Thursday April 24, 2014

Fish helped with Good Spirit project

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Welcome to Week LXXXIII of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access to a boat, a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.

When you are a fisherman, and you hear about a project locally which saved thousands of fish this year, and will benefit the population of an area lake in the years ahead, you have to be interested.

So when a recent release from the Assiniboine Watershed Stewardship Association (AWSA) crossed my desk recently about just such a project at Good Spirit Lake I was immediately interested.

Fisherman locally will recognize Good Spirit Lake as one of the best sport fishing destinations in the entire Assiniboine River Watershed, although shore fisherman might lament that there are not enough spots for them to enjoy.

Still as the AWSA release pointed out, Good Spirit is the largest lake in the watershed, and offers anglers the opportunity to catch game fish such as walleye, pike, perch, and even burbot, although I will interject most fisherman are after wallies, and the perch and burbot seem rarer catches.

"And if you're really in-the-know, then you're aware that one of the best places to catch these fish is at the control outlet structure, in the south-east corner of the lake. Resident fish in the Whitesand River travel up the outlet channel to spawn in the spring, with hundreds of adult fish and thousands of fry congregating to the deep scour hole created by the erosion downstream of the outlet gates," stated the release.

"It has made for great fishing over the past few years, similar to 'catching fish in a barrel'. However, the downside of this angling hotspot is that as summer progresses, the outlet gates are often closed to maintain lake water levels, which in turn dewaters the channel. As a result, rather than migrating back to the Whitesand River, the fish congregate and become trapped in the washout, and a huge fish kill takes place annually if they are not removed."

I was curious about the control structure, so I sat down with AWSA manager Aron Hershmiller over a cup of coffee at Wander's Sweet Discoveries for some background.

Hershmiller said the control structure was actually put in back in the mid-1980s, as a way for the Good Spirit Watershed Board "to control lake levels." Those levels are actually established by the provincial Water Security Agency, with established acceptable high and low levels set for summer, fall and winter.

But the control structure is maintained locally.

Hershmiller said there was an awareness that the swirling action of water coming through the control structures at certain times were eroding the waterway.

AWSA, along with the SK Wildlife Federation (SWF) and the Water Security Agency (WSA) seine netted out the fish and released them back into the lake since 2009, but it was very apparent that a permanent fix to the problem was needed.

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But "it wasn't a big concern until the flooding of 2010, 2011," he said. "It really eroded in those years."

So a plan was set to fix the damage associated with the erosion, but it took until this fall to undertake the work. Hershmiller said funding the project had been the delaying factor.

The AWSA submitted a proposal to Environment Canada's EcoACTION funding program to mitigate the problem in 2010, and was approved. However, the extreme flooding the lake experienced that year meant that the control gates had to be left open all winter in order to draw down the lake, making construction work impossible.

"The AWSA applied to EcoACTION once again in 2012 and were once again successful in their proposal to perform permanent mitigation of the scour hole in the fall of 2013," stated the release. "The AWSA, along with it partners, the SWF, WSA and the Good Spirit Lake Watershed Association Board undertook the project this past September.

"First the water in the hole had to be pumped out in order to facilitate seine netting and removal of all the fish prior to construction beginning. The hole proved to be much deeper than when originally measured back in 2009.

Hershmiller said they were anticipating the scour hole being a couple of metres deep, but the flooding of 2010-'11 had left the hole near 20-feet deep, and it measured some 80 X 100 - feet as well.

"It was a lot bigger than we expected," he said.

The hole seemed like a haven for fish, although once water flows were turned off, the hole would eventually lose volume and come winter freeze, leading to fish loss, with the dead fish basically flushed away with spring flows, offered Hershmiller.

"Over one thousand adult gamefish (walleye, pike, sucker, and burbot), tens of thousands of game fish fingerlings and baitfish were netted and transported into Good Spirit Lake," stated the released.

Hershmiller said the last two pike had eluded the netting process.

"I caught them by hand and carried them to the lake," he said.

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Once the fish were removed and the hole pumped out, construction was able to begin.

Hershmiller said they had initially expected to use 1,000 cubic yards of clay to fill in the scour hole, but with the unexpected size of the hole, more clay was required. Approximately 2200 cubic yards of clay were brought in to fill the huge hole that had eroded over the years.

Following the infilling of the hole and contouring of the banks, the entire area was covered with geotextile erosion-control fabric. The nylon fabric, which comes in rolls 15-feet x 300-feet, is resistant to water erosion and will ensure future integrity of the construction.

Hershmiller said the fabric had proven itself at the location. The only area of the outlet channel that hadn't eroded over time was where geotextile fabric was originally placed below the culverts.

Rock/boulders were then placed on top of the geotextile, again requiring 60 more cubic yards than initially planed for,followed by pit-run gravel to infill the spaces between the rocks.

"The rocks should dissipate the energy (of the flowing water), and reduce erosion," said Hershmiller, which he added "long term it's better for the fishery."

"It may no longer be the "honey hole" fishing spot it once was, now that the area has been transformed back into the channel it was originally intended to be, but the prevention of thousands of fish from dying annually should be pretty good justification for anglers having to find a new spot to dip their lures," concluded the release.

Certainly as a fisherman, one who likes to think those of us who love the activity, want to see the fishery strong so that future generations can take up the torch of our passion and still have fat walleye and fighting pike to catch, I applaud all the agencies and individual associated with the project. It is certainly a forward thinking, conservation-minded undertaking that is good for Good Spirit Lake and the fishermen who prowl its water.

concerns from farmers, many not tied to an agenda quite as much as the NFU.

For such an important Act as this one is, Ritz and company should be eager for feedback, since farmers often understand what is reasonable for them far better than politicians and their Ottawa-bound staff.

To not have a long, public debate about this Act has to leave the question what the government does not want to eye of public review to see.

That may only be a perception of the situation, but perception often ends up being reality, and we should expect better of government.

If the changes have the merit Ritz believes, let him tell the details, answer concerns, and move forward with legislation made better by the effort of open dialogue with those about to be affected by the changes.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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