Friday, October 7, 2016

Trout egg collection completed for another year

Jamie Robinson lifts trout from underwater pen

Nadine Thebeau strips eggs into bowl held by Devin Turner

Jen Smikalow prepares fertilized eggs for shipment

All hands on deck of Eagle Falls large pontoon boat

Female trout, left, and male trout await handling

Volunteer Danny Collette takes trout from Natalie Blekkenhorst

Tori Toews prepares tag as co-op student Raven Lawson records info

Louise Collins takes sample from trout
Fish from Pipestone and non-Pipestone areas were kept separate
It was near-freezing on collection day but was cozy inside the lodge

Jenn Neilson, Kristi Anderson and Natalie Blekkenhorst were last to leave Friday
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry personnel just finished their annual lake trout egg collection and it was tough sledding for the project this year. The problem was the water was too warm to bring many trout to the spawning shoals. Nevertheless, the biologists, fish and wildlife technicians, conservation officers, foresters, firefighters, other MNRF employees and even high school co-op students managed to gather thousands of trout eggs. These were fertilized and sent to the MNRF fish hatchery in Dorion, Ont., and will be returned to the lake in 18 months as fingerlings. After stripping the trout of eggs and milt the fish were returned to Red Lake.
The 'trouters' stay at our camp for about two weeks while the project is ongoing and use Eagle Falls Lodge's large covered pontoon boat as a workshop.
Trout that are netted off shoals on the west end of Red Lake are kept in large underwater pens tied to our dock until collection day when the eggs are taken. There were three collection days during the two-week period.
The last two days finally saw the temperature plummet to normal. It was 3 C and along with the 30-50 km-h winds (18-30 mph) made the air feel below freezing. No one complained even though they fought large waves as they pulled in their nets and raced back to camp in their open boats to put the trout in the holding pens.
Incredibly, this was the 15th year of the lake trout project. It started in 2002 when 50 divers came to camp in mid-October. So much has been learned about Red Lake's lake trout since then that it would fill a book.
Here's just one example: Pipestone Bay trout spawn first, then the fish in other bays downstream progressively follow suit.
The trout restoration project was launched when it was discovered there were very few lakers left in the lake and none of them was a young fish. In subsequent years it was found that lake trout eggs were mostly unsuccessful in Pipestone but developed normally just about everywhere else. The reason for that has never been found but a possibility is just the geology of the bay. Some of the minerals there could be harmful to trout eggs under some conditions such as slightly warmer temperatures as part of climate change.
Lake trout fishing has been restricted to catch-and-release only for the past 15 years and because of that and the stocking program, trout are now reproducing again in other bays such as Trout Bay and the Potato Island basin. This year marked the first time our anglers caught (and released) some of the stocked fish. They can be told by a missing fin, the location of which and the length of the fish identifies when and where the fish were planted. Not only did our anglers catch the fin-clipped fish this year but so did anglers at Black Bear Lodge and residents of the town of Red Lake.
Even the MNRF trouters got a clipped fin fish this fall.
We can expect to see even more stocked fish in a couple of years at Bow Narrows. So many eggs were gathered in 2015 that the hatchery cannot raise them all to full 18-month fingerling size; so, next week 60,000 yearlings will be brought through Black Bear Lodge to the west end of Red Lake and released in Trout Bay. The remainder will be stocked next spring as usual.
They will probably start showing up in the catch in a couple of years, just as the ones stocked off Potato Island did this summer. They were stocked two years ago.
It has been a long haul for the MNRF trout project workers and it is heartening to see all their hard work finally paying off. They deserve all the credit in the world for their determination and perseverance.

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