Sunday, February 10, 2008

Conservation: Why the Fishing's So Good

Catch and Release Northern Pike

There's a reason why ranchers keep the very best bulls and cows for breed stock. These animals have the genes that the ranchers want to see passed on to subsequent generations.

It's the same thing with fish.

If you want to have more trophy fish out there, you need to release the largest fish you catch. Studies by biologists show that many of these huge fish are surprisingly young. They just grew faster than others. Those are the ones we all want put back in the lake!

They are also the major spawners for the species. They are almost all females.

Fishermen at Bow Narrows Camp have been on side with conservation fishing for a long time. They only keep the lunkers now to have them made into mounts and even that isn't really necessary. Taxidermists can make replicas out of graphite and other material that look exactly like your original fish. Just take a photo, measure the length and girth and let the real fish go.

But no one will begrudge your keeping a huge fish for mounting purposes if that's what you want to do.

The best fish for eating are the ones just under the slot size in the case of northern pike or the "one over" rule for walleyes.

Under Ontario fishing regulations, you cannot keep any northern pike in the slot size of 27.5 to 35.4 inches and can only have one pike bigger than 35.4 inches.

For eating purposes, pike 22-27 inches are the best keepers. They have a lot of meat on them, the fillets are thin enough that they cook easily, and these fish have not yet reached prime spawning age anyway. Incidentally, we remove ALL THE BONES from northern pike fillets and they are every bit as delicious in our lake as are the walleyes!

For walleyes, fish 14-17 inches are the best eaters, for the same reasons given for pike. But this brings up a problem at our camp. We very often cannot catch walleyes under 18 inches! Many times the average walleye is 24 inches (four pounds) with a great many fish in the 26-28 inch size (six to eight pounds) and up to 34 inches (14 pounds). So what do you do? Just keep the smallest of the walleyes you catch. You should be able to get a 20-22 incher in the group and that will feed a couple of people.

Besides being selective, we also do a lot of other things that ensure Red Lake Ontario keeps its spectacular fishery.

1. At Bow Narrows Camp we use burlap keep sacks instead of stringers. It works like this, when you catch a fish you want to keep, dip the bag in the lake, put the fish inside and put the bag on the bottom of the boat. As the wet bag evaporates it gets very cool inside. It's the same principle of the old blanket-sided cowboy canteens. The fish are kept perfectly, far better than if they were on a stringer. We have 70 years of experience at this at our camp and at my great uncle's camp. Don't the fish die? you ask. Yes but it's just like they were kept on ice only it's actually better than ice because the fish don't become slimy.

The keep sack forces you to make a decision on which fish you intend to keep. The very worst thing you can do for conservation is to "trade" or "cull" fish on a stringer or a livewell. This is where you put a fish on a stringer then replace it with another fish of a more desirable size. Studies have shown that fish put on a stringer -- or kept in a livewell -- and then released subsequently die from shock and the effects of being kept at a temperature, oxygen level and atmospheric pressure that was improper for them. It swims away but within hours or sometimes days, it turns belly up.

2. Bow Narrows Camp gives you a free conservation fishing license with your fishing package.

It limits you to two northern pike and two walleyes and 6 whitefish to take home. The regular full-limit licenses permit four northern pike, four walleye and 12 whitefish. We have those licenses at camp too but you must purchase them separately.

3. Proper handling. We all need to release our fish unharmed and that means getting the hooks out of them without injury and returning them to the water as quickly as possible. See the article on Best Fish Unhooking tools

Stay tuned for more conservation tips and news.

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Bow Narrows Camp
Red Lake, Ont.

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