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.
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.