Back around 40,000 years ago, we know, based on cave drawings, that Paleolithic man was fishing. He probably used his hands, a sharp stick or improvised trap or net as his method. Early Greeks weren’t big on fishing (too busy with philosophy) but there are a few early mosaics that show young boys holding fishing poles. We know that man has continued to fish through the ages—he needed food and fish tasted good. What he didn’t know was that fish was also very good for his health, providing him with lots of the nutrients his system needed. We don’t have any record that he actually enjoyed the act of fishing although chances are his eyes lit up when he landed a big one—just as our eyes light up today when we feel that unmistakable tug of a big one on the end of our line.
In 1653, Izaak Walton published “The Compleat Angler,” the first written record demonstrating that fishing had progressed from a simple gathering of food to a sport. Walton meticulously recorded his frequent fishing excursions, what waters he fished, what flies he tied, what the final catch totals were. His enthusiasm for the simple joy of fishing was boundless. And we can be quite certain that Mr. Walton, his family and neighbors enjoyed the results of his fishing trips when they sat down at the dinner table.
My Dad also fished with a two-fold purpose. He loved the sport, the challenge of finding the fish and figuring out how to catch them and he enjoyed the many shore lunches and dinners my Mom made with them when we had a good day on the water. Catch and release was not part of his parlance. He was strictly a catch and eat fisherman. And we usually had no trouble finishing off what was caught, even if the catch reached the legal limit. And there was always the hope that enough could be caught to freeze and take home, a way of extending the pleasure of our fishing vacations and providing some hearty dinners back in Chicago.
Only when my Dad and I started traveling to Ontario and then Northern Manitoba did we become truly acquainted with catch and release. That’s because we caught more fish than we could ever hope to eat and we had also become aware of the delicate and finite nature of the fishing environment. What had once been a great fishing lake in Wisconsin, sometimes now yielded little or nothing. The same began to happen in Northern Minnesota. Fishing pressure and commercial fishing were the culprits.
That’s one reason why I so much love fishing in Northern Manitoba. First of all, it’s so far and the lakes so seldom if ever fished that there is no fishing pressure. And, thankfully, it’s too remote to make commercial fishing feasible. Plus the intelligent people of Northern Manitoba came to the realization that even their vast resources of fish and wildlife were not inexhaustible. So they mandated catch and release except for eating some smaller sized fish for shore lunch. The big fish, all of them, are returned unharmed to their environment.
Of course, it’s expensive to go fishing in Northern Manitoba. The season is very short (June to late August), the distances and logistical issues are great since everything has to be flown in. And at Big Sand Lake Lodge, anything more remote than “roughing it” at an outpost camp with indoor plumbing is not allowed. And staying at the lodge itself is a special blend of adventure and comfort with host Big Rick, his staff and First Nation fishing guides taking all the stress out of your trip. You are left with nothing to do but enjoy yourself, catch and release to your heart’s content and collect some stories that will both amaze and bore your grandchildren when you get old.
Fish are cheaper at the fish market by quite a wide margin. However, no memories, no stories, no stress relief ever came from a trip to the market. So what is it that compels us to venture far from home to find the best places to fish? There’s the clean air, the light unfiltered by smog, the feel of the wind in your face as your boat heads up the lake. And there’s the satisfaction of matching your instincts against those finely honed instincts of a trophy fish. It’s primal, something that perhaps links us back to primitive Paleolithic man in his quest for survival. Whatever compels us to fish, it is deeply satisfying on the most basic level.
At Big Sand Lake Lodge, it will be you, your buddies, your guide and the fish. No boat or wading fly fisherman will encroach on whatever spot you decide to try. As Ernest Hemingway said “Somebody just back of you while your fishing is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl.” The only one behind you at Big Sand is your First Nation guide pointing to a spot where he knows another big one is waiting. And he’s waiting for you.
by Gary Cole