A Big Fish Story
While fishing on Lesser Slave Lake in northern Alberta, Canada, Tara Nolan kisses her catch—and it brings back fond cottage memories.
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It’s a calm, September evening on Lesser Slave Lake in Northern Alberta, Canada. My fishing guide Wally loads up his boat with gear, gallantly helps me in, and pushes off from the dock, heading toward the first of his favourite fishing spots. I have my new, requisite hunting and fishing license in my pocket—though pulling it out if I’m asked to produce it could prove near impossible. I wasn’t sure how cold it would be out on the lake, so I’ve layered most of my cool-weather duds and I can barely bend my arms. A life preserver and a hearty meal, prepared by Wally’s wife at the Reel In Resort where I’m staying, provide further insulation. I am ready to fish.
The last time I fished was probably as a teenager. It was an after-dinner cottage tradition for my sister and I to go out on the lake with my dad. I’m used to catching rock bass and the odd perch or smallmouth. Catch and release was always the name of the game, but mostly because we rarely caught anything big enough to eat. Lesser Slave Lake, which is 108 kilometres long and 15 kilometres at its widest point, is home to much bigger fish. In fact, it’s known as one of the top walleye fisheries in North America. Northern pike, burbot, whitefish and yellow perch also inhabit this enormous body of water, but at this time of year, we’re hoping to catch a walleye.
Wally and I sit in companionable silence. I feel a few nibbles here and there, my fishing rod gently bending and bobbing in the water. But then I feel that familiar tug and I know something’s fighting to get away. Wally gives me lots of tips as I struggle to reel in the fish. He scoops it up in a net, lets it go into the inky water and then suddenly remembers: “You’re supposed to kiss your first fish for luck!” Uh huh, sure I am. But, when Wally helps me take my second walleye of the night off the hook and hands it to me, I gamely give it a smooch.
The sun starts to set and one lone boat is silhouetted against the fiery backdrop. Behind us, as we head towards the marina, the horizon is complete blackness. Only the south shore is developed, with the odd little light serving as a beacon. Wally has been navigating the waters for years, so I’m not nervous, but the darkness, unmarred by light pollution, is a little disconcerting.
Back in my room, snuggled up with a cup of tea, I chuckle at how gullible Wally must think I am, getting a girl from Toronto to kiss a fish. But it has brought up some happy childhood cottage memories. I post the photo to my Facebook wall (yup, Reel In Resort has wireless) and wait for the comments to roll in.