• Local salmon bite in Owen Sound!

    Local angler and British Columbia salmon guide Reid Cameron enjoys the return of the Chinooks to Owen Sound Bay last weekend.  Like hundreds of other anglers, Cameron and his angling buddies enjoyed excellent catches of spring salmon which appeared in the bay to feed on smelt.The ongoing debate regarding the latest agreement between SON and the MNR has given local anglers little to smile about recently. Over the past two weeks it has seemed as though every single discussion I have had with local outdoorsmen revolves around the topic. To be blunt, I am sick of having to distinguish fact from fiction, truths from blatant lies. So, to say I was happy to have something new to talk about last week is an understatement. I’m referring to two exciting events for outdoorsmen; the news that spring Chinook salmon fishing has returned to Owen Sound Bay, and the growing anticipation as the 2013 spring turkey season approaches.

    Nearly two weeks ago, while entertaining a pair of fishing tackle industry colleagues from California, I found myself amidst a flotilla of boats anchored in Owen Sound in search of whitefish. As the icy fog lifted off the bay we noticed a half dozen boats trolling the deep water of Thompson’s Hole. I remarked to my companions from the balmy west coast that spring Chinook fishing in Owen Sound is no longer a given, and in fact over the past decade the fishery has become a ghost of its previous self. Just over a year ago the topic of one of my columns dealt with the absence of salmon in Owen Sound during the spring and how the changing aquatic ecosystem of Huron was putting a great veil of uncertainty on the once prized salmon fishery.

    No sooner had I finished describing our current salmon fishery to my tourist buddies than the boat downrigging closest to the pack of whitefish anglers caused a stir. A man jumped up in excitement as his rod buckled in the holder. Minutes later the lone angler, who seemed to be aimlessly trolling, had landed the first Chinook salmon that I have witnessed being caught during the spring in nearly two years. It wasn’t his only one either. Over the next thirty minutes the man was able to land his five fish limit and was headed back to the boat launch as we (and many other boats) struck out at the whitefish game.

    By the afternoon of April 6th, over thirty boats were out on the waters of Owen Sound Bay trolling for salmon. The following morning on April 7th, nearly eighty boats were packed into the waters of Thompson’s Hole taking part in what was once an annual tradition. The Chinooks had returned and by Monday and Tuesday of last week, over one hundred boats were taking part in the early spring fishery during the early morning hours each day.

    Word of the fantastic fishing spread across town and over the internet through numerous “outdoor” related chat forums. It was like a scene from years past as local boat launches were packed with vehicles and trailers from out of town, hotel rooms were occupied by anglers and boats lined up at the gas pumps of any stations which were open in the pre-dawn hours across town. If you doubt for one second that our recreational fishery has a direct impact on our economy, I suggest you get up early on Saturday morning and see for yourself (weather permitting).

    Plenty of the anglers who have had the chance to sample this recent fishing were left scratching their heads as to why the salmon appeared in the bay this spring and did not in 2012. The answer is simple and, as always, it revolves around food. Alewives, which were the preferred food source for salmon in Lake Huron are virtually gone. That leaves hungry Chinooks in search of the next best thing, which are smelt. Last year due to a number of environmental reasons, smelt did not appear in Owen Sound Bay. With a much lower population density than in decades past, the numbers of feeding Chinooks followed the smelt in 2012 somewhere besides Owen Sound. Last week, schools of smelt showed up in the bay and low and behold, the Chinooks followed.

    Dock talk around the Sound suggested that most boats on the water were experiencing catches they had not seen in many years. The majority of the fish appeared to be healthy, but not overly fat with an average size of about six lbs. These fish are chrome silver and are often touted as the finest eating fish in the Great Lakes during the early spring. These are not the farm raised salmon found at your local seafood department. No, no! These are fresh caught, vibrant red fillets full of Omega 3s!

    Most fish have been caught in water deeper than 90ft, close to bottom, on lures such as HotFish Swingers, Silver Foxes, and Lymans trolled at a slow pace. Local charter skipper Tony Degasperis noted “a very small percentage of the Chinooks are fin-clipped, indicating that the majority of the fish in the bay right now are NOT local fish stocked by the SSA and are likely wild from areas across Huron and Georgian Bay“. Tony explained, “This provides further evidence that the lake’s Chinook are migratory and schooled tightly while feeding and can come and go depending on the location of baitfish. This also makes them a prime candidate for winding up in gill nets as they search out food throughout the local bays and beyond.” When Degasperis talks salmon, plenty of anglers listen. He has been a local charter captain for over twenty years and his livelihood depends on finding and catching salmon year in and year out, something he has found more difficult as the years go by.

    If trolling the local bay for a chance at some incredible salmon fishing isn’t on your radar at the moment then maybe having the opportunity to harvest a spring gobbler is. Next week marks the annual opener for Ontario’s 2013 spring turkey season. On Thursday April, 25th the woods of Grey and Bruce will once again play host to numbers of turkey hunters who are looking to fill their tags. Nothing spells out spring better than a tom turkey booming thunderous gobbles from the roost as the sun breaks over the horizon. I touched on this topic in a similar column last spring, but the re-introduction of wild turkey in southern Ontario is a true success story, especially when the accomplishment was undertaken by outdoors men and women who cared to see something come to fruition.

    Whether you find yourself with your butt on the ground and your back against a tree in an attempt to harvest a spring turkey, or you choose to bear the cold mornings on the bay in search of salmon, take a minute to think about how both of these opportunities came about. Salmon and turkeys are available in our area as a direct result of the hard work of individuals who wanted to enhance our fish and wildlife populations. Those individuals wanted to provide opportunity to generations who would come after them. Have you seen the smile a sport caught salmon can put on a child’s face? Or the memories created when someone gets to witness a strutting tom turkey in all his glory on crisp April morning? These are special moments no doubt, and they are a reminder that protecting, promoting and creating outdoor opportunities is the responsibility of all of us who enjoy the outdoors.
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