• Building a steelhead destination

    By Josh Choronzey

    The readers of this newspaper live in a region which is home to a vast numbers of outdoor enthusiasts. Ample hunting opportunities, the incredible sport fishery, and the green-space available during all four seasons, all contribute to the sense that this region has it all. In decades past, outdoor columns have accompanied the pages of the Owen Sound Sun Times. These columns; penned by the likes of Jon Wright and the late Grant Ferris, were weekly features that provided the news as it pertained to local hunters, fisherman and outdoors men and women alike. These columns gave the outdoorsman another reason to pick up a newspaper, something to read that related directly to their passions, something to chat about over a morning coffee, or a bit of literature on a local outdoor topic which educated, informed, and caused one to think about the issues at hand. I’m pleased to announce that after an absence, this column will be returning to the Owen Sound Sun Times. A column devoted to outdoor news, the scoop for those who spend their time outside enjoying the many resources our area has to offer.

    In this, my first column, I wanted to shed some light on a local endeavour that provides a service in our region which many people are unaware of. During the last four months, the Saugeen River in Southampton has been the hottest steelhead destination in the province. Anglers from across Ontario have been lining the banks from Denny’s Dam to the mouth since September. The fishing is undoubtedly excellent, but few people know of the tremendous effort that goes into making it so. For this I would like to thank two local volunteer organizations; the Lake Huron Fishing Club and the Ontario Steelheaders.

    Two weeks ago, I had the chance to volunteer some of my time during a “fin-clipping” project at the LHFC Kincardine Trout Hatchery. I spent two days working alongside members from both clubs and walked away with a greater appreciation of the dedicated work that goes into creating this awesome fishery on the Saugeen and Lake Huron.

    In addition to many conservation projects and duties, the Lake Huron Fishing Club raises and stocks 60,000 yearling steelhead each year. These fish are hatched from eggs collected at Denny’s Damn by Ontario Steelheader member volunteers each spring. After being nurtured by the volunteers for an entire year, the juvenile fish are released far upstream in the Saugeen River. From there they begin their lives in the wild, migrating downstream to Lake Huron and returning to the Saugeen in the spring and fall a year later.

    To identify hatchery raised fish from wild trout, Ministry of Natural Resources’ protocol calls for adipose fin clipping. This task is carried out by LHFC and Ontario Steeheader volunteers. Over the course of two weekends, each and every one of 60,000 juvenile trout were clipped. This is not easy work either. Crews of 4-8 volunteers surround the tanks and carefully lop off the tiny fin located along the back of each fish near the base of its tail. Working my spot in the line was reminiscent of being on a factory production line, but the goods we were producing were fish!

    Kincardine hatchery manager Al Wilkins oversaw the clipping operation and took the time to explain the ins and outs of the hatchery and exactly what the LHFC provides for the angling public. 60,000 of both rainbow and brown trout are raised annually in the Kincardine hatchery. The rainbow are part of a joint program with the Ontario Steelheaders and destined for the Saugeen at stocking time in April. The brown trout eggs are supplied by the MNR and are also raised to yearling size before being seeded into the waters along the Huron shoreline from Point Clarke to Pike Bay and beyond. The LHFC also runs a second hatchery in Port Elgin. This facility raises Chinook Salmon for the anglers of Lake Huron and is also manned by volunteers. This year the club collected 120,000 salmon eggs in the fall which have since hatched and are now under the close supervision of Port Elgin hatchery manager Garry Biederman until they are stocked as fingerlings in the spring.

    The process of raising fish is not cheap. It costs the LHFC over $10,000 to raise each species. Under the MNR Community Fish and Wildlife Involvement Program, clubs are allotted funding to offset some of the costs of operating a hatchery, but overall, the contribution from the government is minimal. The LHFC relies on fund raising and monies generated from the club’s summer fishing event, the Chantry Chinook Classic to provide the necessary funds for its operations. This derby will once again take place in late July and early August off the shores of Lake Huron.

    In the photos we see Will Stewardson and Tommy Hamilton

    Without the hard work of volunteers, whether they be club members, involved citizens or local anglers, there would be a serious void in the local salmon and trout fisheries. This fall, almost half of all fish that returned to the Saugeen as bright chrome steelhead were originally put there by the Lake Huron Fishing Club and the Ontario Steelheaders. I think that they deserve a round of applause.

    *Josh Choronzey is a freelance outdoor writer and avid outdoorsman. Josh currently resides in Owen Sound.