Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October: Slow Food and Slow Fishing


As readers of this column might have perceived, one of my passions (along with food and wine) is fly fishing.  I find this the most beautiful and calming of sports; if the word “Zen” ever applied to a leisure activity, this would be it.  This is “slow fishing” when compared to the manic, frantic type of angling we see on most televised fishing shows.  While I have fished for bonefish and tarpon, steelhead and salmon, pike and muskie, and have met anglers who prefer one of those prey to all others, I’m a trout fisher.  I would rather trick a 10 inch trout to take a floating insect imitation in a small stream than haul in an 80 pound tarpon somewhere off Cuba or Florida.  So I value small rivers and creeks for the fish they can hold when they are healthy, as well as for their importance to our environmental wellbeing.  The health of our small streams is the most important indicator of the health of our environment.  And, the best indicator of the health of small steams is the presence of Brook Trout.

     Brook Trout and Lake Trout are the only trout native to Ontario, and Brookies are an extremely fragile species, dependant on clear, clean, cold water for survival.  Any degradation of their environment is a threat to their survival; they are the “canary in the coal mine,” the first warning sign of trouble in a watershed.

     Twelve Mile Creek, which has one of its sources right in Fonthill, is the only cold water stream system in Niagara capable of holding Brook Trout.  There is anecdotal evidence from anglers, Conservation Officers, and landowners that a small population of Brook Trout still survives in the headwaters of the system, maybe downstream as far as Short Hills Provincial Park.  Old-timers tell tales of plentiful Brookies in the Twelve back in the 40’s and 50’s, but sightings now are rare.

     Enter Trout Unlimited Canada (TUC).  This is a conservation organization, made up mostly, it must be admitted, of anglers.  Like Ducks Unlimited (whose members are mostly hunters), which seeks to preserve wetlands as habitat for waterfowl, TUC seeks to maintain its sport by conserving and enhancing the environment that makes the sport possible.  (The difference between the two is that, by and large, the ducks do not survive their encounters with members of the organization, while the trout do, since most fly fishers practice catch and release.)  Regardless of the underlying motivation of these groups, the work they do to preserve, protect, and enhance Canada’s natural environment is beyond reproach.

      The Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada is recently formed, but has already begun making plans for the enhancement of the Twelve Mile Creek watershed.  Working closely with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Short Hills Provincial Park, Niagara College’s Ecosystem Restoration Program, Niagara Conservancy, and other interested organizations, Trout Unlimited is in the process of putting in place a plan to study one stretch of the stream to determine scientifically if Brook Trout inhabit it, what the barriers are to their survival and success, and how to improve the stream.  Working one stretch at a time, their goal is to make a significant contribution to the health of this unique watershed.

     What’s all this got to do with Slow Food?  One of the most important mandates of the Slow Food Movement is the preservation and enhancement of our environment.  This can be achieved through the protection of agricultural land, through sustainable farming practices, and through efforts such as those now being undertaken by the Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada.