My husband and I have lived in Toronto for forty-nine years and, until Labour Day this year, we had never once fished in Lake Ontario. Like most everyone else I know, we assumed that the lake was too dirty and the fish were inedible, or at least so toxic that consumption would need to be limited.
Not true. The lake has been cleaned dramatically in recent years. The government stocks the lake with salmon and rainbow trout. Every year the Toronto Sun sponsors the Great Ontario Salmon Fishing Derby which this year ran from June 29th to August l7th. During the derby, big prizes are offered to those who catch the biggest fish each week, the biggest fish during the derby, and the charter boats that catch the most fish. Winning fish can weigh twenty-seven to forty pounds.
My husband has been a fly fisherman most of his life; in B.C. as a youth, in the Wyoming mountain wilderness, and in northern Ontario rivers years ago. His catches were generally no more than a foot long and eaten immediately. We often salivate over stories of our relatives out west who go on big fishing trips in the salt chuck or on the big rivers of the B.C. interior. Once my brother caught a halibut well over 100 pounds near Tofino. It took over an hour to land and fed family and friends all winter. Two of my mother’s cousins fished for salmon up the B.C. coast until well into their eighties, canning the fresh salmon on the beach before they brought it home. People who live on the west coast are preoccupied with the size and health of the four-year salmon run. In Toronto, we didn’t even appreciate that there were salmon in Lake Ontario, also living a four-year cycle before they go upriver to spawn.
To celebrate my husband’s birthday, my younger son arranged to charter a fishing boat for a morning from Epic Sportfishing in Scarborough. At 6:00 a.m. on September 2nd, my husband, two sons, and I met skipper Aaron Flavell in the pre-dawn dark at Bluffers Park Marina. Before long, we were out in the water opposite the Scarborough Bluffs and Aaron began to let out what became eight lines, all set for different lengths and depths according to where his fish-finder indicated the fish could be. Fishing has obviously become a very sophisticated high tech affair.
Within a half-hour of leaving the dock, I caught our first fish, a rainbow trout well over five pounds and well over two feet long. Within minutes, Bill and Carl each caught, almost together, a couple of salmon of about the same size. Aaron said that they were two years old. We were utterly delighted. These were the biggest fish we had ever caught. It was Ben’s turn to reel in the next catch which turned out to be a yearling which we decided was too small to keep; our first catch and release. Ben’s next was another rainbow trout of a good size which ended up in the cooler. Over less than five hours, we caught nine fish: three rainbow trout and six salmon. We kept the six over five pounds to take home
Throughout the morning, Aaron filled us in on the mechanics of modern sports fishing, how the fish finder and the bottom feeders worked, and the advantages of different types of lines and reels. He told us about the big summer salmon-fishing derby, and how many of his clients had been winners. He was somewhat disappointed that we hadn’t pulled in a twenty-pounder. By contrast, we were ecstatic. Even more so when he filleted the fish for us as we returned to the marina. We brought our share home to put in the freezer.
It was a beautiful day for fishing. Not too hot nor too sunny. Apart from the fishing, the early morning air, the shining waters, the waves of monarch butterflies we saw flying south, and the vistas of the shore and the city were invigorating. The easy camaraderie between us was great fun. This was undoubtedly the beginning of a new tradition.