In the Land of the Black Bear: Part 9

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Pheasant Lake: An Interlude of Delight

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In 1979 Allis and the Bushman dug a big hole in the ground. Spring 1980: the big hole was now full of muddy water. To implement the rest of the project the Bushpeople next consulted the Fish and Wildlife

ministry of the Provincial Government for information on how to proceed to introduce Rainbow Trout into an artificially created new niche in the micro-ecology of the 40 acre bush on Patterson Road, south of Prince George, B.C.

The legitimate options were two: a permit for a hobby farm or a permit for a commercial fish farm. The Bushwoman and the Bushman applied for the latter which would open up more possibilities than simple recreational use. They were granted a commercial permit and in May 1980, three thousand 2-3 inch Rainbow Trout fingerlings were purchased from Sun Valley Trout Farms in Mission B.C. The cost for stocking Pheasant Lake was modest. Priced per hundred the Bushpeople estimated that the up side was worth the gamble. Although 3000 seemed somewhat excessive, a few hundred could simply be removed and consumed as sardines should there be signs that the pond could not accommodate that big a number. The Bushpeople would learn from that first year and modify their approach to stocking for subsequent years.

The Bushman fed his charges twice a day and by early July the water had become somewhat clearer as the suspended sediments of silt settled to the bottom giving momentary glimpses of fish which had doubled in size in their two month stay in Pheasant Lake. Feeding time, especially the night feeding, took on the proportions of a side show. At someone’s approach, the fish would assemble in one location of the pond in anticipation of the arrival of the pelleted food. The minute the pellets hit the water, the surface would erupt noisily as the fish launched themselves at the food, breaking the surface.

The first year demonstrated that fish could survive and grow in the environment of the pond. The survival of the numbers of fish was an embarrassing success. Although Pheasant Trout Farm had a commercial permit, there was no established market for pond reared trout in the area. The Bushpeople had a monotonous diet that next winter. The average size of the fish harvested was small that first year, 6-8 inches. The next few years fifteen hundred would be the number stocked and the results would be dramatically better, especially for average size and weight.

The commercial permit gave the Bushpeople the liberty to sell Rainbow Trout at the farm, to transport them and to have the public angle for fish on the property. In the decade long operation of Pheasant Lake Trout Farm the Bushpeople sold fingerlings from Sun Valley Trout Farms as middlemen, purchasing 5,000 to 10,000 from Bernie and Hans Lehman to resell a small number to people in the Prince George region for ponds on their properties.

A small but steady and faithful base of customers did enjoy angling at Pheasant Lake. From August until Thanksgiving a select public would avail themselves of the guarantee of fail-proof fishing. The Bushpeople especially appreciated the customers who would not only buy the fish but would introduce them to novel ways of cooking and preparing the products from Pheasant Lake. Chief among these special people were Philip Pattan and the rest of the Pattan family, David and Elizabeth, James and Angeline and Andrew and Purbha, the Fiji Clan and frequent fisher, Elaine Genser, who made a delicious lox with Pheasant Lake Rainbow Trout.

Recreation and commerce combined, gave the most rewarding results for the Bushpeople. From early August to late September the Bushpeople would be presented with the pleasant chore of harvesting the results of the summer’s growth of trout. After supper in the waning light of late summer evenings, twenty to thirty lively, pink fleshed rainbows would be taken on a fly rod or spin casting with a lure. The Bushwoman was especially distinguished by her ability to process the evening’s catch for fresh sale to the public or for storage in the freezer for later sale or family consumption.

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The product, mid 1980s

The product, mid 1980s

The drudgery of harvesting began in early October when cooler and longer nights made working in water uncomfortable. The fish would rarely respond to lures or flies and became lethargic. The Bushwoman and Bushman would then drag a pursed net through the water from one end of the pond to the other. The first two attempts would result in some success, thereafter the fish would swim to the bottom or around the net to avoid being netted. By the end of October the final strategy was simply to use a pump to drain Pheasant Lake and retrieve the fish from the small pools of water on the bottom with a small hand held net.

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