Sunday, February 26, 2012

Seven to Go: Sullied Heroes

Henry Waszcuk.
Photo courtesy of Fishing the Flats
OK... heroes might be a bit much. But, for a time there, Henry Waszchuk and Italo Labignan were two of my favorite people (and, honestly, how much fun is it to say "Labignan?").

In the late 1990s, not long after my little girl was born, they were the hosts of "Canadian Sportfishing" (which was broadcast in the States on cable and titled, "Fishin' Canada"), a television show that took the two anglers all over the north country in search of everything from salmon to smallmouth bass. The two guys were mostly gear fishers, but they occasionally fished with fly gear, which was more in my wheelhouse. It was their show on fly fishing for northern pike that got me dreaming about casting to the water wolf, a minor obsession of mine.

Italo Labignan
Photo courtesy of World Fishing Network
At the time, my wife and I were parenting in shifts. She had a morning radio show in Eureka, Calif., and I worked the desk at The Times-Standard starting around 2 p.m. So, during the mornings, I had my daughter all to myself, and after feedings and diaper changes, she'd generally settle in for a little nap. About that time, "Fishin' Canada" would come on.

I never missed an episode.

Not too long ago, I was combing through the programming on one of the outdoor networks on satellite. I stumbled upon the show "Fishing the Flats," and of course, with my trip to The Bahamas only a week away, I've been trying to sponge up as much information about flats fishing as I can. So, naturally, I tuned in.

And, to my surprise, there was Henry Waszchuk, flinging hardware at bonefish and triggerfish on some far-flung Caribbean flat. Waszchuk is former football player--he played for the Hamilton Tigercats of the Canadian Football League in the 70s and 80s, and he still looks to be in pretty good shape, if a bit grizzled and gray (but who am I to talk?).

I'd always enjoyed "Fishin' Canada," and, although I'm not a huge fan of baitcasting or spincasting, I did enjoy Waszchuk's episode on the flats, and it seems he's acquired a taste for the warm Caribbean over the chill of winter in Ontario. Who can blame him?

The next natural progression in this little saga though, was for me to get online and see if I couldn't find some of those old "Fishin' Canada" shows. This is where the story turns a little sad. It seems that, back in the late 1990s, when I was watching Waszchuk and Labignan a few times a week, they got busted for fishing violations and had their credentials stripped from them by the Outdoor Writers of Canada--the violations ranged from fishing out of season, rehooking foul-hooked fish in the mouth for filming and rehooking fish caught by other anglers and then recording the staged battle.

Pretty sleazy stuff, honestly, I would have been happy to remain ignorant of this dalliance from the ethical norm.

I'm not perfect, and I have no experience with television production or the trials of producing a fishing program where success depends on good fishing and good footage. And it's been more than 15 years since the violations took place.

Nevertheless, it demonstrates the power of the Internet, and the stigma that comes with getting caught doing something ethically questionable.

As a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, I completely understand OWC's actions all those years ago, and support them. I hope that, as both Labignan and Waszchuk have continued with their broadcast careers, they've become a bit more conscientious and they've managed to communicate their passion for fishing without compromising the ethics of sportfishing itself. Judging from chatter on the message boards as recently as 2007, folks are watching these two closely, and every move that's even remotely questionable is being challenged.

They're not the first from the sporting world to fall from grace. Remember Ted Nugent?

It happens, I guess. But there's one thing we should all recognize as fact: bad behavior by just a few hunters and anglers allows our critics to paint all of us with a pretty broad brush. It's a good reminder to always be on your best behavior, be courteous and be respectful of the resource. I now have a completely different opinion of the two guys who entertained me all those years ago while my daughter was an infant.

When I head to The Bahamas at the end of the week and I'm reminded of Henry Waszchuk fishing the flats, I won't be able to help myself... he just doesn't command the respect he once did. Fair or not, it is what it is. As Eddie Murphy once famously said about something else a bit unflattering, "It's like luggage. You keep that shit forever."

Photo courtesy of
Bonefish fact of the day: Bonefish can swim nearly 40 mph, which makes them the seventh-fastest fish on the planet. Which fish is the fastest? The sailfish takes top honors, swimming a scorching 70 mph.


  1. I really enjoyed Canadian Sportfishing too. The episode with the giant Labrador Brook Trout being caught on mouse flies was pretty great. Much like yourself, I was trying to find old episodes online and learned about their illegal/questionable practices. It's really sad.

  2. Indeed... that Labrador brook trout adventure... that's on my list! I don't wish them ill, of course... rather, I hope they learned from it, and are using better practices in their respective careers. Thanks for stopping by!