Commentary – So….what lake is this?

Joe McWilliams

Play to your strengths, they say. Around here, it’s fishing. Fishing and camping, let’s say. If you want to promote more tourist visits, those would seem to be the sensible areas of focus.

Lesser Slave Lake comes rather late to the game. Commercial fishing was the thing here, with maybe a hundred years of history.

It’s been eclipsed (maybe just for the time being) by recreational fishing. Lesser Slave was all but ignored as an angling destination of choice for decades.

People could barely find it on a map. This is hard to credit, given its size and prominence on the map of Alberta. Lots of people still only have the vaguest idea where it is. (See example way down below).

But fishing, as I say, is the thing. Campgrounds do a healthy business around here, and many of the people in them are here to fish. Fishing tournaments are popular fixtures. Ice fishing is a much bigger deal than it used to be – though still a pretty small part of the big picture.

You have to ask yourself, though, what a proper, safe amount of angling is – even for a lake as big as Lesser Slave. Certainly there’s a point at which a good thing becomes too much of a good thing.

I’ve had good luck fishing. That is – I’ve had fun learning about it over the years as a reporter looking for a few good pictures and a story or two. Pete and Pauline Kushner of High Prairie were good enough, years ago, to take me out on the ice, off Hilliard’s Bay.

They showed me my first burbot. And my second, third and fourth. Possibly also my fifth, sixth and seventh.

Then Murray D of Widewater took me on a commercial net pull at The Narrows one fine winter day. Out they came, while Murray and the boys competed to see who could say the most outrageous things. I guess that’s how you pass the time when hauling nets out of holes and extricating fat fish from the mesh.

They were all focused on the fish, which meant I was the only one to see a giant ice heave in the distance to the west. A big wall of ice appeared and then disappeared just as suddenly, a mile (or a few) distant. I had a hard time believing what I was seeing and the passage of time hasn’t made it any easier.

My next fishing guide was that gung-ho outdoorsman (and bank manager by day) Jim Jarvis.

He took me ice fishing off Canyon Creek a few winters ago. Jim was on a mission to convert me. He saw no reason why, with a little exposure, I shouldn’t become as nuts about it as he was.

That didn’t happen, but it was interesting and I appreciated the effort he put into it. But the most interesting part of it was getting caught in a blizzard and losing our way back to shore.

The first fish I ever caught was in Tenquille Lake, high in the mountains above Pemberton B.C. What a thrill. My first walleye was off Joussard in my boss’s boat on a company outing in 1992 or thereabouts.

That was the same occasion when one of The Leader employees, arriving by the lake at Joussard for the picnic, asked, “So, what lake is this?”

You’ll find this hard to believe, we told her, but it’s the same one Slave Lake is on.

It’s pretty big and it’s been here for quite a while. It has fish in it as well.

That’s an extreme example, maybe. But lots of Edmontonians are in the same state of ignorance. The effort at enlightenment continues…


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