Lake Of The Woods Walleye Population In Dire Straits

Lake of the Woods in Northwestern Ontario may well be the #1 “all-round” fishing lake on the globe. Let’s be honest, do you know of another single body of water that can compare its Muskie, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Black Crappie, Whitefish, and of course Canada’s iconic Walleye to Lake of the Woods?

We sure can’t!

Of course, it is the ever-prolific Walleye that pretty much ices this multi-species fish cake in terms of popularity and economic value. Of the approximately 112,000,000 dollars a year brought to this local economy through sportfishing, the Walleye tops this “value” list.

Unfortunately, the Walleye numbers on “Woods” are declining at an alarming rate. With the combined pressure of sport fishing, commercial fishing as well as subsistence fishing, this all adds up to a bad situation.

In an article by the Kenora Daily Miner and News, they note that the MNRF feels that at the current rate of overall pressure on LOTW Walleye, the population is at the “likelihood of collapse” stage.

We caught wind of this story through our good friend Gord Pyzer who lives right next to the mighty LOTW. Gord has been talking to us for a while on this subject… he has seen it coming!

In his note informing us of this story, he said “There are no more fish in the lakes than there were 20, 40 or 60 years ago, but we’re so better equipped now to catch them.  Virtually every angler nowadays has at least one and typically, two or three chartplotters on the boat that are better than what guided Apollo to the moon.”

“And the sonar,” Gord continues, “is far superior to anything used in submarine warfare in World War 2.  Even many of the First Nation commercial fishing boats now are equipped with the latest sonar units.  It used to be that anglers spent most of the day out on the water looking for fish and then catching a few.  Now, most folks spent all day catching and unfortunately, keeping. I’ve spoken with some Conservation Officer friends and they tell me many days every boat they check has a limit of walleye. At the same time, we’ve seen a surge of invasive species like rusty crayfish and spiny water fleas.  It has taken a huge toll.” 

Gord finished his concerned note with some eerie words “Even in one of the world’s largest lakes, the fish can run, but they can no longer hide”.

WALLEYE DECLINE HISTORY

“Not sure if you remember” says Angelo Viola “but years ago another gigantic and equally iconic body of water, Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota also had a huge decline in Walleye numbers. We believe this situation was due to water clarity. Mille Lacs used to be murky, allowing the resident Walleye to live and feed freely in this relatively shallow lake. With the invasion of Zebra Mussels, along with lakeside clean-up efforts, the water became too clear for the light-sensitive eyes of the Walleye. Of course, fishing pressure took its additional toll, making Mille Lacs a lake of concern”.

Today, Mille Lacs is still feeling the effects of its changed Walleye fishing.

Says Gord Pyzer “the problem with Mille Lacs is that there is little to no Walleye recruitment and they can’t figure it out.  The Walleye are laying eggs, they are hatching, but then something is killing them off. Historic fishing pressure is an issue, for sure, but something is drastically affecting recruitment”.

Another prime example of a seemingly devastated Walleye fishery was the Bay of Quinte way back some 30+ years ago.

“When I moved to Napanee back in the 70’s” says Pete Bowman “the Walleye fishing on the Napanee River as well as the rest of Quinte was pretty much a history lesson” meaning that the good ol’ days were gone due to poor water quality from excessive pollution.

“But all of a sudden” Pete continues “companies stopped spewing their crap into the bay, and we started getting incidental Walleye catches while out Pike fishing and believe it or not, even Bass fishing in the shallow lily pads. It blew our minds… we were happy boys; the Walleye were back!”

Well, we all know how well Quinte rebounded from its Walleye devastation, so there is hope for Lake of the Woods.

A final example is Lake Scugog in Southern Ontario. A Walleye moratorium was put in place on Jan. 1, 2016 in where “no walleye fishing will be allowed until further notice”.

Fishing pressure on Scugog had taken its toll. Things got to a point of possible no return and the fishery was shut down.

That “further notice” has yet to be determined.

CONCLUSION

Such a shame that these great fisheries have, or are, going through such turmoil. Especially when it is to do with one of the most popular gamefish in North America.

Getting back to Lake of the Woods, it will be interesting to see how the MNRF takes on this rather delicate situation with so much at stake. Best of luck to all who will be involved.

We will stay on it and keep you posted.

9 Responses

  1. Thing is these big lakes have commercial fishing and it’s done with nets right? Take the nets away and I think the fish will have a chance . Same thing is happening in the ocean . The more people on earth the more fishing boats with nets go out .Look what happened to the cod fishing industry they said at one time when they discovered America you could walk on the ocean there were so many fish .

  2. The decline in the Walleye population as the article states, was inevitable. With the introduction of monstrous electronic technology, coupled with consistent pressure, no fishery will survive the onslaught. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and all its industrial benefits is now Hades bent on becoming a hydra. No wonder some fishing tournaments have banned these high tech instruments as an uncompromising advantage.

    Make no mistake, I harbor no grudge against those individuals who choose to use these Fish Finding devices. I am as guilty as anyone. In my honest opinion, electronics have allowed the modern Angler to become complacent concerning their natural resources and to some extent, intellectually inept. This may sound a bit harsh but think about it in a logical sense. A “too much of a good thing” technological approach has taken control not only of our lives but our recreational habits as well, resulting in the problems we now face. One only needs to look in the mirror to see who is responsible.

    There will definitely be more instances that arise in the future. Man’s insatiable behavioral patterns have not proven otherwise. Band-aide solutions and temporary moratoriums have little merit in halting the roller coaster with his avarice idealisms at the helm.

    By now mankind should have realized the errors of his ways because nature can be a very discerning competitor.

    1. Thanks for the response Calvin. I’ll rephrase your words “make no mistake” and I’ll follow that up with:

      Make no mistake… to my knowledge, fish finding devices (electronics) have never killed a fish. Anglers who fail to release fish, kill fish. Does a fork make people eat poorly?

      It is the total responsibility of us as anglers to do our part in our 1/3 portion of stories like this (the other 2 being commercial and subsistence fishing) and that of course is not keeping everything we catch. There still are anglers out there who feel they “must” keep their limit of fish every time out (trust me, I know).

      To me, fishing is all about the chase and catch. Eating fish is a bonus and when things are good (fish population wise), I’ll be the first one to keep a couple for the table. However, when limits, slots, or total closures are in place, I’m simply there to fish, using every possible tool or method that I’ve learned with over the years.

      If we all really think about the effects of “always keeping our limit”, only then will the lightbulb spark up in our heads and maybe hint us as to the future… it’s not rocket science.

      Let’s start with our part.

      1. So true, that it really is in the hands of the fishermen to do their part in releasing proper fish, and also doing our best to ensure good handling practices so that the fish we do release live to make more.

        One thing I took away from Calvin’s comment is that it has become much easier for even casual fisherman to pull in a limit of fish due to the fact that the really good electronics are making it so much easier to target them. If even 50% of people who are fishing on a given day can pull a limit, that will greatly affect stock levels. Years ago, maybe 10% could pull a limit, because they knew the spots. Depth finders then came along and made it easier to find the spots the fish would likely be. Then we had side-scan sonar that draws us a picture of everything. And now we have full-on GPS and full-colour graphics that has so much detail that it can even display our bait.

        Along the same lines as Calvin was going, I don’t think electronics in fishing are evil, but they certainly allow anyone with enough money to own this kind of equipment a distinct advantage, and a much greater chance, at pulling larger quantities of fish. The longer the tech is around, the cheaper it gets, and then even more people will have access to it.

        It may soon come to the point where the use of this tech is going to end with the need for the Ministry to reduce limits by large numbers to allow a lot of these lakes to rebound. And like Scugog, maybe even place a moratorium on fishing the species.

        We definitely all need to do our part and fish responsibly. Coming from a guy who stinks at walleye fishing, I pose no threat to the species. But even with the few fish I do get to keep, I certainly place a high value on those fish and wish all who fished would do the same.

        1. Hey Tyler, again it all comes back to the anglers catch & keep vs. catch and release self imposed policies (in accordance with the law). I for one, love the advancements in fishing electronics. It is good for angler success and for the fishing industry. To anyone reading this, don’t be fooled, even though you can see the fish on your fish finding screen doesn’t mean you can catch them all. (If you can, we’re taking applications!).

          High modulus graphite rods, laser sharpened hooks, scents, low to high speed reels, downriggers, planer boards, fluorocarbon – braided lines, plastics that will stretch and stretch but not break, salt – crayfish – minnow – etc bait impregnation, trolling motors with GPS that talk to another GPS unit, every possible bait shape & color imaginable… and I’m hardly getting started here… all contribute to higher fish catching rates. And trust me, all-round fishing technology will keep advancing. It’s the only way the industry will flourish.

          Ultimately you are correct in saying the Fisheries management teams will have to change the laws & limits accordingly in order to help each fishery. I mean, who’s to say that these old regulations were ever “perfect” to begin with.

          Pete

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Lake Of The Woods Walleye Population In Dire Straits

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