The Damsa Chronicles 3: Testing and Evaluating...
The Damsa Chronicles 3: Testing and Evaluating Some Exceptional Brook Trout Fisheries: How good are they really?
So what kinds of trout fisheries did Damsa create? Some good, some very good and some exceptional.
Chemically sterilized, triploid, monosex and untreated brook trout have all been grown in excess of five pounds, the minimum deemed necessary for a brook trout to be called a trophy in North-western Ontario.
Releasing a large (8+ lb) brook trout
Growth rates vary substantially depending on the lake, the amount of fish in each stocking and the treatment of brook trout stocked. Maximum growth rates of up to three pounds per year have been obtained for brook trout and up to five pounds per year for rainbows. These maximum growth rates are comparable to those observed in hyper-eutrophic prairie potholes in western Canada.
At near maximum trophy development, brook trout averaged five pounds with some fish exceeding the ten-pound barrier. As one example, Gord Ellis, a well known outdoorsman and recipient of numerous writing awards, caught and released six brook trout in one day (on bankers hours) that averaged five pounds, the largest weighing eight and half pounds. More details of his trips can be found in his articles on the Damsa website www.damsa.ca. Please note that Gord Ellis was covering this project as an outdoors writer only and has since gone on to become Fishing Editor for Ontario Out of Doors, one of Canada's leading outdoor magazines - and the flag staff for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Gord's comments relate only to the fishing and should not be construed necessarily as support for the company's objectives to develop new fisheries in Crown lakes for tourism applications.
Many other anglers caught and released five-pound brook trout, the weight deemed necessary to be recognized as a trophy in North-western Ontario. Fish of this size are larger than many state records in the USA.
From the beginning of the project, emphasis was placed on the potential for creating high quality fly fishing catch and release angling opportunities. For North-western Ontario at least, the project was ahead of its time with most of the angling fraternity scratching their heads with little desire to fly fish - never mind let the fish go (What do you mean - let it go? Why do you think I go fishing?). With the phenomenal rise in the popularity of fly-fishing and a heightened conservation ethic, the project became much more mainstream as the years rolled by.
Tina Portman, science writer, with a 2.5 lb (1 kg+) brook trout taken on a self-tied leech imitation at the end of the study
To gain a more national and international perspective on the potential for the lakes under study, Doug Melville, a founding member of the Thunder Bay fly fishing club was invited to fly fish a number of the waters. Many know Doug from his meticulous attention to detail when tying flies. He has over 25 years fly fishing for trout in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico and has covered many of the classic waters familiar to legions of fly fishers. One of his more recent forays included the famous Henry's Fork in Montana in the company of Russ Swerdlyk, another well known local fly angler and outdoor writer.
Doug Melville releasing a rainbow of the size typically grown in many short-term winterkill studies
Doug's observations from a fly angler's perspective on the Damsa project include:
The project created good access to a system of lakes (otherwise unutilised), which in turn afforded the fly angler an array of still water opportunities in a wilderness setting that varied in scale, degree of difficulty and fish species/size. This mix equalled or exceeded some of best "fee" fisheries this angler has experienced in Canada and the USA.
Good access, intimate scale, lends itself to pontoon or float tube applications. No hatches or rising apparent at time trips were made. Great for cruising shoreline and casting streamer patterns to sunken timber for 2-4 lb. brook trout.
Good access, intimate scale, sheltered from winds, lends itself to pontoon or float tube applications. Experienced fall migration of water boatman, able to "match the hatch" by casting to rise forms or working shoreline structures with sinking patterns. Also apparent main diet is a freshwater shrimp. Extremely well fed rainbows in the 2-3 lb. range. Fishery was an ideal example of just what can be achieved!
Good access, big water, susceptible to winds, can be explored with a float tube or pontoon boat, but more likely with a rowboat. Lends itself to trolling streamers in the bays or casting them to shoreline structures. Five pound plus brookies. Experienced one modest hatch of caddis.
Affords a sense of fishing a remote back lake. Intimate scale and protected from winds. Weed growth likely dictate use of cached pontoon or rowboats. Float tube for early season. Experienced heavy blue damsel hatch with classic showy rises by 2-4 lb. brook trout. Comparable to what one sees on western managed fisheries at higher elevations during same time period (early June)!
Affords a sense of fishing a remote back lake. Intimate scale and somewhat protected from winds. Distance and weed growth likely dictate use of cashed pontoon or rowboats. Float tube for early season. Can be combined with another nearby "pot hole" angling opportunity that resembles an alpine situation.
Overall, Doug feels that the basic concepts of the Damsa project offered an absolute ideal experience for fly anglers. Other fly anglers have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and excitement from angling these waters, many having tied their own flies. Their comments include:
- Haven't had fishing like this since I was in the Northwest Territories.
- There must be 500 fish in this lake - no there's gotta be a thousand.
- I can see why you don't want people to know about these lakes.
- You should go to Quebec; they could use this technology there.
- Why do the fish rise all day?
- That was a really good fish.
- Had fishing like this when I was a kid - and that was a long time ago.
- It was a tough lake (to fish) till I figured out what they were feeding on. They were rising everywhere.
- Drop your fly at the edge of the (Labrador) tea. They hit every time.
- Haven't caught fish like this since I was in Labrador.
- What incredibly beautiful fish.
- I can see why you don't kill them; they are extraordinary.
Fisheries developed by Damsa appear to compare well with others in the Thunder Bay area. According to a study on 59 stocked brook trout lakes conducted in 1999 by Steve Scholten, Biologist, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Thunder Bay District (Scholten 2003), winter anglers captured approximately one fish in eleven hours angling effort which weighed 600 grams or about a pound and a quarter. Given the susceptibility of brook trout to winter angling, these results may well be comparable to ice free angling. The return to angler was approximately O.5 kg/ha comparable to that for yields for brook trout in multi-species lakes in Algonquin Park (Quin et al. 1994). The report by Steve Scholten is the only one that addresses angler returns on stocked brook trout lakes in the area and the report does note that there is anecdotal evidence for higher angler returns for Thunder Bay stocked lakes after the 1999 study when different sources of brook trout fry used for stocking are taken into account. In the absence of more quantitative information on current angler returns, the 1999 study is used for comparison purposes.
Comparisons of some angler results for brook trout in the Thunder Bay area. CUE represents catch per unit effort and is represented here in fish caught per hour.
Or as Gord Ellis pointed out in the "Anglers Guide to Stocked Lakes in the Thunder Bay District", a large number of stocked lakes in the Thunder Bay District can:
- Provide a chance to catch a few pan-fries
- While giving up the occasional four pounder and
- A handful of these lakes can produce the holy grail of brook trout fishing - a brook trout of eight pounds or better
In Lake Nipigon, anglers on average spend about six hours to catch a brook trout that averages 50 cm and weighs about three pounds - based on creel census completed in 2003 (Rick Salmon, OMNR Lake Nipigon Fisheries Biologist, pers.comm.).
Based on this same creel census, it would take about 70-750 hours for the average angler to catch a 2.3 kg (5 lb) brook trout. And while 8 pound plus fish are reported to be angled on an irregular basis, the numbers are very small. Of 885 brook trout measured for weight in angler surveys for 1993, 1994, 2001 and 2003 as well as 786 brook trout obtained in OMNR tagging studies on the spawning shoals in West and South Bays 1997-2003, no fish met the 8 lb mark.
In well-managed Damsa Fisheries, anglers typically caught five to ten times as many fish or more, and the average size of the fish can be much larger depending upon the trophy size managed. For example, over a five-week period in one lake at the end of the study, trout were angled with a single fly rod at the rate of seven fish per hour. These fish had been stocked for a little over three years and averaged 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs), or a little less than the typical brook trout caught in the Lake Nipigon system. These results were presented and discussed at the 2005 , Ontario Chapter Annual Meeting (Parks and Parks, 2005), (see Vulnerability of Trophy Brook Trout to Angling in a Small Shield Lake). Yes this truly was like fishing in the good old days.
These lakes can be managed to provide five pound brook trout angling on a daily basis or even every few hours at maximum development.
Detailed studies on two of the Damsa study waters revealed a return to angler greater than 5 kg/ or over ten times that observed in the study by OMNR on stocked waters near Thunder Bay conducted by Stephen Scholten, OMNR biologist). These rates are consistent, however, with studies on other small brook trout lakes in North-eastern Ontario that had been placed under provincial sanctuary status. These yields are much higher on an area basis than that estimated for Lake Nipigon, which may be 1000 times lower at 0.0056 kg/ha due to its much larger size and other competing species (Ritchie and Black).
The fisheries created by Damsa also compare very well with other well known brook trout fisheries in Manitoba, Labrador and Quebec. Here many of the brook trout run in the two to four pound category, much of what is found in Northern Ontario fly-in waters. Even on the famed Albany River, in the last half century brook trout only infrequently exceeded five pounds according to Lawrence Baxter who owned camps on the system for many decades (L. Baxter pers. com.). The Minipi system in Labrador is generally regarded as the premier fly angling waters for brook trout and here the larger brook trout average five pounds as well.
In summary, the company has the technology to create exceptional brook trout fisheries, far surpassing what is available in Ontario today and comparable to or better than other brook trout fisheries that are recognized as world class or the best in the world. The technology to create 10 pound plus fish in each of the nine lakes has been developed with returns to anglers dramatically higher than that observed for other local stocked waters.
Damsa created new outstanding fisheries for fly angling where trout rise to the surface through out the ice free season. These fisheries compare well with the famous fly angling waters in the western USA, and similar fisheries are not known to be found elsewhere in Ontario public waters.
Additionally, from on-site discussions with invited angling experts, it is clear that trophy fisheries developed by the company can meet the expectations of the most discriminating anglers.
Parks, J.W. and D.J. Parks.2005. Vulnerability of trophy brook trout to angling in a small shield Lake. American Fisheries Society, Ontario Chapter, Annual Meeting March 4-6, 2005. Geneva Park , Orillia, Ontario, Canada
Quinn, N.W.S., R.M.Korver, F.J. Hicks, B.P. Munroe and R.R. Hawkins. 1994. An empirical model of lentic brook trout. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 14:692-709
Ritchie, B.J. and J. Black. 1988. Status of the Lake Nipigon brook trout fishery and assessment of stresses 1923-1987. Lake Nipigon Fisheries Assessment Unit, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Nipigon, Ontario
Scholten, S. 2003. Winter angler survey of stocked brook trout lakes in Thunder Bay District for 1999. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Thunder Bay District. 20 p.
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