|Brenda and me with fingerlings in Trout Bay|
|Trout make trip in oxygen-filled bags|
|Yearling lake trout|
|High school co-op student Raven Lawson cuts open bag|
|The water boils with released tiny lakers|
|An MNRF boat releases more trout in the distance|
|The boats take off from Black Bear Lodge's dock in Slay's Bay|
|The hatchery truck at Black Bear Lodge|
|Project biologist Jenn Neilson and student Raven Lawson at end of the day|
Most of the trout project has concentrated on trying to establish trout populations at the east end of Red Lake. Trout once inhabited all areas of the lake and largely disappeared from the east many decades ago. When the trout population problem was discovered in about 2000, trout mostly existed at the west end in places like Potato Island basin, Trout Bay and especially in Pipestone Bay.
Although trout thrived in Pipestone, they had a problem reproducing there and so began the efforts to entice them to spawn elsewhere as well as to just replenish the population overall.
The fish stocked today started out as eggs that were taken from West End trout last fall in the trout project. They were raised at the Dorion fish hatchery, near Thunder Bay, and brought back now a year later. Many more will be returned next spring as 18-month-old fingerlings. There were just too many fish from 2015's egg collection to raise them all to full size. That's why the 66,000 were brought back early.
A hatchery tank truck brought the yearlings to Black Bear Lodge where two MNRF boats and our Lickety Split took them in air-filled bags and in open tubs to Trout Bay for release. Each boat made about six trips and the whole process took about three hours.
It wasn't the best weather for the dozen or so humans involved. The temperature was 1 C or just above freezing; it was windy and snow flurries and sleet were falling. However, from the trout's point of view, it was beautiful. The cold temperature meant the fingerlings consumed less oxygen in their bags and tubs and should result in most all of the 66,000 surviving after they were released to the depths of Trout Bay.
A couple of hundred thousand more trout will be planted next spring as a result of the massive egg collection in 2015. No final decision has been made on where they will go but Pipestone Bay is a possibility. One problem would be how to get them there. It is a long a boat trip from Black Bear's location on the southern side of Potato Island basin but perhaps not too much farther than Trout Bay. It would be ideal if the hatchery truck could drive to Pipestone via the Mount Jamie Mine landing road, near Grassy Bay, but that access is often in questionable shape. There are so many trout to be planted next spring that is likely they will go to several locations around the lake.
Our anglers caught the first hatchery-raised trout this summer. A 23-inch fish, caught near Potato Island, would have been planted four years ago at the east end of the lake. We also caught a half dozen 14-inch fish from the 2014 stocking right at Potato Island.
I'm often asked if I think trout fishing will return to catch and keep instead of catch and release as it has been for the past 15 years. Undoubtedly it will. I see an explosion of lake trout numbers in about five years. That will come from all the hundreds of thousands of fish stocked through the egg collection project but also all the natural regeneration that is taking place today.
Trout are reproducing in good numbers in the Potato Island basin and Trout Bay. The stockings in these two places should see sustainable populations probably in about a decade, perhaps sooner.
Meanwhile, it is possible the stockings at the eastern end of the lake will take hold and trout will start spawning there too.
Finally, although it isn't known why eggs spawned in Pipestone Bay are unsuccessful it is also known that occasionally they do make it and adult fish thrive in the bay like nowhere else. If the overall trout population there is given a boost through the stockings then these sporadic successful spawning years will add to the lake's population.
Pipestone remains an enigma but researchers may eventually solve what is happening there. They will have more time for study once Dorion brood stock, raised from Pipestone eggs, begin supplying eggs right from the hatchery. That will start to happen in 2018. The extraordinary effort the MNRF has put toward the wild egg collection over the past 15 years can then slow down and there will be more time for analyzing the Pipestone problem again.