Local anglers caught fish by the hundreds last week.
In a unique “catch and release” twist, they assisted with a fish salvage operation to rescue fish stranded from spring flooding.
Members of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation and the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority transported truckloads of fish from a shrinking pond at the bottom of the Alameda Dam Spillway across the road into the Alameda Dam Reservoir.
This is the third fish salvage operation in southeastern Saskatchewan. Sask. Watershed Authority and Sask. Wildlife Federation conducted two separate operations earlier this summer at Rafferty Dam.
Al Young, a biologist and spokesperson for Sask. Watershed Authority, explained the reason for undertaking such a huge operation resulted from the lack of a fish passage for fish heading upstream.
“The fish we are capturing today could very well be from Lake Darling in North Dakota,” said Young. “In the spring time – in a really wet year like this – they have the tendency to go upstream. Here they can only get so far because there is no conveyance for them to get into the reservoir.”
Water poured over the spillway at Alameda Dam for several months this year in order to moderate levels in the reservoir.
As levels neared normal at the beginning of August, Sask. Watershed Authority turned off the spillway. Since the pond water at the bottom of the spillway was warm, naturally, the fish did not want to leave. The fish became stranded as the diminished flow from the spillway disconnected the bottom pond from Moose Mountain Creek that flows into the Souris River.
The fish would have died over the winter months due to low oxygen levels in the water. Therefore, wildlife crews had to act before cold weather made it impossible.
“The reason we are here is to get as many of them as we can out of there,” said Young.
This operation netted a huge success, with more than 3,800 walleye, northern pike, perch, bullhead and white suckers caught and released into fresher water.
At any given time there were between 25 and 35 volunteers assisting with the operation, which moved along smoothly.
Young explained they tweaked the process from earlier experiences at Rafferty, as they learned from their mistakes – the first of which involved using quads to run the fish to their new home. For the second and third operations, they contracted the use of a picker truck to lift the barrel of fish from the bottom of the spillway to a truck waiting above.
“First of all, we drew the reservoir right down – we’re at a puddle of what was once there – to make it easier,” Young explained of the process. “Then we herded them into smaller and smaller pounds, and eventually into [a] corner.”
Once in the smaller area, a crew of about 10 people herded the fish with large nets to a location where they were caught and put into large water-filled barrels. The barrels were lifted and dumped into a basin sitting in the back of a pick-up truck. Volunteers then drove the trucks up and across the road, where more volunteers awaited to assist by netting the fish and releasing them into the Alameda Dam Reservoir.
Members of local Saskatchewan Wildlife organizations said they were pleased to see the strong walleye presence and the physical size the walleye, noting it is indicative of a growing and healthy population.
“The big thing is the number of walleye,” said Young. “We’re getting probably 90 per cent walleye – which are the most important game fish in the province. The size of the pike, the size of the walleye, they’re very, very large, some of them. That is really nice to see. That’s because these waters are so productive.”
Some walleye released weighed more than 10-and-a-half pounds – world-class size.
“We had two or three there – and I didn’t weigh them but know from looking at them – that were over 10 pounds. That’s exceptional. That’s a World Class walleye. People in other parts of the world would go ga-ga over that,” laughed Young.
After completing the fish salvage operation, Young said engineers with Sask. Watershed Authority would fully drain the pond in order to inspect the structure. After they’re done their inspection, they’ll refill the pond again.