Thursday, November 13, 2008



I'm amazed at the increase in illegal sports fishing in Ontario. But when you try to figure out the fishing regulations, some of it is understandable.
For 28 years I've had a cottage on Burnt Point. Because the current of the Trent River sweeps around my point after it circles Burnt Point Bay on its way to Seymour Lake, fish love to hang out just off the point with their snouts stuck in the flow to feed.
It's long been famous for fishing. Before I came in 1980, my shoreline was reinforced with flagstones to reduce the wear from all the fishermen. It's not just the family and friends, there's are always some sneaking in. The rumour was that the point had been mentioned in an European fishing magazine, which was probably a myth, but it seemes the point is discussed whenever fishermen get together to drink and fib.
I have a ringside seat, unfortunately, on local fishing since it's normal rude behaviour for people to fish within a few yards of my shore all daylight hours. So I see boats keeping everything from big minnows to stringers fat with catches beyond the limit. When the family sat down for Thanksgiving Dinner, I looked over their heads and saw four boats so close I could talk to them without raising my voice.
And I used to raise my voice. In fact, Dave Garrick, a friend and bass fishermen, gave me a birthday gift of a sign with a comic fish standing on its tail with the circle symbol for prohibition painted on top. Underneath it says The Dog Is Fine... Beware of Owner. I don't have a dog, and, of course, the sign only can stop legally those fishing on the point and leaving their garbage behind, occasionally taking anything that isn't nailed down.
But I've stopped doing that, after encounters with drunks who threatened to come ashore and beat me up. And then are the drunks who are bright as boards. And then there was the jerk who boasted about all the people he employed and said that he could tell I had the Big C and would die within the year.
Not exactly nice people, which you can tell from their manners, curses and peeing on top of my water line.
What I do now is watch them carefully, although this year I didn't have to be that attentive to see all the fishing a day before the walleye season opened.
My score for the last three weeks shows the sad state of fishing in cottage country.
I asked one chap where he lived, since I thought if it was close by, I would go and sit in front of his home for a few hours. By his own admission, he had been fishing in the same spot within 10 yards of my shore most days since Labour Day. I asked if he was fishing with two lines, which, of course, he was. No. he sad flatly, without explanation, but disappeared when I walked away.
I took a picture of three men in a launch who had been around most days. Since there were several other boats nearby, I thought the picture would illustrate an article I'm going to write on manners in cottage country. Two days later, one of the men was stalking my cottage and when a neighbour asked, he said he wanted to see me. She gave him my phone number in Toronto and he used it to trace my home address through the Internet. He drove 200 km. and knocked on my door to apologize, in a stumbling fashion, for the fact they had been fishing with illegal bait. He said they had thrown the fish back and he couldn't sleep and would never do it again. But he's returned, with his brother, fishing just off my shore although he promised never to do it again.( I will keep checking his bait if he stays.)
The worst example came from three men who acknowledged they had fished off my shore for two weeks and caught their limit each day. They said they were from Ohio and one of them had been coming for 40 years to fish there. I said they must be lazy if they come all that way and just sit in the same spot. Sure, one said, this is where the fish are. You must like to eat bass, I observed. They became suspicious and slow to reply. I pointed out they were saying they had caught 252 bass, and the possession limit allows them only six bass daily, and that includes what they have in storage. I asked if they were pretending they had eaten 18 bass each day for 14 days. One said they had had three fish fries back at the camp. (But fish you give away is included in your possession limit.) I told them they could explain it all to the game warden. When I turned away, they skedaddled. (Of course the neighbourhood knows that wardens are rarely seen.)
Because of these encounters, I double-checked the rules, first the paper version of the Ontario fishing regulations and then the Internet version. Once again I cursed how complicated it is to figure out basic rules regarding the main fish of my area of District 17.
I Googled bass closing for my area, which was Nov. 15. And that's what I confirmed after 10 minutes of punching keys. (But I also found a date of Nov. 30.) One problem is that I kept getting listings for brook trout when I searched for bass.
Many of us get our info about fishing from friends and neighbours because our fishing regs are as murky as the bottom of a swamp, I tend to check with a cousin, a retired banker who is so precise on the rules of everything from golf and fishing to cards that he's been an official at the Canadian Open and is often consulted by friends.
But I've just discovered that even he and I once broke the rules on fishing for pickerel, which have now been reduced to a catch or possession limit of only four daily, and only one can be over 18". It was a few years ago and it was a surprise to both of us that the rules had changed, although I'm not about to go further. After all, the punishment is extreme, or so I'm told, not that I've seen it written down in the booklet of fishing regs or the Internet. But perhaps the rules were different then. It's hard to tell.
Trouble is, the fishing regs are put together by insiders. You have to wade through info that is only interesting to biologists. And then there's the old stuff that should be pruned, like press releases that are two years old. So it all clouds changes, such as the one that you can now only keep four walleye a day, and only one can be over 18.1 inches. This is news to most people I've asked.
Years ago, I watched a Toronto City Hall committee trying to demystify bylaws. Karl Jaffary, a brilliant lawyer, said that what was needed was not something that would be a guide for the guilty and a trap for the innocent. David Crombie, later the mayor, who is gifted in communications, and Bill Archer, another great lawyer, agreed.
And that's what we have with Ontario's fishing regs, a trap for the innocent, who just want to catch a few fish, and a guide to be ignored by the jerks who want to catch 252 small mouth and large mouth bass off my point for 40 years and never expect to be challenged.
I called Walter Oster, head of the Toronto Sportsmen's Shows, who I know through such great projects as the Great Ontario Salmon Derby. Good person to give advice. He gave me the name of a Ministry of Natural Resources official for whom I left a message. That was weeks ago, but then my experience in 50 years of newspapering is that civil servants seldom rush to call you back, if they do call.
So I will complain to the minister, Donna Cansfield. A blog I wrote on July 11, 2008 describes how she ended up on page one of the Sunday Sun holding the biggest fish she has ever caught, thanks to Oster and kibitzers like me. She comes to her ministry as an outsider, not indoctrinated in hunting and fishing. Just the minister to cut through the gobbledegook and bafflegab that you face when you're just trying to check on provincial rules, even on such simple things as the minimum length of fish that you keep.
Government is filled with windy reports. In order for senior officials and the media to understand what it all means, someone produces an executive summary, a short, hopefully clear precis, without all the ifs and buts and don'ts.
That's what we need here. The basic rules for the main species that we catch in the front of the rules booklet. A synopsis. We don't need mating habits and biological history. Just the facts, ma'm. After all, there are enough people fishing illegally. We don't need more cheating by accident.

On Jan. 29, 2009, in a blog titled A GUIDE TO ONTARIO FISHING, I give Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield's answer.

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