BY HOLLY URBAN
So there I was, one eye open, dressed in several layers thanks to mom, and heading out of the cabin before dawn with my dad, the dog…and of course a fishing rod. This was the beginning to many summer days as a kid. I had the best intentions to catch a fish on every outing, but even if the morning fish turned into the dog and I sleeping on the bottom of the boat, it was still a fond memory of time spent fishing.
I truly believe my time spent at the lake; camping, fishing, hiking is what started my inspiration for nature and continually keeps me inspired. Not everyone has the opportunity to experience a landscape like the Swan Valley area. The community is nestled between two mountains, the Porcupine and Duck Mountains, both which are home to numerous lakes, streams and well… opportunities! Opportunities to just explore, experience and take in what we are so fortunate to have… and of course the fishing.
My days of fishing with dad turned into fishing with friends, then to fishing with my husband and now with my children. Fishing isn’t just an activity, it’s a lifestyle to some and it has brought me close to many of my friends and family that I have today. Shortly after I began a family, I decided to take my love for nature and make it part of my life, my work and my future career. I enrolled in the Natural Resource Management Technology Program at Keewatin Community College (now UCN) in The Pas, MB. This was two years well spent and I will never forget the knowledge, experience and friends I made there.
Graduation was followed by six years of seasonal work for a local forestry company doing various field surveys. During this time I heard of a group called Swan Valley Sport Fishing (SVSFE) and thought joining would be a good opportunity to get involved in the “fishing community”. I had no idea what I was getting into but knew I wanted to get involved and wanted to make a difference. I remember the first meeting I attended; a room full of men all sitting around a table barking out fishing stories in between the night’s agenda. The meetings were entertaining at times but all was serious when it came to preparing for the busiest night of the year… the Fish Banquet. This was, and always is the first weekend in May where the community comes together to enjoy a great night to support the group.
During my first years of volunteering with the group, I initiated a Family Fishing Day event, which is held annually at Whitefish Lake during March. Offering fishing events to the community and youth is always appreciated by those who don’t have the gear or knowledge and these events may be the memories that kids pass down through their lives. After volunteering as a director and then Secretary for Sport Fish for several years, a change was about to present itself. In 2009, the forestry company I was working for suspended seasonal employment and sent me job hunting. This marked the first year for SVSFE to receive funding through the Fisheries Enhancement Fund (FEF), and is where my employment with SVSFE began.
That summer another technician and I ventured out onto North Steeprock Lake and began our first walleye assessment. We spent the summer tagging several hundred walleye, interviewing anglers, and counting fish barrels with the objectives of gathering data for lake management. Once I understood how the FEF could benefit the local fisheries and anglers, I knew we couldn’t stop there. With the support of SVSFE, I dedicated my time to developing applications for the group to continue the valuable work that was started. The following years is when the work began. I was joined by two incredible partners, the first five years with Melissa Badger and most recently in 2012 with Brock Koutecky. Both possess the same passion and dedication to fisheries and are amazing people to work with. Within this time I have also received enormous support and mentoring from Provincial Fisheries Branch Staff; Ian Kitch, Ken Kansas, Lloyd Rowe to name a few. But everyone I’ve worked with in the branch has inspired me in one way or another to continue the journey that I have started.
As Project Manager now for the SVSFE, I have been a part of many worthwhile projects; various assessments on lakes and rivers to evaluate the health and recruitment of the fisheries, enhancing fish habitat for spawning, telemetry studies to understand walleye movement on local lakes and the Swan River, influencing regulation and management changes, coordinating fish transfers and moving thousands of walleye to lakes all over the area, and also initiating or coordinating educational experiences for youth including the Stewards of the Future: raising trout in the classroom, Annual Fish Camp, and not to mention various fish related field trips. These are just a few of my favorite things but I’d have to say, just having the opportunity to work on the various lakes/rivers here is rewarding in itself.
Now looking back, it has been an unbelievable experience. The dedication SVSFE has to the local fisheries and the commitment to the community is commendable and I’m proud to be part of the team. I wouldn’t say it has been easy, as there are always bumps in the road and learning curves to experience, but it all happens for a reason and is why this organization has accomplished what it has today. This success isn’t because of one person, it’s from the community support and that common passion people here have for fishing. This passion is the values that my dad passed down to me and that I will pass down to my girls. It’s those memories of your heart pumping as you fight that fish on the end of your line, never knowing what will emerge from the water. These are memories everyone should be allowed to experience and is definitely why I dedicate my time to this organization.
Youth of today are taking a strong interest in fishing. Recently one of our campers from Fish Camp told me that when he grows up, he is going to work for Sport Fish! By passing on meaningful values, I do believe that he will be the next generation of dedicated technicians working for Swan Valley Sport Fish. I hope to see the projects and programs grow and continue. The initiatives undertaken have already made positive impacts on the fisheries and the community. I believe the more people understand how they can make a difference, the bigger the difference will be. n