BE BLUNT ABOUT WHAT WE CAN'T DO, DAMNIT
The wind was cold and the waves rough but I continued to fish. Why? Because there are few opportunities left for me where I can catch or grow what I then can eat with added pleasure.
I had bought lots of minnows for a change. Since no one was around at Burnt Point, there was nothing to stop me from fishing for hours. No interruptions, just peace, listening to classical music, daydreaming, letting the hassles of big city life from traffic to taxes to inane pols leach out of my system.
Let's not forget, either, the red tape traps, the fogs rising from bureaucratic swamps of print which seldom make it plain just what in hell you can or cannot do.
As a boy, I grew all the vegetables my sisters and grandmother ate, tended the Leghorns in the back pen, fished, and went berry picking. More a necessity than a pleasure. I know there are adults who find all that a restful hobby but I'm grateful to put most of that behind me, especially the weeds and chicken shit.
Yet in a tiny echo from my past, I still stew rhubarb from a huge patch and apple sauce from an ancient dwarf Mac. I still fish for pleasure and for food, and have done so around the world, from the upper Amazon to the Cook Islands.
My Kawarthas reverie is broken by a big plump smallmouth bass chomping my bait and dancing out of the water. A struggle follows. Best fish of the year if I could land it. And I did. Then another. I already could taste the fillets, and had already tasted the fun.
Then a big pike ripped at my hook. It tore a hole in the net but I finally landed it using my dubious skills. I grumbled to myself because there never used to be pike in this stretch of the Trent River.
Since most of us would rather catch muskie than pike, the fewer pike around the better since they eat each other's young. But you don't keep fish you don't eat and I didn't want to deal with all those bones. Yet I thought I would measure before I released it. It was over 36" (90 cm) but it was hard to be sure since it lunged at me every time I brought the tape measure close to its head.
Fish activity slowed and the sun sank like a fiery rock. Then there was another bass, short but fat. Maybe a foot (30 cm). Couldn't remember the minimum bass size but I didn't toss it back immediately because added to the others it would make a grand meal for Mary and me and company.
Left it swimming in a pail and ransacked the cottage for my booklet of fishing rules. Nope. So I did a quick Google hit on an old laptop. Endless government propaganda about the reasons for fishing regs but nothing simple and obvious about real size figures. So I released the bass and Mary and I had a delicious meal by ourselves.
Later, I plunged back into the mysteries of Ontario fishing rules and found they were still as confusing as ever. This has bugged me for years. I blogged about it on Nov. 13, 2008 titled Fishing For Understanding And Bass, and then again on Jan. 29, 2009 titled A Guide To Ontario Fishing, which I intended to be sarcastic because it outlined the defence and justifications for the incomprehensible fishing rules by the natural resources ministry and its minister Donna Cansfield.
After I found that my cousin David Prescott and I had broken regulations involving pickerel - even though he is a banker expert on small print and actually understands all the rules of golf - I complained to ministry officials that there wouldn't be so many breaking the rules on purpose or accidentally around my point if the rules were clear and succinct and not infested with the rationalization and BS.
Ironically, when Cansfield, whom I know as a veteran Etobicoke politician, sent me the official ministry response to my complaint, she added in pen at the end of the letter that she agreed with my complaint. I first raised it with her at a Sun salmon derby opening where I helped her land a chinnook around 10 kg. (23 pounds), by far the largest fish she had ever caught.
The ministry policy wonks have partitioned the province as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. Fish size vary, and so do seasons, between lakes and rivers even if they're just a few kilometres apart. Yet surely, as I've said to the minister and officials, there can be some general rules that you can stick in with your tackle so you don't have to guess.
For example, I think you can keep a bass in some areas if it's 10 inches long but it must be 12" in other areas. Then there are several lengths for muskie. Pickerel lengths and numbers seem to change every few years. It doesn't help either when the ministry adds weasel words that warn regulations keep changing and it's up to us to keep up. And it doesn't help either that if you haven't found the latest booklet of regulations, you can download it from the Internet if you have the time and paper for the 104 pages.
Surely they can develop basic size and season rules for most species. The current conflicting muddle reads like every ministry expert has different rules about fish in their own fief. The Internet is an ideal place for ministries and agencies to give snapshots of their rules and procedures but too often what you get is a cross between a dog's breakfast and a litter box.
Remember the old GE slogan delivered on TV by someone named Ronald Reagan about "progress is our most important product." Unfortunately, governments made that "process is our most important product." And process, of course, even in the age of the computer, runs on paper, endless pages of endless reports. Making sense of it all, heck just keeping track of it all, is difficult.
The other day I went hunting on the Internet for the current parking fines in Toronto. Never did find one list even though the city claims it really is Internet savvy. As I wrote in another blog, a few years ago I tried to find the rules for parking if you have an Accessible (disabled) permit. The Internet info was garbled, but then that matched the official answering the phone that day at City Hall.
Of course the Canadian Revenue Agency is the champ of obscurity. And when it really wants to get cute, it leaves such a grey area that it is free to interpret the issue whatever way the official dealing with the matter that day feels like.
The trouble is, our bureaucracies produce signage, instructions and bylaws written and approved by officials who already know the answers and what is legal and desired. Where are the test panels of ordinary citizens who can survey the Niagara of outflow and say that when red tape is clear as mud and takes far too long to figure out?
It's only in very old movies and books that we have the barefoot boy with bamboo pole and a worm on a hook and string catching the bass and frying it without consulting a 104-page book of rules composed by experts who if we let them would have a different regulation for every river.
I daydream about those days some times when I fish. Some days it's just simpler to throw the fish back than trying to figure out if it is legal.