing is an activity they can do just as well as other kids in the city,” said John Toone, co-chair of Fish Winnipeg, which is a partnership of private-sector and government agencies working to bring the joy of angling to youth.
For many inner-city children, their greatest treasure is the fishing equipment they receive from Fish Winnipeg through its Youth-at-Risk program. It some cases, the rod and reel may be an underprivileged child’s only “fun” possession, added Toone.
Fish Winnipeg estimates that over the last 11 years some 6,500 rods and reels have been handed out to children. This year — the 12th year of the challenges — the expectation is to provide fishing equipment for another 600 inner-city youths.
Through its Kids “Free” Van Fishing program, the organization, in conjunction with the city of Winnipeg, picks up children at their local community centres to participate in daily fishing trips during July and August. It’s during these daily fishing excursions that the fishing equipment is handed out to the children. At the end of the day, the children are returned to their respective community centres.
Fish Winnipeg also assists and supports one-week kids fishing camps during the summer. At the camps, children fish the “mighty” Red River, visit the Whiteshell Fish Hatchery and afterward fish at Lyons Lake. At the end of the week, children are given a pontoon boat tour of Winnipeg and then engage in hours of leisurely fishing from the boat.
“We’ve come a long way in a short period of time,” said Lamont, who is also the provincial youth fishing co-ordinator.
“By providing this fishing opportunity,” according to the Fish Winnipeg website (www.fishfutures.net), “in some small way, we are trying to give back to those less fortunate and hopefully help build self-esteem in these children.”
“It’s all about giving them the opportunity to enjoy something that is otherwise denied them,” Lamont added.
It’s also an opportunity that is expected to expand to children outside the city. Within two years, the reel and rod program for youth is expected to be in Brandon and Dauphin and then expand to other communities across Manitoba.
“We’re seeing a huge response to the success of our Winnipeg program in the rest of the province,” said Lamont.
But you don’t have to be a child to be enthusiastic about Winnipeg’s urban fishery, which was abundantly evident when the media took to the water in 14 boats on what turned out to be a morning bathed in warm sunshine with nary a cloud in the sky.
The honour for the biggest fish caught was claimed by Jo-Anne Kelly of Shaw TV, who landed a master-angler-sized “monster” catfish with a length of 88 centimetres. To put such a fish into perspective, it was so hefty it required two muscle-straining arms to lift it. And, Kelly now has bragging rights for an entire year for having caught the “monster cat” of the media challenge.
First-prize for landing the greatest total length of fish went to the boat containing the Free Press No.2 team. The team brought into their boat an impressive 16 fish, measuring a total of 604 centimetres.
In second, with a total length of 257 centimetres, was the QX 104 team, while third place was claimed by the city of Winnipeg team who landed fish totalling 206 centimetres.
The WREN team — Peter Squire, Tom Derksen and myself — who were in the boat captained by guide Ed Friedrich, landed a “respectable” 91 centimetres of fish. We may have finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, but we had a great time and ended the challenge firmly believing we were “winners.”
Stephen Yuffe, a local REALTOR® and the Fish Winnipeg guide co-ordinator, rightly pointed out that the success of the day’s fishing is ensured by the guides, who donate their time and boats for the two challenges.
Yuffe annually presents the Delta Real Estate Conservation Award, which this year went to WDAZ-TV from Grand Forks — the city in North Dakota which shares the Red River with Winnipeg and is also noted for its monster catfish. As the name of the award light-heartedly implies, the prize is given to the team using conservation techniques by not landing a single fish.
But it’s the “fun of fishing” on Winnipeg’s rivers that is the real reward for taking part in the two challenges, whether fish are caught or not.