DEPARTMENTS - FALL 1996
The Running of the Redfish
I have often been asked what made me decide to become a conservation officer. I don't recall the exact time I made that decision. From my youth there are many memories of fishing trips with Dad and my friends. Fish were abundant and game wardens were not. I saw one only once as a kid and that was as he chased me and my friend down a creek where we were fishing. That experience may not have helped me decide to be a C.O. but it sure made me decide not to be a poacher.
Where I grew up in B.C., fishing was a major pastime for any boy old enough to walk. After your bike, the next most prized possession was a fishing rod. The rod was usually a handmedown from Dad, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was that you could go fishing. Many summer days were spent wading the small creeks within bicycle range of home. Fall and the return to school always came too soon. However, the start of school also meant the start of the annual run of redfish.
Now that I have a college diploma, I know a lot more about redfish than I did as a kid. These little fish are kokanee, a landlocked salmon of sorts that turn bright red when they spawn. Back then it didn't matter much about their life cycle. All that mattered was that on weekends we fished for redfish.
The best redfishing was about five miles out of town in a small creek that we fished throughout the summer. Once the lawn was mowed, my room cleaned and any other timewasting chores completed, my fishing rod was tied to the handlebars of my bike, a friend or two were rounded up and the race to the creek was on.
The gear and the method were simple. You tied a big red and silver spoon onto your line, tied your tennis shoes up tight and waded out into the creek. The creek would be full of redfish from bank to bank. All you had to do was toss the spoon into the deeper pools and reel in as fast as you could. On almost every cast you would get a strike. The fish were not all that big. The larger ones were over a pound, which was huge to us back then. We never kept any of the fish because we had been told they tasted bad once they turned red. We figured because they died once they had spawned, this advice was pretty accurate.
The one flaw in our pursuit of happiness was that you weren't supposed to fish for redfish when they were spawning. I can't remember if we had ever read the regulations but we were sure that these laws never applied to us 12yearolds anyway.
On one particular day we had been hard at it for a couple of hours at our favorite hole just below the highway. It was a banner day and the unofficial tally was over 200 fish caught and released and we were trying for a 400fish day. We heard a vehicle pull off the highway near where we had ditched our bikes and my friend went to take a look. It was a long way home and we didn't want someone stealing our ride. I heard my friend call me and saw that he was waving for me to come over. I climbed the bank and saw what he had discovered. Some old guy in a uniform was standing beside a green truck with a yellow roof complete with a red light on top and he was looking at our bikes. The old guy came around the truck and looked our way.
"Hey, you two come over here," he commanded.
Now this was back in the days when someone in a uniform scared little boys on sight. My friend and I looked at each other and knew we had two options. Go see what he wanted or RUN. We chose the latter. We streaked down the bank, grabbed our rods and took off downstream for cover. We went a short ways and stopped to see if he had followed.
"Who was that," my friend asked.
"It wasn't a cop," I said.
About that time we could hear some crashing in the bush and soon we saw the old guy coming our way. Off we went again. "Stop you kids! Right now!"
I don't know what was scarier, the tone in his voice or just the thought of what he would do if he caught us. Stopping wasn't an option.
We carried on downstream for quite a way. The guy could move pretty good from an oldtimer, but he was no match for two scared 12yearolds and we soon lost him. We circled back to the highway through the bush to check things out. We saw that his truck was gone. Feeling pretty smug we went to retrieve our bikes. GONE!
We may have won the foot race but the old guy had beat us anyway. With our bikes gone we had a very long walk ahead of us, not to mention a few questions to answer when we got home.
Fishing rods in hand we started to trudge home. The sun set long before we got to the junction of the road to the creek and the main road home. We were hoping that someone would pick us up at the junction and give us a ride.
As we approached the corner we could see something leaning against the stop sign. When we came closer we could see that it was our bikes. We ran the rest of the way to the sign. Tied to my friend's bike was a note, "Keep out of the creek, and leave the redfish alone or next time I'll take these home with me!"
The note was on Game Department stationery with a very official coat of arms on it.
Scared? You bet we were. The old guy must have been the game warden. Our run down the creek and subsequent walk to the junction had tired us out some, but this note gave us a shot that sent us home in a flurry of spinning pedals and dust. Before we parted company we swore never to tell a soul about our close brush with the law.
Since becoming a C.O., I have come to know "The Game Warden" who chased us down the creek. He's been retired for several years. Though he doesn't remember our particular chase, he does remember hiding kids' bikes as a punishment on occasion.
"I was always chasing kids away from those creeks and I thought that it was the best way to scare 'em. It didn't cost you anything and usually saved me having to chase you a second time."
As I write this, the redfish will soon be heading up the creeks to spawn. I will be spending some time posting signs that read, "MOLESTING SPAWNING KOKANEE IS UNLAWFUL" near access points to the creeks and spawning channels. I always hope that I'll find a couple of bikes stashed near one of the creeks. I'm not chasing any 12yearolds, scared or not: They're too fast for me. But I will take their bikes for a short trip.
Steve Wasylik is a Conservation Officer at Castlegar, B.C.