Inside: with Ministry of Natural Resource's Information Assistant Wil Wegman 

by  Mike Skyba

Mr. Wil Wegman holding a large walleye caught on Lake Simcoe.Wil Wegman states, "Its hard to argue against my wonderful wife's keen observation that my entire life seems to be focused around fishing". I talk fishing at work, I fish at least 100 times a year. I write about fishing as a freelance writer, I give fishing seminars  as an angling instructor, and I am kept busy with fishing related subjects as the  Conservation Director for the Ontario B.A.S.S. Federation. Basically, I sleep, breath and eat fishing".

Over the years, Wil has refined his interest in the sport to become a very species - specific angler. Namely, during the hard water season, Wil's 30-40 or so times on the ice are usually spent chasing yellow perch. The occasional whitefish, lake trout, walleye, pike and crappie outing also take place in  winter. In the spring, some pike, and walleye angling followed by the occasional trip for  crappie, and perch. "Once the bass opener comes through, nothing else really matters, and another 40 trips  at least are spent chasing largemouth bass and smallmouth bass…I love them both".

"Tournament fishing excites me even after all these years. My first tournament was in 1986 and I have been fishing competitively ever since".  "I also love to hunt…mostly just deer and grouse, and I do some gardening and enjoy  spending time with the family".

Mr. Wil Wegman holding two bass at the Northern B.A.S.S. Qualifier at Lake St. Clair.Wil Wegman, is the Information Assistant with the Ministry of Natural Resources, in  Aurora, Ontario, and also serves as the Conservation and Media Director for the Ontario  B.A.S.S. Federation.  I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Mr. Wil Wegman, and asked him a  few questions that I believe anglers will find interesting and helpful.

Mike Skyba: As an Information Assistant at the Ministry of Natural Resources in Aurora,  Ontario, what is your job function?

Wil Wegman: My job entails writing and distributing press releases, working with media,  writing the Fishing Lake Simcoe Newsletter and other reports, promoting fishing and hunting opportunities, co-coordinating Urban Fishing Festivals, plus customer service etc.

Mike Skyba: You hold seminars in "Successful Bass Fishing" and "Ice Fishing", at  Seneca College. What do you teach your students and what do you  believe your students learn from you're classes?

Wil Wegman: In the bass classes I teach the basics - there are always a mixed group of  experienced anglers and rank amateurs, so you can't assume everyone is at the same level. I teach hook sharpening, knot tying, bass habits and habitat,  lures and how, when, and where to fish them, structure fishing, tournament  tactics fishing and, of course, I try to instill a strong catch and release ethic.

Mike Skyba: You hold bass tournaments for your students twice a year, one in July,  and the other in October, plus you do tournaments yourself. As an Information Officer for the MNR and a tournament angler, do you  believe that tournaments have a "negative or "posistive" aspect on the lakes and the fishery?

Wil Wegman: I believe most of the time; tournaments provide a "positive" aspect to the  fishery. Of course a poorly run tournament or a derby - which by definition can be catch and kill, is not always beneficial. Tournaments bring thousands of dollars to local communities, they  highlight the fishery, they promote catch and release to recreational anglers, they highlight new techniques to educate all anglers. They provide a high profile forum for the tackle industry,  and they provide excellent fishing opportunities for hard-core anglers.

Mike Skyba: Wil, as you have probably heard, some feel that tournaments have a  "negative" impact to the fishery. Some say, that during tournaments, the fish are stressed while in livewells, disoriented when released back into the  water in which they were not caught and that most if not half of the fish  "do not" find their away back to their home waters. Along with certain groups/organizations who think that hooking a fish with  a sharp hook through the mouth is inhumane.  Wil, what is you're response to all this, what are the facts?

Wil Wegman: The vast majority of tournaments have excellent survival rates and this is  especially true here in Canada where our waters are cooler. The facts speaks for themselves, most tournaments here have over 95%  catch and release success rate. A low water temperature and high oxygen  content in livewells is key to survival. Today's modern livewells are excellent and organizations like the Ontario Bass Federation are  continually striving to educate anglers on how to maintain the bass in their livewells to maximize long-term survival. Mark Ridway, Canada's leading bass researcher has performed research 
studies that, generally speaking, show that the majority of smallmouth make it back to their original homes but largemouth bass will not return as readily. Most take up residence wherever the food and habitat is to their  liking. Tournament organizers have come to understand this and therefore are releasing their fish at various locations throughout the lake to disperse the bass.  As for certain groups/organizations who speak of hooking a fish through the mouth with a sharp hook as inhumane, I let the facts and my own  experiences speak for themselves. There is "no" evidence that a cold-blooded creature like a fish can experience pain anything like a human can. Period! Comparing what we feel to what they feel is shear nonsense.  If fish felt pain, why is it that sometimes a fish will chomp down on a hook,  get battled almost all the way to the boat get off, only to fall for the same anglers lure few casts later.

Mike Skyba: Wil, do you think improvements should be made in tournament fishing, if  so, in what ways?

Wil Wegman: Of course we are always looking for ways to improve tournament fishing. The resource comes first and therefore whenever tournament associations, the anglers, or the industry can improve the way it operates, the better. The Kawartha Lakes Competive Fishing Events Committee that I sit on, (along with other MNR staff and those from major tournament  Associations) meet quarterly to discuss ways we can improve tournaments, avoid conflicts in scheduling, work on public relations messages, and so on. Ultimately, higher payouts will lead to increased exposure for tournaments and the anglers who fish them. This should set the standards higher for those involved with the sport… and I think in the long run will be great for the resource as well as the sport.

Mike Skyba: I've heard many complaints from frustrated anglers, that there are those who abuse the fishery by catching a fish such as a salmon and/or trout, squeezing the eggs out then leaving the fish on the riverbanks to rot. Fishing will gill nets and/or catching more than they should, and that the MNR Officers can't, won't, or don't have the resources to patrol the streams, rivers, and lakes. What should and can be done about this?

Wil Wegman: Of course there never seems to be enough Conservation Officers around to nab every poacher out there - and yes these things go on. But our CO's do patrol our rivers and lakes and lay thousands of charges every year for these and other types of infractions. Ministry of Natural Resources is also keen on increasing education programs for new anglers and hunters for example - so they know what they can and can't do.

Mike Skyba: How can anglers and the MNR work together, to improve our lakes and  fishery and to rid those that abuse it?

Wil Wegman: The MNR is already working with outside partners to increase awareness and ultimately lower the numbers of infractions. An example is the Guardian Program where organized/trained volunteers will become the eyes and ears for the Conservation Officers when they are not around. Working with the Crime Stoppers Program has also proved to be worthwhile to help curtail fish and wildlife crimes. Naturally, if and when infractions occur, the local MNR office would like  to hear about them as soon as possible. Description of the people involved, license plate numbers, exact time and location, etc are all important items to record. When MNR offices are closed on weekends or after hours, than the 1-800-222-TIPS (Crime-Stoppers) number is the place to call.

Mike Skyba: Wil, how do you see the future of our fishery?

Wil Wegman: There are many threats to our fisheries that I am very concerned about. Perhaps at the top of the list are exotic species that are entering new waterbodies at an alarming rate. We need stiffer fines, more educational programs, and new legislation to even begin to try and curtail all the  possible new creatures waiting to enter our waterbodies if we let them. I am optimistic however, that combined with a lake's ability to adapt, and the desire by so many concerned anglers "do the right thing" that our fisheries here in Ontario will always be some of the very best in the world.

In closing, I like to thank Mr. Wil Wegman for taking the time to conduct this  interview, and hope that his answers may have answered some of the questions on angler's minds.

 

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