Amidst the high white-capped waves built up by an extra strong northwest wind a line of boats are barely visual due to the hard pelting rain drops that has been falling since late last night.
This can be an extraordinary sight for any passer-by or a chance hunter caught in a midst of a fierce rain storm, but the people occupying these boats are Michikan (Bearskin) Lake anglers who live by a code passed down from their Elders which states “when something has to be done it must be done no matter what the situation.”
The date is Sept. 11 and this is the first summer fishing derby for the people of Michikan. There are regular derbies held during the course of the summer but today’s derby is being sponsored by the local recreation committee and offers big prizes most people of this small community normally cannot afford on seasonal employment.
A 16 foot boat with a 25hp motor, $2,500 cash, a new bedroom suite, washer and drier and countless other prizes including participant’s draws for those who lack fishing skills and knowledge of fish habitats.
I was drawn in by the second prize of $2,500 as were 90 per cent of the other participants that entered. The money can help in many ways including a paid vacation and time out of the community or down payments for a new Ski-doo come winter.
I teamed with my sister Katie who is a single mother caring for her grandchildren.
Katie also works as a radio station manger during the summer months and with work and her home responsibilities she never has time for her personal needs or recreational activities.
The derby is slated to start at 9 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. Like a responsible parent and grandmother, Katie must do her shopping first before we depart. We arrive at the boat launch by 10:30 a.m. that morning and decide to use our mother’s boat which she won during the winter fishing derby held here in Michikan Lake.
After casting off we spend another 45 minutes trying to start our motor but to no avail. The time we spent trying to start our motor has blown us a mile along the shore and we are forced to abandon our efforts. We portage back along the shoreline carrying our gas tank cursing one another under our breaths. Our next departure time is now 11 a.m., three hours behind every other fisherman.
With the frustrations of the weather and exhaustion from pulling the motor for a half hour the stress of a simple fishing trip becomes endurable when I decide to slip in my last comment, a teaching that is basic in all societies, “It never pays to steal!”
Her quick response yields an extended hand and stretched fingers “it’s a good thing I have my new gloves on, now let’s go.”
It takes us a good hour to get to our first site, a hot spot for pickerel coming in from the main Severn River way onto the main lake of Severn. With no voting or rank she makes herself captain of my boat and orders a trolling cruise through the parked boats, each manned by two to three fishermen. After a couple of passes through mean stares from grunting fishermen we have caught nothing only snagging weeds.
Katie and I have been setting nets during the summer months and have become familiar with fish migration and feeding spots. We head towards the deeper areas where we had witnessed a couple dozen loons on a feeding frenzy during the lather parts of the summer.
The first location offers us one good sized pickerel (the only one we would catch all day). The day seems to last forever when the cold wind and rain has been beating on your person for hours.
By 2 p.m. we are soaked and find a sheltered area along the shore and build a fire. Hot tea and food is always a good source of energy when you are soaked and famished.
We then proceed along the Wunnimun Seebee (river), located on the west side of Severn Lake. We witness boats making their trek back but we make one more run and troll the shore.
The time now is 3 p.m. and we decide it is time to count our losses and head home.
We stop at the bottom of the Ki-Tach-won rapids where several fishermen have also stopped to have their last cast.
The final destination to the weighing station situated at the boat launch is disappointing for me as the judges weigh in my catch.
Each person had brought in fish weighing three, four and five pounds as my super sized fish only weighed in at 2.58 pounds.
The recreation committee has slated the announcement of the winners that evening at the local school gym. My partner and I walk in proud of our achievement and still hope for a 10th place prize.
As the judges start their last place countdown, the size of the smallest fish is 3.58 pounds, a whole pound more than my super catch.
Without starting a scene my partner and I are relieved to win a prize each in the participant catorgies. The big surprise for this fishing derby came last when a seven year old is announced with a seven pound walleye.
Brett Mckay is in Grade 3 attending the local Michikan Lake School and during his summer breaks and holidays from school he takes his cultural upbringing and teachings with great passion. His father, Archie, (who also took his other son, Seth along) is very committed to the teachings passed down from his parents and Elders about life and respect of the land and survival that comes from those teachings.
A total of 45 people each paying a $120 entry fee participated in this summer fishing derby.
We are still reeling from the shock of dealing with a pandemic. Most of us can’t leave the house, many people are not able to go to work or school and life...