by Robert Pye, Executive Director
The question was clear but a visual on whomever asked it was not. In mid-retrieve, my spinner bait lost momentum when I paused to reply in the direction of the inquiry. I knew it came from the cottage that was set back from a vegetated shoreland and in the early morning shade.
“Only little ones so far,” I said, keeping my vibe elusive yet positive. On the water, that’s my signature response to help protect my fishing pride, and my fishing spots. However, judging by the tone, I gathered the question wasn’t fishing for free advice, rather simply casting out a friendly greeting. I took the bait.
Navigating from the bow of my boat with the quiet thrust of the electric motor, I presented myself a few cast lengths closer to the property owner’s natural edge. Now I could see the man, or at least his face behind a steaming cup of coffee and a newspaper. He put both down for a chat that will forever shape my appreciation for people who take environmental pride in the waterfront they own, and the lakes that so many others have an opportunity to enjoy.
Our exchange was one of shared observations about how the lake has dramatically changed as a result of invasive species, erosion, harmful blue-green algae blooms, and the increase in shoreline developments – the later of which have, on some shores, replaced native plant and tree species with the kind of manicured lawns you expect to see in subdivisions.
Not the case for the property I was floating in front of however. Instead it is a brilliant example of how a shoreland can be multi purpose recreational, eco-functional as well as stunningly aesthetic. No surprise then when I learned I was speaking with a volunteer from the local lake association. I told him I only fished this particular lake a few times a year, and I had no idea how hard his fellow volunteers were working on community science efforts like Love Your Lake, and the highly acclaimed shoreland restoration program called The Natural Edge. Lakes need natural shorelands to support wildlife, prevent erosion and reduce runoff that could threaten the overall health of waterways including critical shoreline fish habitat.
After getting comfortable in the conservation theme of our discussion, I admitted that I caught, and released, more than “only little ones” that morning. In fact, I said, “I hooked into a couple of lunkers over a productive weed line out there which I realize now is being protected in part by the great stewardship of lake volunteers like you.”
So, to answer his original question, good fishing is never a measure of luck, rather a focus on habitat. It’s almost always the result of community volunteers who support shoreland restoration, freshwater stewardship and education, as well as the kinds of local fish habitat projects that are happening these days thanks to organizations such as Watersheds Canada.
Focus on Fish Habitat
While angling is not in our organization’s name, it’s in the passion of many of our supporters who promote healthy lakes and rivers through the programs already mentioned. In addition to Love Your Lake and The Natural Edge program, Watersheds Canada’s Fish Habitat program has completed 27 habitat enhancement projects, made possible through our 50 community partners and several funders including Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, Honda Canada Foundation, Environmental Canada and Climate Change as well as a recent donation from OFAH Zone E and in-kind support from Zone F. Watersheds Canada is a registered charity supported by annual fundraising campaigns.
Watersheds Canada’s fisheries projects include walleye and trout spawning bed restorations, cold-water creek habitat enhancements, and by adding woody debris back into lakes with brush bundle projects. As an example of success, in 2022, zero walleye were spawning in a bed before a Watersheds-led clean up last fall. A massive build up of silt was obstructing a walleye spawning bed but in the spawning season that followed our work, 40 walleye were counted there. In addition to historic walleye spawning areas, our organization has also saved a native brook trout population.
Let’s work together
Many of these fish habitat success stories were celebrated in Watersheds Canada’s social media campaign to help promote National Fishing Week this summer. Lake association leaders and conservation-minded anglers will also have chance to catch more information about fish habitat at the most recent Lake Links workshop, supported by Watersheds Canada, and presented in Perth, Ontario on October 21, 2023.
After sharing my enthusiasm for Watersheds’ fish habitat work, I said to the cottager, you must catch fish in front of your property all the time. He laughed and said, “I don’t even fish.” Above all else, our conversation that morning represents what Watersheds Canada is truly all about – building relationships with people from all waterway interests in the spirit of everyone working together to protect our freshwater future. We need your help, too.
This blog was written as a special Watersheds Canada feature for the Fall 2023 issue of Just Fishing Magazine.