Canadian fisherman Italo Labignan with the 15lbs catfish he caught in the Sea of the Galilee.
When it comes to fishing in the Holy Land, Canadian fisherman Italo Labignan is nothing short of enthusiastic. “It’s an awesome experience,” he admits. This is fulsome praise indeed because Labignan is a premier fisherman and the host of Canada’s longest running and most watched sports fishing TV series.
Labignan was in Israel last week on a 10-day fishing expedition to the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee, the Dan River streams, and the Red Sea. His expedition will be televised on The Sports Network (TSN), the largest sports channel in Canada, as well as on the World Fishing Network. Together, the networks serve over 50 million viewers in North America, Canada and Europe.
“There are so many scenic places with good fishing on the Mediterranean,” says Labignan. During the trip, which was organized by the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the fisheries section of the Ministry of Agriculture, his Canadian crew caught everything from rainbow trout in Kibbutz Dafna, to squid, swordfish and giant trevally in Eilat, and tuna, grouper and Amberjack in the Mediterranean.
From sardines to three feet catfish
On one particularly successful fishing haul on a gorgeous sunny day in the Sea of Galilee, the anglers caught a large catfish, three feet in length, weighing about 10 to 15 lbs. “We fished on a commercial boat using a seine net and caught most of the variety of popular eating fish in the Sea – tilapia, freshwater sardines, large scaled barbel, common carp, silver carp,” Labignan tells ISRAEL21c, thrilled with the idea of fishing in the sea where the apostles fished. “Then the fish we caught was served to us in the Ein Gev restaurant on the shores. Most pilgrims just get to eat the St. Peters fish.”
Labignan, who has been to Israel on fishing expeditions many times before, says he was impressed to see the significant increase in the number of sports fishermen in Israel over the last few years. “The numbers have grown 10-fold since I was here four years ago, he says. “And they are serious about fishing. I could see from the lures that they used. They are people with knowledge. Many fish every day. I saw some beautiful photos of fish they caught on their iphones and PDA’s.”
This is the first time that Labignan has filmed a show in the Middle East. He plans to run six episodes on the region. He came up with the idea and approached the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) for support. “We were delighted to have the opportunity of showing a different side of Israel – beyond the conflict – and enhance the tradition of Israel-Canadian friendship that has always existed,” says Judy Zelikovitz, of the CIC.
ISRAEL21c interviewed Labignan while he was taking a day off to sightsee in Jerusalem. The day began on the Mount of Olives, and included a visit to the Garden of Gesetheme, other biblical landmarks in the Old City, the Biblical Zoo, the museum, and other tourist sites. Labignan spoke enthusiastically about a visit they had already made to an interactive first century Christian Village in Nazareth, as well as fish farms.
Showing off Israel’s diversity
The Dead Sea and Masada were non-fishing stops on the way to Eilat. The producer plans to integrate film footage of visits to religious, archaeological, and other tourist sites and disburse them into half-hour program segments so that viewers can see the rich diversity offered in Israel.
Aside from the fishing, Labignan was also enthusiastic about Israel’s natural beauty, particularly the tributaries of the Dan and Jordan, “areas so lush with so much growth in the streams,” he says.
Jean Jacques Ohayon, the Israeli representative of the International Game and Fishing Association (IGFA) was with the group for some days during their tour. Labignan paid tribute to his passion for fishing, and his website, which the Canadian believes has had a major impact on the increase of serious sport fishing in Israel.
The Canadian Sport-Fishing Pro hopes that the TV series on Israel will help to trigger interest in the development of sports fishing here. “I am hoping to develop sports fishing packages with the same tour operators who run regular tours. A week or 10-day fishing trip is a nice add-on to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Israel’s relatively warm climate when the Big Freeze hits Canada is also a pull,” explains Labignan
“Other Mediterranean countries such as Spain, France, and Italy are over fished,” adds Ohayon, the IGFA rep. “I know from talking to my colleagues. Israel offers the best sports fishing in the area.”