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The art of urban fishing

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Scrolling through his social media news feed, Winnipeg resident Todd Longley takes note of the numerous images popping up of some of his friends proudly hoisting a sizable catch. One is a snapshot of a 42-inch, 37.5-pound channel catfish, a species that most anglers view as an impressive catch at around half that size.

The thing is, most of these boastful fish-pics aren’t coming from the tranquil scenery of rural Manitoba, they’re being fished from within the city.

Longley is a major player in the city’s urban fishing scene, an advocate for the Canadian heritage sport with deep roots in The Peg. He started his own guiding company, City Cats, back in 1999 that specializes in taking clients on fishing trips throughout Winnipeg, and he’s also a member of the Urban Angling Partnership, made up of the provincial government, city and private sector sponsors.

“We have a world-class fishery in our own back yard,” Longely says. “There’s nowhere in Winnipeg that’s more than 10 minutes away from good fishing.”

Urban fishing, of course, is just another way of saying fishing. But what it really means, according to David Clark, member of Ontario’s Toronto Urban Fishing Ambassadors, is making the best of the fisheries local to your community rather than getting into a car and driving off to a rural destination, while reconnecting with the city’s natural landscape. Most urban fishing is done from the shore, although there are still a number of rods cast from boats, canoes and even kayaks around the city. But most often, Clark says, you’ll see urban fishers toting their gear to and from on foot, cycling, or on transit.

And urban angling is a popular pastime in Winnipeg.

“[You’ll see] a lot of people out,” Longely says. “It’s such a chill, contemplative activity in a city where everyone is constantly looking for something to do.”

“A big part [of the urban fishing scene] is understanding your local watershed, river, streams, lakes and ponds,” says Clark.

Getting to know the art of fishing, for sport or hobby, means getting to know your environment, which is ideal for city dwellers who may spend much of their leisure time surrounded by concrete and construction.

“Once you get outside and start to walk along your local watershed, you see how beautiful the landscape really is,” Clark says. “It becomes more about the nature ... an experience with wildlife.”

Many of Canada’s largest cities have programs at municipal and grass-roots levels that promote the sport and leisure activity by offering skills clinics, gear shares or ‘hot spot’ maps in some form or another. Cities like Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal boast major bodies of water that are ripe with aquatic life, and their urban angling communities have been steadily growing.

Some of the most popular fishing spots within Winnipeg include the Assiniboine Riverwalk at The Forks, Midwinter Park and Fraser’s Grove, where you’ll find a bevy of cast rods on any given day with many “Manitoba moments,” says Longley, “when the fish goes back into the water unharmed.”

For the most part, urban anglers like Longley practice catch-and-release, though he is quick to point out that nearly anything you reel out is edible, the main exception being the protected sturgeon species.

Along with ongoing community events, including the Winnipeg Fish Festival, Fall Fishing Derby and Generation Next Angler series, the UAP is also involved with a youth outreach program that sees children gather at community centres where they’ll spend early mornings digging up bait, before being transported to the water to learn the skills necessary to reel in a catch. They even get to keep the rod.

Still, there’s an important factor in getting newcomers hooked, says Longley.

“I find they need to have success before they really get into it. I recommend [a youth or beginner] go with somebody who knows what they’re doing. Once they see someone catch, or catch one themselves, they’re hooked.

“Fishing is something that doesn’t break the bank. You don’t need a boat, you can fish right off shore,” Longley says. “It’s a good activity for a whole family to develop memories they can take with them forever.”

“If you’re willing to put in the effort, there are big catches in a city,” Clark adds. “If you become a good urban angler, you’re better at fishing anywhere you go. You’ve developed your presentation of bait and techniques in a place where it’s more difficult to hook them, and that skill will catch you fish anywhere else.”

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