Ling lore of Lake Windermere
By Bob Ede
On any given day plenty of ice fishing shacks dot Lake Windermere during the winter months. I don’t ice fish anymore. The truth is I never was very good at it. Not like my grandfather, father and brother who would often bring home nice fish. This is back in the day when every house cellar had a spike in a beam for hanging Ling so they could be skinned. This is back in the day when ling were common in Windermere and Columbia Lakes.
Ling are rare in the lakes now. Their demise may have been brought on by overfishing, or possibly the species was pushed out as the Columbia and Windermere Lakes turned from a natural resource to a recreational one, surrounded by large homes each with treated docks for ever increasing powered watercraft, adding to the turbidity of the once calm waters. Perhaps Ling couldn’t compete with the introduction of non-native species such as Kokanee and Bass. I suspect it’s a little bit of all these factors that have done in this once prized fish.
Back when Ling ran it seemed everybody had a ‘big fish’ story. Here is a story about the one that got away written by my father Ron Ede about his father Ernest (Dapper) Ede and fishing buddy Ron Bradshaw and his daughter Linda.
(By Ron Ede)
Around the end of the first week in February some avid fisherman, dangling a line through the ice on the South side of Windermere Point, would catch a couple of Ling. Word would get out and about immediately and the message that “the Ling are running” would circulate throughout the valley.
The Ling, technically the Burbot or somewhat less technically, Fresh Water Cod, commenced spawning at the mouth of Windermere Creek and at other locations around Windermere Lake, about the second week in February. Some said the spawn was triggered by a chinook, or a cold spell, or a warm spell, or the Moon phase, or a dozen or so other reasons. . . But, in fact, the Ling spawned about the same time each year triggered, no doubt, by the females’ overwhelming urgency to reproduce and the males’ burning desire to fertilize her eggs. They came by the hundreds to the weed beds at the mouth of Windermere Creek and Goldie Creek, Columbia Lake and Columbia River and tributary waterways. . . Wherever there were weed beds. . . To do just that.
The unhandsome green Ling, looking as much like an eel as a fish, was a taste delight. Skinned, filleted and fried its white meat was tastier than that of many of its cousins found in deluxe fish stores. What a delicious break from the usual depression day menu of wild game served in most homes!
For about three weeks in February each year the ice over the weed beds at the mouth of Windermere Creek took on a carnival atmosphere. Fishermen and women, dressed in their warmest clothing, including blankets in myriads of colours, laid on the ice on a bed of straw, or boards, or gunny sacks. . . And anything that would provide insulation from the bare ice. . . To try to catch the much-sought-after Ling.
Teams of horses and wagons came with Akisqnuk and Shuswap First Nations. The odd car dotted the ice-scape. Dozens of people just wandered from hole to hole to see what was being caught while exchanging good-natured chatter.
Dogs were everywhere and, invariably once or twice each season, someone would leave a baited hook on the ice and a dog would pick up the bait and get a hook embedded in its mouth. This would prompt most of the men to gather around and offer advice on the best way to remove the hook, and eventually it would be extracted and everyone would return to the task at hand. . . fishing for Ling.
Ron Bradshaw and Dapper Ede for years never missed a day fishing off Windermere Point during the Ling season, and they brought home some large catches and some very big fish. However, according to them, the biggest one got away!
On that particular day, Dapper was fishing just around the corner from the tip of the Point on the south side, and Ron was fishing around the corner on the north side. Linda, Ron’s young daughter, was happily running back and forth between the two fishermen. Suddenly, Ron said, “Linda, run over and tell Dapper I’ve got a hell of a big Ling gaffed near its tail!” Linda ran over and told Dapper, and he said, “Tell Ron I’ve got a bloody monster gaffed near its head !”
Then began a lengthy period as each tried to land his fish with Linda, excitedly, running back and forth telling each about the other’s battle with their monsters. Finally, both fishermen tired, the Ling were winners and swam away with their gaffes.
It wasn’t ‘til later when Ron and Dapper compared notes that they realized they were both hooked to the same fish, one on one end and one on the other. Their story was given credence as several boaters as soon as the ice was off Lake Windermere, claimed to have seen two broomstick –like poles cruising up and down the lake.
The following September on duck season opening day, Ron and Dapper, as they did every year, went hunting at their favourite spot near the end of Lake Windermere. Early in the morning, Ron crossed over to his favourite spot at Mud Lake while Dapper cruised the potholes to jump-shoot the early season ducks feeding there. As usual they arranged to meet at a certain place along the bank at noon.
Noon came and Ron excitedly came up to Dapper and said, “Dap, you’ve got to come out to Mud Lake and see this ! You’ll never believe it!”
Off they went and when they got out to the lake Ron pointed to the bony remains of a huge Ling lying just about the water’s edge… And there near its head was Dapper’s gaff, and near the tail was Ron’s gaff! They assumed the monster fish had beached itself during high water and, even with its tremendous durability, it couldn’t withstand the hot summer sun and perished as it tried unsuccessfully to get back into the water.
They picked up their gaffs, and as Dapper retrieved his he said, “Hey, Ron did you see that bloody fish wiggle his tail when I pulled out my gaff ?” Ron replied, “The damn thing wiggled all the way down his spine when I picked up mine!”
Well, that’s the way Dapper and Ron told the story and many of the townspeople said they found it pretty hard to believe. And yet, who could not believe?
Many early spring boaters had reported seeing their gaffs traveling up and down Lake Windermere. . .
And the following February during the Ling season, there were Dapper and Ron at their favoured locations fishing with the same gaffs people had seen them using for many, many years!
Burbot are now rare in the upper Columbia reaches and regulated and protected.
Lead image: A lone fishing shack on Lake Windermere; 2021. Photo by Bob Ede