We are very fortunate to have excellent walleye fishing within a few minutes of Town. Yes, I said excellent! And it is!
If you are a fisherman then you have an opinion about walleye management in Iosegun and Smoke Lakes. For some strange reason many believe that walleye are poorly managed in these lakes. That is a matter of opinion. And it is not mine!
Anybody can catch walleye in these lakes. Rarely is a fisherman skunked.There are times when you can catch a walleye with every cast.
The walleye fishing is exceptional, maybe too good. So what is the problem? Well, we like to eat walleye.
For most, catch and release fishing isn’t quite enough. We enjoy it but we want more. We want a fish fry. I am no different.We have come to the point where the fisheries biologists, through sound biological data and public consultation, have opted to implement the tag system for harvest of walleye from both Iosegun and Smoke Lakes.
How did we get to this point? To understand this we must take a look back in history. I started my career in Fox Creek on July 5, 1990. I remember that the minimum size limit for walleye was 38 cm. I believe that the daily catch limit was five. This was at a time when we could harvest walleye from most, if not all, walleye lakes provincially. Fishing pressure was spread out over the province. Lots of walleye were removed. As our population grew so did the demand for walleye. Declining walleye stocks became a problem all across Alberta.
Something had to be done. There was a massive project to inventory walleye throughout the Province. Regulations were changed to prevent a complete collapse of the fishery. We were fortunate in that both our local walleye lakes could still sustain a harvest of walleye. The regulation changed to three over 43 cm. At the same time a zero catch limit was implemented in many lakes. This resulted in increased fishing pressure in those lakes which still allowed a harvest, like Iosegun and Smoke.
In time, it became difficult to catch a walleye over the minimum size limit of 43 cm. Those fish fries we enjoyed so much were few and far between. Word got out and fishing pressure declined drastically. The complaints started to pour in, the walleye were all small!
During this period a fisheries biologist conducted an intensive study of walleye from these lakes. After two years of research he determined that we were selecting for slow growing fish, meaning that we were altering the genetics of the walleye by removing all those that grew quickly. The walleye of the future would be smaller. Something had to change to reverse this trend.
In response the regulations were changed again. In Iosegun the rule was changed to two over 50 cm. At the same time an experiment was conducted at Smoke Lake. The regulation became two over 60 cm. This was done for comparison purposes.
The walleye did grow! Now there were many close to 50 cm and every one over 50 cm was removed from Iosegun. Smoke Lake had no legal harvest. The comparison…no appreciable difference in growth rates between the lakes. The regulation of Smoke was quickly changed to match Iosegun.
We still couldn’t catch many “keepers.” Once again the complaints started, “I can’t catch any walleye to eat, they are all too small!”
We learned two things about walleye management throughout this process. First, the limitation on walleye was the always the size limit. When it was 43 cm it was soon difficult to catch one over that. Same at 50 cm. Secondly, we learned that the more harvest you allow the more fishing pressure you will see.
Now let’s address the question I get most often: Why don’t we harvest the small walleye and keep the big breeders, like Saskatchewan does? I get this question every day, sometimes every minute when I patrol the lakes!
If the limitation of walleye is the harvest regime, what would happen to all harvestable fish? You got it, they would be removed. If the regime was three fish under 43 cm (even if it was one fish under 43cm), very quickly all fish under 43 cm would be gone. What about a slot limit? Well if we could eat walleye between say, 38 and 45 cm, all those would be gone. Total loss of year classes eventually leads to a collapsed fishery. It will not work here. There is too much fishing pressure. We would lose our walleye. Even Saskatchewan is finding it necessary to reduce harvest by changing their limits. So that brings us back to today and tags.
Tags are simply the best management tool to remove surplus walleye of all age classes without negatively impacting recruitment. We increase harvest (we get more fish fries) and we optimize recruitment. We can actually increase the overall health and growth rates of the walleye by keeping all sizes. The final bonus is that we will eventually be able to catch more and bigger fish. Perhaps one day in the future a 6 or 7 or even 8 pound walleye will bend your rod.
I am not a fisheries biologist but that is how I see it.