• A Little Saugeen History

    A few weeks back someone posted about the time period and what has been accomplished on the Saugeen between the Steelheaders, Lake Huron Fishing Club and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Here's a little history, times and work done.

    About 10 years ago I approached Kathy Dodge and the MNR about stocking quality (8 inch plus) rainbow trout smolt as far upriver (Walkerton) as possible for maximum imprinting. The MNR had done some rainbow trout stocking years before this, but I questioned the strain, the size and for the most part pier stocking at Southampton. Kathy noted that funding was short, but she did offer up hope that perhaps volunteers could be given the opportunity to do something about the fishery. At the same time I was in discussions with Rod Jones then president of the Ontario Steelheaders on some other matters concerning the Saugeen.

    A few months later a meeting was set up at the Owen Sound MNR office. Attending were members of the Ontario Steelheaders, Lake Huron Fishing Club, myself and Kathy Dodger, district manager Kevin Hawthorne, as well as a few other MNR staffers. What came out of the meeting was an agreement that the two clubs would work together with MNR co-operation to collect wild eggs at Denny's and rear them at the Lake Huron Fishing Club's Kincardine hatchery. Just as important it was agreed that the fish would be stocked as 8 inch yearlings, with the majority released at Walkerton and remainder in Otter Creek just upstream of Walkerton. No fish were or are stocked above Maple Hill and it's turbines.

    If memory serves me correct, we took our first eggs eight years ago. Our first stocking took place seven years ago. Over the years, it still amazes me the contribution these volunteers have made toward the Saugeen and now as well the Lake Huron rainbow trout fishery. I don't like naming names due to the fact that you always end up leaving too many people out, but I have to say that sportsmen like Rod Jones, Grant McAlpine, Pete Gillies, Johnny Campbell, Kirk Lund and many , many more have really slaved over the years to make this fishery what it is today. Believe me, it's not all fun and games.

    For the past 8 springs we are capturing and stripping adult returning fish and it is a task.

    Once the eggs are taken to the Kincardine facility the real work begins. It also starts and ends with Al Wilkins and his dedicated crew that have the most important job of babysitting then the fish for 12 months of tender care. In my opinion there is not a volunteer hatchery in the province that can compare to the Kincardine operation or for that matter a hatchery manager like Wilkins

    Inside of the Kincardine hatchery

    Again, the quality sized fish are stocked far upstream for maximum imprinting. Most turn and head for the lake immediately upon release. Al and Gary Beiderman at the Port Elgin second hatchery make certain that the fish are always ready for spring release. They have always met the 50,0000 yearling target for each of the last 6 years.

    Personally, I expected to see our first returns a year after the first release as early juveniles, but in fact fish from our first spring release actually began showing up back to the Saugeen less than 6 months later in the lower stretches of the Saugeen that autumn.

    This past spring we once again collected our required egg allotment and more than 50,000 rainbow fingerlings are on the feed and growing in Kincardine for release next spring.

    By now, just about everyone knows of the adult steelhead transfers the Steelheaders carry out from Dennys Dam to the Beatty Saugeen. Nine years ago we increased the total number of steelhead adults that were destined to some of the best spawning grounds in the province , if not the country. Each autumn we trap and transport 500 adults and each spring we move 1,000 adults. The autumn fish will hold over and spawn in early spring and those fish moved in the spring hit the redds almost immediately upon release

    The Beatty from our release point near Hanover offers prime spawning water almost 40 miles of winding river to highway #6. It also is closed to spring fishing with an extra month sanctuary built in to protect the spawners.

    About 7 years ago the Ontario Steelheaders and Ministry of Natural Resources formulated plans to renovate the Walkerton Fishway. Time, labour, funding and the valuable assistance of Mike Hahn and we had the changes made and the fish moving upstream immediately.

    Fish were pouring up through the new fishway within minutes of it's installation.

    That also doesn't mean we don't have to keep coming back to keep the fishway open and operating.

    Working with the Ministry the two clubs have also put in place a second fishway at Maple Hill.

    Operated on natural water levels, thousand of fish can now get over Maple Hill to better prime spawning waters upstream. A third fishway is planned for the future as well.

    Working closely again with the Lake Huron Fishing Club, the Ontario Steelheaders have helped introduce more brown trout to the lower Saugeen as well, for a future addition to the fishery.

    Who says this isn't a great partnership. After a few closed door meetings we formulated a 5 year plan with the MNR where they also contributing approximately 35,000 steelhead smolt annually to the Beatty Saugeen to boost our goal of more natural reproduction. Eggs and yearlings all come from wild stocked trapped originally at Dennys. All fish are test for disease when these fish are raised at the Chatsworth facility. Into the third year of the program, no disease has ever been discovered from the wild Lake Huron stock.

    What I believe is as important as anything we achieved to date is a new program presently underway at both the Normandale fish hatchery and the Harwood provincial hatchery. For what seems decades, the MNR is now looking at including the Saugeen Chambers Creek strain steelhead into their own program. This past spring the MNR collected additional steelhead eggs (35,000) presently hatched and being reared and both facilities for comparative study agains the own Ganaraska strain fish. This possibly could be the start of a whole new steelhead stocking program for Ontario anglers in the future at other rivers around the Great Lakes. Only the future will tell?

    And if all goes well....who knows, we may see fish like this swimming the Great Lakes and into the bigger tribs one day.

    Never say never, especially when hard working volunteers are working hard to improve our fishery.
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