Published in Vue Weekly June 11 th
“These are barbless hooks. So onceyou have em snagged don’t let up any slack or they’ll just steal your bait,”instructed Shane as he rebated my hook. “Right, now open your bail and cast it back in.” The Abu Garcia bail flicked open with asmooth and satisfying click. As Idrew back the single piece quick action rod, I took in a breath and held itlike a sniper about to clear. The rod cut the air with a swish as I let fly my20 pound test-line and barrel swivel. It plopped 15 feet off the stern and sunk to the muddy bottom, where itrolled and tumbled along with the current.
“Sowhat makes this a good spot?” I asked while placing my rod back in the holderatop the gunwale.
“Welljust look at the current here. Seehow it bends around the bank there forming a little eddy behind us? The fish’ll just sit in that pocket waitingfor their food to come to them. There, you can see how it bends,” replied Shane, pointing at theriverbank. All I saw was a halfsubmerged bone pile. So I wentwith the old nod-and-smile. “Yougot a fish on,” he said giving a nod-and-smile of his own. I pounced on the rod and gave it a hardjerk. Furiously I reeled in thefirst of many, many fish. It was a5 pound walleye, dark green and mad as hell.
“Thatwas the quickest I have ever caught a fish,” I said as Shane grabbed the net.
“Itwoulda been quicker if you’d snagged that first one,” he reminded me with agrin. We’d been on the NorthSaskatchewan River for less than ten minuets and already I felt connected to ahistory, to a lifestyle, to Alberta.
Whenmost Edmontonians think about getting away on the weekends for a bit ofrelaxation, adventure, and fun, they immediately turn their gaze west. After all, the west has high mountains,deep lakes, and wild animals. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of the west; but after a trip throughKalyna country with Shane and his chartered jet boat, I can attest to thestress free fun to be had out east.
Launchingout of Lea Park, about two and a half hours drive east of Edmonton, Shane’schartered fishing and wildlife safaris is the only operator in the region. In fact, Shane only mentioned two otheroperators on the river, one out of Edmonton, and one on the SouthSaskatchewan. Fickle riverconditions combined with fluctuating migratory and spawning habits means onlythe most knowledgeable river guides can successfully operate. Shane still explores and discovers newencounters, and he’s been river guiding since 1997. The three make up a network of experience and knowledge thatmonitor the river better than the Alberta government. Because of their volunteer tagging and data collectingefforts, the decision to place sturgeon on the endangered species list – makingthem illegal to fish – was rescinded. Moreover, Shane proved the sturgeon weren’t simply surviving, butthriving in the diverse river echo system.
Inaddition to sturgeon, the river offers mooneye, goldeye, saugre, pike,quillback, burbot, and walleye, depending on the height, clarity, speed andseason of the river. In short,there’s always something to go after, but without someone who knows when,where, and what to go after, you could spend all day catching weeds. If,however, you’re looking to get skunked and just enjoy the scenery, Kalynacountry – and specifically Lea Park – is a great place for it. The campgroundis expansive, well kept and cheap: $15.00 a night for either tent or 15 amp RV,and $15.00 for a round of nine holes. From here, the river and all it has to offer is steps away. In addition to the glimmering water,brilliant wild flowers, and rich history, it is quite common to see babyeagles, diligent beavers, curious coyotes, and patrolling black bears,especially if you have someone who knows where to look.
Asthe day ended, we pulled into the sun-drenched park. “Well Shane,” I began.“That was a great day, thanks for taking me out on the river.”
“Hey,no problem. That’s what we do inAlberta. We sit inside for ninemonths, then the sun comes out and we get out there cause we know what’s cominfor us just around the corner.”