[Game Warden Archives]


Spring Features 1997 - Bow River Blues

You never know who's watchin'
By Quentin Isley

The headlights shone over the steep bank into nothingness as the car rolled to a stop in the parking lot, briefly illuminating the large yellow sign that was ignored by the occupants.

The area was doused in blackness as the lights were extinguished. The four men got out of the vehicle and paused momentarily to stretch and allow their pupils to adjust to the night, listening in silence for any sounds that might betray the presence of others they would rather avoid. That was the primary reason they chose to come to this place at 12:10 am. All was quiet. The men spoke excitedly among themselves as the trunk was opened and gear retrieved.

It was a perfect night. Not another sound was heard except for the gurgle of the river that glistened in the moonlight one hundred metres below them. Flashlights pierced the darkness as they carefully descended the steep bank.

At the bottom, a lantern was lit. The four men quickly assembled their fishing rods. Pickerel rigs and frozen minnows were attached to the 20-pound test line. The whir of line followed by the gentle splash of the bait rigs as they hit the water was all that could be heard over the sound of the river. When all the lines were set, the light was promptly turned off. The men sat patiently in the darkness, waiting for strikes from large rainbow trout that would soon come, confident that they would not be seen by anyone.

A mile away from across the river the actions of the four men didn't go unnoticed. Two Fish and Wildlife Officers saw the car arrive and watched the bobbing lights as the men made their way down the bank. They knew from experience what would happen next and they started on their way to where the car was parked. The officers, aware of how sound carries in the darkness, moved their patrol vehicle silently towards the parking lot and their wary suspects. The officers stashed their truck out of sight in a nearby farm yard and cautiously approached the parked car on foot. Upon finding the vehicle, they ran the licence number and found that it was the same car that was parked there six nights ago. The officers headed west to the edge of a small feeder coulee that hit the river upstream of the where the suspects stood. They slowly picked their way down the unfamiliar ravine in the darkness. At the river's edge, as they crawled through the grass, they could hear the voices of their prey. Blinded by darkness, one of the officers reached for a piece of equipment on his belt and lifted it to his eyes. A click followed by a soft hum could be heard as the night scope came to life. To the pair huddled in the grass, it sounded as loud as a chainsaw. They could easily see their targets now: four males, four rods. The officers took turns watching their suspects in the green glow of the view finder. Without it the fishermen could not be seen even though they were less than 50 metres away.

The silence was suddenly broken by a ringing bell, a splash of water and the sound of excited voices. The officers watched as a fish was brought in close to shore. A large 50 cm (20 inch) rainbow trout had been hooked. Suddenly one of the men started walking directly at them. Ducking down in the grass, two hearts pounded with adrenaline as the man approached. Suddenly he changed direction and ran to the top of the ledge to a spot the officers had used on several other occasions to conceal themselves. They laughed silently together, straining to suppress any noise as the man switched on a flashlight and thoroughly searched the now abandoned vantage point.

A flurry of activity followed the all-clear signal. The lantern was lit, the fish landed, killed, bagged, and buried. Each man brought in his line, impaled fresh minnows on the pickerel rigs and cast out again.

Now with spotting scopes, the officers gathered up the evidence they needed. They watched until the last line was baited and cast, using the light from the lantern to identify each individual. The light was soon extinguished. Under the cover of darkness the officers returned to their vehicle to wait.

When the suspects returned to their car, they were arrested. Six rainbow trout between 42 and 54 cm were seized. A quick check revealed that all four men were repeat offenders.

Suspect One had been previously convicted for unlawfully using bait and keeping oversize fish on July 28, 1990 and for using bait, keeping oversize fish and exceeding the daily catch limit on July 4, 1991.

Suspect Two had been convicted for using bait on May 11 and July 7, 1991 and for keeping oversize fish on May 11, 1991.

The third person had been previously charged on July 4, 1991 for using two lines, using bait, possession of fish taken contrary to the regulations and failing to produce a valid sport fishing licence.

The last individual, a young offender, had been apprehended on May 11, for using two lines and exceeding the daily catch limit; on July 4, 1991 for using bait and on July 7, 1991, for fishing with bait and keeping oversize fish.

All of the previous offences had occurred at this location on the Bow River. However, none of the men have been breaking the law on the Bow since.

This fish story is true and the setting is the Bow River in the special regulation area between the Hwy. 22 X bridge in Calgary and the Carseland wier. The yellow sign which was ignored by these poachers lists the regulations for that section of the Bow River.

This section of the Bow River, one of the world's finest rainbow and brown trout fisheries, is protected by these regulations for the continued enjoyment of future generations. This is one of the heaviest utilized and patrolled water bodies in Alberta.

From 1989 to 1995, 2,860 fisheries violations have been issued on this 60-kilometre section of river by Fish and Wildlife Officers from High River, Strathmore and Calgary as well as park rangers from Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park. This enforcement effort has caused some poachers to revert to fishing at night to avoid being caught. Since 1989 night patrols and calls through the REPORT-A-POACHER hotline have resulted in 688 fisheries violations being cited between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Quentin Isley a member of the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officers Association in High River, AB.