• Getting Ready, The Work Has Begun

    While others wait for spring, the work has already begun for a few brave souls.

    I'd like to take the time to give a little thank you to the guys that really make the Saugeen steelhead fishery the best there is.

    Over the past two months the members of the Lake Huron Fishing Club and the Ontario Steelheaders have been carrying out the behind the scenes grunt work to support and improve the Saugeen steelhead fishery. More than 50,000 steelhead yearling smolt had to be identified with adipose clips to tell the difference in our so-called 'wild' steelhead from our so-called 'hatchery' steelhead. That's 50,000 plus fish that are clipped in cold conditions one by one. Again, that's carried out over a long period of time. Time consuming, boring and cold.

    I've been in this game longer than most and never witnessed two clubs working harder together, with long hours and dedication...to achieve what they've done. Remember, every smolt or just about every smolt, is identified with that missing adipose fin.

    Again, that's 50,000 plus fish that are raised at a substantial cost and a lot of babysitting to achieve what I believe are the finest steelhead found anywhere and I mean anywhere.

    Over this past winter I heard a few guys complaining about hatchery steelhead versus wild steelhead. Over the years I even heard one so-called 'expert' state he could tell when a fish first bit whether it was wild or a hatchery fish. What a pile of crap!

    As for the so-called 'wild' factor, the fish raised by the club come from eggs taken most often from unclipped fish as well as clipped fish. The clipped fish are almost as wild as possible. The two clubs do not contain and raise 'brood' stock for egg taking purposes, but instead from returning fish that survive and return from the open lake. The Province of Ontario utilizes brood stock for the Lake Ontario stocking program.....but the State of New York releases more than 500,000 'unclipped' steelhead annually from their hatcheries for Lake Ontario with eggs taken from 'returning' Lake Ontario adults...not brood stock. The State of Pennsylvania stocks an even larger total of Chambers Creek strain rainbow into Lake Erie with all fins attached. The State of Michigan does not utilize 'brood' stock for their stocking program, but eggs from returning open water adults as well. The vast, vast, majority of Michigan stocked steelhead have not been clipped either, but again, the eggs are not obtained from 4th, 5th or even 10 generation hatchery held brood stock.

    We will always have a few complainers no matter what we do and no matter how many fish come back to the river. A few complain about the number of anglers below Dennys Dam....my reply is tough. These few complainers usually have done little if anything for the fishery and don't know a lot about the fish or the Saugeen fishery. For most of the year the sport fishery is open all the way from the Denny's at Southampton to the dam and Walkerton. That's 40 miles of open river that just needs a little bit of investigating.

    All I know is it's mid-March and the volunteers on this program have been spending hundreds, if not thousands of hours this past year alone doing what they always do...dedicated work to guarantee we all have one of the best steelhead fisheries on the continent. With fin clipping over, these volunteers still have a lot of hard work in front of them for the next few months and the next year with transporting adults, stocking yearlings and again raising the fish.

    If you really look at not one rainbow (steelhead) is truly wild. Every fish got it's origin from west coast wild stock, which in turn came from hatcheries and then stocked into the Great lakes in the very beginning. Personally, I don't like a brood stock source, but our Saugeen eggs do not come from broad stock.

    Interesting to note also, is the fact that Saugeen sourced eggs (Chamber's Creek strain) to fingerlings have now been in two Ontario hatcheries for two years, with possible inclusion into the MNR brood stock system, which will definitely be an improvement to the steelhead fishery around the province.

    The reason for this success? The right strain, raised to the right size and released way upstream for the best imprinting and to achieve natural self-sustaining populations in the future. On the entire Great Lakes with our excellent rearing and care and our proper imprinting I believe we have the finest program anywhere.

    Enjoy it guys, that's what the fishery is all about...that and installing more fishways to improve natural reproduction above Maple Hill. But right now, you have one hell of sport fishery. The best on the Great Lakes as far as I'm concerned and one of the best on the continent.

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