Photographed above: Wire baskets cover the water-filled troughs where developing trout swim and are likely to jump.
My obsession with angling started from an early age when my Dad took my brother and I fishing for brook trout at Little Boggy Creek in Duck Mountain Provincial Park. I still remember catching these beautiful fish from behind the rocks as we ventured our way upstream.
Today, the fish no longer dwell in Little Boggy Creek. Low water levels led to its stocking being discontinued in the late 90's. As non-native species, the brook trout in this stream are entirely dependent on the provincial stocking program. In fact, there are no native trout species in Saskatchewan aside from lake trout. However, there are now approximately 125 lakes and streams where one can catch brook, brown, rainbow, tiger, or splake trout in Saskatchewan.
But where did these exotic species come from in the first place? The Fort Qu'Appelle Fish Culture Station — celebrating its 100th year of operation in 2015.
HOW THE STOCKING PROGRAM WORKS
There are three bodies who work together to stock lakes and streams across the province: the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, and the Fort Qu'Appelle Fish Culture Station. All fisheries enhancement projects and the hatchery are funded through the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund and a portion of angling & hunting license revenue.
These three organizations work together to enhance the angling opportunities available in Saskatchewan.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment employs fisheries biologists who carefully assess lakes and streams to determine their suitability as trout habitats. There are a number of requirements:
- The lake must be of suitable depth and must have proper aeration to sustain oxygen levels over winter.
- There must be sufficient forage food and no predators, e.g. northern pike, common suckers, etc.
- There cannot be any inlets or outlets allowing the emigration of trout or immigration of predators.
- The lake or stream must have public access.
Trout ponds and lakes do not support natural reproduction and are reliant on stocking in Saskatchewan. However, there are some cases of streams being able to support naturally reproducing populations.
The Fort Qu'Appelle Fish Culture Station is where all stocked trout in Saskatchewan are born and raised into fingerlings (2-3 inches long). In a few months, they are released into lakes and streams approved by the Ministry of Environment. Approximately 500,000 trout fingerlings are distributed each year. These fingerlings will find their way as far north as Amber and Ed's Lake, less than 200 km south of Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park. The fish are transported by trucks, or float planes to the more remote northern lakes.
The hatchery holds several breeding ten-pound trout in outdoor pools. However, the hatchery also raises northern pike, walleye, lake trout and other species. For walleye, eggs must be collected by netting wild fish from Lake Diefenbaker in early spring - an event called Spawn Camp. What follows is a comprehensive process, starting with incubation and ending in distribution.
The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF) is responsible for administering and maintaining fisheries enhancement projects through the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund. This non-profit organization helps fund the hatchery, develops new trout habitats, restores fish passages, and pioneers many new enhancement projects. Ideas for future projects can be shared with the SWF through their contact page.
Little Boggy Creek may not have been able to sustain brook trout, but that is not to say that it may never again. As the angling community becomes more aware and involved in the process, new ideas, initiatives and restoration projects may come forth. There is immense value in increasing the angling opportunities available - not just for recreation, but for better appreciation and understanding of our natural environment.
The staff at the Fort Qu'Appelle Fish Culture Station are incredibly enthusiastic and take great pleasure in informing the public on their operations. Free tours are served, with the most active times to visit being May-June. It can be found on Highway 210 between Echo Valley Provincial Park and Fort Qu'Appelle, click here for directions. For more information, visit the Fish Culture Station on Facebook.