Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lake trout project truly spectacular this fall

Jerime Williams, above, and brother Jason, below, caught and released these beautiful, chubby, lake trout this past July while fishing near Bow Narrows Camp. The fish are likely 7-10 years old and are proof that lake trout are making a comeback in the lake.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's project to restore the lake trout in Red Lake exceeded all expectations this fall.
This program, which began about 10 years ago, collects eggs and milt from lake trout in Red Lake and then transports them to an MNRF fish hatchery at Dorion, near Thunder Bay. There the eggs are developed and the fish raised to fingerlings that are transplanted back into Red Lake 18 months later.
The goal has been to gather about 340,000 eggs but due to the scarcity of wild fish in Red Lake and other factors, that target has seldom been met.
This fall the program succeeded in sending over 500,000 eggs to the hatchery!
There were so many, says project leader biologist Toby Braithwaite, that the hatchery cannot raise them all to fingerling size (4-6 inches) and therefore a bunch of the smaller fry or eyed-up eggs will likely be sent back to Red Lake this winter to be transplanted through the ice.
The MNRF group stays with us at Bow Narrows Camp while they catch the wild trout, strip them of eggs and then release the fish back into the lake.
Brenda and I have always been impressed at the hard work and dedication of this group. They are absolutely outstanding. The weather is usually cold, windy and even snowing but that doesn't faze them one bit. They are out there each day, setting and hauling-in nets and racing back to camp with fish every half-hour. The fish are separated into pens tied to our front dock, according to sex and where they were caught. The researchers carefully create families of trout which they can monitor in the future to see which succeeds the best. These may be families of strictly Pipestone Bay fish, non-Pipestone fish, or crosses between the two.
All the adult fish are tagged before release. At the hatchery, the fingerlings are fin-clipped before they are sent back to Red Lake so that they can be identified in the future. Our anglers are asked to take careful note of any trout they catch to see if they are missing any fins as well as report any tag numbers.
The fin clips are the most important because it means the transplanted fish are surviving to adulthood.
None of our anglers has reported a fin clip so far but then they virtually never look for it either. However, at least two of the fish caught by the trout study group this fall did have clipped fins.
The spawning project by the MNRF will end in two more years when Red Lake fish that have been raised to adults in the hatchery as brood stock will be used for egg-gathering instead of catching the wild fish each fall.
The trout project began when Red Lake's world-class lake trout fishery drastically nosedived in about the year 2000. Preliminary research found about the only fish left in the lake were in Pipestone Bay where it was also found they were unsuccessful at spawning. See New Direction for possible reasons for the decline.
This year the MNRF crews found lake trout spawning in other bays besides Pipestone, areas that the researchers know the eggs will survive. So this is great news and shows the lake trout population is making a comeback.
Ontario fishing regulations require all lake trout in the Red Lake-Gullrock water system to be released. Not many anglers fish for them these days but the ones who do are finding success.
Witness the photos at the top of this blog, taken this July. These fish are young -- probably 7-10 years old -- and are the picture of vibrant spawners.
Mostly we catch lake trout by accident the first week or two of the season while trolling crank baits for northern pike or walleye.
When fishing specifically for lake trout, such as in deep water in the summer, regulations require anglers to use lures with single barbless hooks and to not use any organic bait, either live or dead.

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