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Holding onto fishing, trapping heritage at Winefred Lake
LAC LA BICHE REGION, AB - The pike’s tail thrashes, splashing the sides of the boat. It’s a strong 10-pounder and it’s putting up a fight. This is the eighth fish on our lines in less than an hour but it’s my first. Not just my first today; it’s my first ever.
I’ve fished lake, river and sea, and watched my companions pull up prize catches all around me. Until today, I’ve always come up empty-handed. So there’s fair sport at Winefred Lake. But there’s more to it: a stirring along the water, a quiet on the land, a heritage that stretches back generations.
I’m in a boat with Trapper Paul (aka Paul Padlesky), a man who staked his claim to the area over 30 years ago, who bushwhacked his way out to Winefred Lake in his late teens in search of his calling, who traded furs for the Hudson Bay in the ‘80s and who (with the help of his wife, Sheri) built up a fishing, hunting and lodging outfit that is a premier destination for Alberta outdoorsmen in the know.
“Reel it in gently,” he coaches. “You have to coax him in.”
I can feel the tug on the line but something doesn’t seem right. There is something I can only describe as a “loose” feeling along the line, off and on, as if the fish is slowly wriggling off the hook. I worry that I’m going to lose him.
But if the Trapper counsels patience, I’ll listen.
Padlesky started trapping with his grandfather at the age of seven, following the tradition of his Metis family. One day, he went to his dad and told him he wanted to quit school and become a trapper.
“He told me, ‘No, you’re going to go to school and make something of yourself,’ so I went to my grandfather,” Padlesky recalls, “and he started laughing at me. He said, ‘Good boy. Now let’s go trapping.’”
When his grandfather passed away, Paul was crushed. But the old man had left him a legacy -- the traps and gun he used for trapping. And an uncle promised to help him buy his dream trapline, when he found that perfect one. Many years later, he finally did.
“It was late at night,” he says, calling back the memory of his first arrival on the shores of Winefred Lake. “It probably took me 14 hours to get here. I ended up coming through the old Conklin bush road. It was a hell of a road, but I managed to punch my way through.”
Over the years, he built up his claim - his own log home, two guest cabins, boat launch and grounds - and began welcoming clients for summer fishing. Today, he has loyal clients who come each year, booking up to a year in advance. Some have been coming for as many as 25 years.
Winters, he takes clients hunting for moose and trapping for beaver, lynx and wolf. Looking back, Padlesky feels there was something greater guiding him. “It was like call of the spirits. Somebody was guiding me, somebody was always there.”
Reaching into the water, Padlesky scoops up the pike, swiftly removes the hook and holds the fish in the air. I reach out and run a hand along its slick, wet, brown-green speckled back.
It is permitted to keep up to two pike (of regulation size) on Winefred, but mostly it is just catch and release. In this wild, remote place, life is both fragile and powerful. Not everything can be held and kept, so when you find that special something - like Padlesky did - you hold on tight.
Trapping as a way of life is slowly vanishing, but Padlesky is doing everything he can to keep it alive at Winefred Lake.
“There’s a lot of history, a lot of heritage here people should know,” he says. He releases his finger from the fish’s gill and it slides back into the water, leaving behind only a silvery, opaque ripple.
Travelling from Edmonton to Lake Country is easy, at about a three hour drive North East.
Wilfred Lake Outfitters, found here http://www.winefredlake.com, is only one of a half-dozen resorts and lodges who offering fishing experiences and/or overnight accommodations within the region.
The others include:
- Elinor Lake Resort in Lakeland Provincial Park: http://www.elinorlakeresort.com/
- The Haven at Elinor Lake: http://www.elinorlakeresort.com/
- Winefred Lake Lodge: http://www.winefredlakelodge.com/
- Plamondon Whitesands Resort: http://www.plamondonwhitesands.com/
- Kikino Silver Birch Resort & Campground: http://kikinoresort.com/
For more on the area and to get planning visit, laclabicheregion.com
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