Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Fishing Widow

The skies darken the roar of distant thunder washes over the sounds of the whitecaps and the whistling winds running through the fishing lines. My cell phone rings, its Shari, my wife. “The storm is here, are you getting off the lake?” Where would we be without the care of our other half? Looking out for us, all the while hearing the wind static on the phone and our short answers to speed up the conversation and get back down to business. It’s time to do homage to our better half. The one who reminds us to balance our work, our family life, and fishing in balance.

Of course we are keeping a watchful eye on the storm while sea billows roll. We intently assess the situation by watching the RADAR, factor in our travel time in potentially bigger waves and maybe even the need to consider driving rain as the storm nears and the need to be off the lake where lightening is in dangerous range. We even assess what time it might take to hook and land that last salmon of the day and if that window of time should keep us from resetting that line to catch another. Sometimes an approaching storm front turns the fish on the feed and it can mean some amazing action.

From a charter captain’s perspective with clients on board, the anxiety increases ten fold and we absolutely take no chances. We manage our time and potential risk and “pull the lines” much earlier to ensure safety and comfort. These are the things that when not being in the boat with us, would not be understood from the perspective of looking out the window at home and with the phone in your hand against an ear. But knowing you have someone looking out for you is what’s important here.

Shari is my wife of seventeen years on September 28th of this year and we were together for seven years before that. She knows full well that fishing is a permanent part of my life, a life passion that has been with me all my life. When she married me, it was understood that my flaw is that I come with “fishing baggage”. Fishing baggage that means extensive time on the water away from the house and the kids. To say it doesn’t come with arguments and misunderstandings, would be a lie. I continually work towards a work-life-fishing balance so she doesn't feel like a widow at home. There is a bit of leniency and sacrifice that takes place to make things work. From a place of poking fun at the situation, Shari- the wife of a charter captain- has jokingly call herself the “Fishing widow”.

All kidding aside, today I am sore and tired. Not because of a long day on the water, as a matter of fact we had to cancel our charter due to the weather. Instead, a friend in need meant providing an urgent helping hand. A mother of four kids trapped in domestic abuse from an alcoholic husband. A husband who felt drinking would fill the void in his life, that void which could instead be filled with a life passion like fishing. She required help to move belongings out of the house, while he was at work. The deadline for his return to home was imminent and the stress levels for the family were extreme. She was on the run from a very dire situation and potentially her life and the lives of her children. We assembled to help, we worked fast and hard and with heavy hearts. She was not widowed through the death of the deadbeat dad and husband, but the death of a peaceful marriage that required escape.

Sustaining a work-life-fishing balance lifestyle is not easy. Working all week at my day job, working every weekend on the boat and then pulled so many directions, it was clear that me and the family required break. ROAD TRIP!!!

In July a family two week long East Coast trip answered the need to balance things again. 5,000 plus km of driving offered us the views of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. 37 years before, my parents did a very similar family camping road trip and it was my interest to see some of the very same sights now, almost 4 decades later. This Shari and I wanted to share this experience with the kids while they were at the perfect age to remember it for years to come.

Driving in Nova Scotia, we toured the south coast from Halifax to Lunenburg. Stops like Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay were planned but one particular location was that of Indian Harbour just west of Peggy’s Cove. A small campground called “King Neptune” was a location that I remember vividly as an 8 year old. The old fishing shack and dock to the little red fishing vessel piloted by the husband to Katherine (Kay). The included 1982 picture with the kids show my sister and I, along with two other kids from the campground, holding up the fresh catch of Halibut caught by Kay's husband.

Kay is now 97 years old and is a true Fishing Widow as here fisherman husband had passed away of natural causes. When we pulled into the campground I explained to Kay’s son (who now watches the campground) that I was only stopping in to gather the views and conger up those 37 year old memories. Of course he was welcoming and showed us to the yellow house that still appeared original and standing the test of time. We knocked on the door and approached the screen door a 4 foot 10 inch woman to welcome us in. We intended only to say hi, but Kay insisted that we stay for cookies and conversation.

Soon we were talking more than just names and where we were from. Laughs and thoughts were shared with how the campground has historically remained the same, yet gained popularity and with worldwide attraction. She showed here notebook of years of logs noting the number of campers from countries around the world. Surprisingly the country (outside of Canadian campers) of Germany was the highest count of campers. The campground is full most of the summer which was not the case when we were camping there 37 years ago.

Kay also shared how the Swissair Flight 111 MD- 11 crash impacted the campground in 1998. 229 people died and King Neptune Campground became the command centre for search and rescue efforts. She explained that there were some 30 men stationed at the campground rotating shifts out to sea. The men were provided rations of sandwiches and soup for each meal. When Kay heard, she stated with importance that she would have none of this. Instead she sat 21 men plus family and friends to a quality wholesome East coast cooking. Hospitality of a Bluenoser is like no other!

Kay also opened up a photo album that showed various pictures of the campground and life of Indian Harbour. Many pictures were of her husband, at the fishing shack, on red fishing boat, and with the catch of the day. Kay outlived her husband, but her spry spirit and hospitality showed that being a fishing widow isn’t the end of her story and
she provided a welcoming way for me to reconnect to a special place as a fisherman and as a person whom wishes to treat people as we like to be treated.

We joke around and poke fun with the words of “Fishing Widow”, but in life we are all in this together. As I continue to learn and strive to create work-life-fishing balance, I can see it has helped strengthen our family. Fishing as a life passion fills your soul with peace and happiness in a world that can otherwise be mean. When all is well with your soul, you can weather the storm, have empathy for others in need, and give generously no matter how many mouths to feed.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Today's Spatially Aware Angler

On long drive camping trips when I was a kid, with my parents and sister, often meant sitting in the passenger seat beside dad who’s driving, with the Ontario road map partly unfolded on my lap.
I suppose I was the navigator since my sister in the back suffering from car sickness and my mom at her side. I didn't mind it at all, I enjoyed the job. Maps to me read easier than words in a novel. I was never good in English in school, but geography was my calling.

Today we have GPS which has turned the Spatially Aware Navigator into a redundant skill replaced by your cell phone or dashboard mounted GPS. Now in my older years I sometimes like to explore without my electronics. Resort to a paper map or use my sense of direction to weave my way across the Lots and Concessions of the back-roads. I fear being Spatially Aware is becoming a skill lost on younger generations.

Electronics for fishing has become heavily leaned on for navigator, but unlike a haphazard car trip across the countryside, decisive navigation on the water is as important as your car seat belt. In fact, as a captain of your vessel, it is by law you know where you are at all times even when the electronics clearly show it digitally. Marine Law enforcers pull over boaters and check for safety gear. On that list for a larger vessel is a Magnetic Compass and an updated paper navigation chart. Your electronics already shows your location and with accurate cartography to help your navigational needs. Truly what is desired is that (as a captain) you are spatially aware of your boat’s position and direction. It’s like a sixth sense for seasoned mariners.

It has been said by many of professional anglers that fishing success is like real-estate success. It’s all about Location, Location, Location. Today’s technology has given anglers the tools to efficiently narrow down the best location to catch fish.

The number one question I get from those at the dock ready to go out fishing is “what depth of water were you in?” So many concentrate on how deep the fish are, but rarely consider where on the lake the fish are located. Which way out of port are you fishing? As the morning went on, where did you find fish migrate too? Information to provide your location, it is often using a visual location on land or on a map and rarely coupled by the depth of water fishing. Spatial awareness of your surroundings means understanding… x,y (location on a map) and z (depth of water).

Spatial awareness allows the opportunity to justify how and where you fish, judge your fishing situation with other locations. They say 90% of the fish are in 10 % of the water, but I believe the Great Lakes is an even greater percentage of fish in smaller percentage of water, and unlike structure oriented fish like bass, pelagic fish are nomad. If a seasoned Mariner has a Spatial Awareness like having a sixth sense, wouldn’t you think as a Great Lakes Troller, would it not help you put more fish in the boat? With today’s electronics and technology, when used effectively, provides the information to become spatially aware.

Future Great Lakes Fishing Technology prediction.

In 2000 I did a seminar at the Strait Line Anglers Club after finishing my schooling in Geographic Information Systems. My main topic was how GPS works. At that time it was expanding rapidly and the US government stopped Selective Availability to enhance GPS locational accuracy for civilian use. I said in the seminar that in the future, our GPS units will not only have our bathymetric charting and our location on the map, but also correct the data in the map collected by SONAR. 15 years later we have SONAR Charts Live updates from Navionics.

So what is next for our future of fishing electronics… I believe we will see strides in wigitization of apps that would not only display on the hardware we mount on the helm, but also on mobile devises like our phones or tablets. Use of cloud storage of things like saved routes, Trails and Waypoints to be shared to other devices and other users. They will design electronics with emphasis on app integration between electronics like your SONAR/GPS plotter display and Down-speed display via added widgets and easy plug and play apps. Mobile devices like our phones will allow easy saving of Waypoints and control of the electronics and apps from anywhere in the boat by Bluetooth on mobile devises.

I believe our electronics will have greater insights into our use of the electronics. For an example, it might generate hotspot maps of areas that are seeing greater waypoints saved via crowd source cloud storage sharing. Not unlike Waze for driving, you will have Waze of fish catching activity. This will open up the familiarity of your success measured by your location and the location of others. Are you fishing where more fish are being caught? There was a time when SONAR was said to be “cheating” because you see the fish. Then we saw the introduction of GPS technology viewed as a tool to uncover secret fishing spots. The next evolution in trolling technology will include information sharing and insights into that information.

All the best electronics in the world will not make you a better angler. They provide you information so you can be more spatially aware as a troller. Spatial awareness aids decision making on the water. Making the right decisions will catch you more fish.

Shane Thombs
FINtastic Sportfishing

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Links and apps for your Smart Phone when fishing Lake Ontario & Lake Erie

Links and apps for your Smart Phone

Website Links

Wind Forecasting

Buoy Data

Grimsby WX station = 45139
Port Colborne WX station = 45142
Port Stanley WX station = 45132
Lorain, Ohio WX station = 45005

Water Conditions Data

Coastwatch Surface Temperatures www.coastwatch.msu.edu

MODIS Satellite True Colour imagery https://coastwatch.glerl.noaa.gov/modis/region_map.html

Environmental Conditions Data

               Solunar Clock www.solunarclock.com


Wind Forcasting
Image result for Sailflow App icon  SailFlow
Image result for Windy App icon  Windy
Temperature and Precipitation
Image result for The Weather Network App icon Weather Network
Moon Phase
Simple Moon Phase Widget
Image result for Simple Moon Phase Widget App icon 
 Canal Status


Monday, September 4, 2017

Less XBoxes and more Tackle Boxes- Gamers to Anglers

It’s the last weekend of the summer and if you have a preteen- teenager- tweenager boy in the house you might also be at your wits end with the amount of screen time this summer.

George Foxworthy has the redneck jokes, but if you could change that to Parent of a Gamers jokes it might go like this.

If by Labour Day your child’s skin colour is still white as snow, you might be Parent of a Gamer.

If your son asks to get more AA batteries for the wii remotes but the grass is two weeks over due for a cut and the lawnmower needs no gas, you might be a Parent of a Gamer.

If your home internet usage is more after 2 am than at 10 am, you might be a Parent of a Gamer.

I come from a generation where gaming was first introduced. Pong, Pacman, and Frogger. In grade school I had only a few friends who liked to play video games and there were many hours burned up looking at tube style TVs and hyped up on Jolt Cola. It was a novelty though as it would be a bit of a flash in the pan and then we were back out to play doing whatever else indoors or outside.

I do think things have changed since 30 years ago when it comes to the number of young gamers, particularly young boys from maybe 7 to 27 that are to call video games a novelty with a short shelf life. Instead more and more treat video games as a decent way to pass time. Or worst yet, can be considered addicted to gaming and find friends with very similar interests.

An interesting stat compared to my childhood the 1970s and 80’s, children now spend 50 percent less time in unstructured outdoor activities. Children ages 10 to 16 now spend, on average, only 12.6 minutes per day in vigorous physical activity. Yet they spend an average of 10.4 waking hours each day relatively motionless.

A pole showed these following reasons as the top excuses why kids prefer not going outside.

• 80 percent said it was uncomfortable to be outdoors due to things like bugs and heat • 62 percent said they did not have transportation to natural areas, and • 61 percent said there were not natural areas near their homes.

Let’s not put the blame entirely on the kids, additionally a survey of Parents of Gamers showed that 50% were worried they might get hit in traffic when playing outside and 40% fear kidnapping by strangers.

Let’s instead think of Gamers as potential anglers of the future. I think there is an opportunity here if we look at it slightly different. Kids that are Gamers have what attributes? I think they are driven to find the ways to win. They will find enjoyment when they do succeed. They essentially are not scared of a challenge. If looking at fishing and what it takes to catch fish, it is about being persistent to try and catch fish. Where fishing doesn’t match up, it’s where you can try very hard, even do everything correctly, but you might not succeed. You might not catch a fish or as many fish as last time. Measuring success is not about how many levels you made to get where you are. It like starting a new video game every day.

In July I had to pleasure in having returning guests to the boat. A father and son annual fishing trip. This time, however, the son invited his friend to come along for a fishing trip. His first time ever fishing. The two late teenager boys are self-proclaimed gamers. So much so that in the past I remember the teenager arriving at the dock in the morning without sleeping after hours of gaming throughout the night. No pity we said, “fish will not wait for us, lets get out there”

This year was very interesting because his friend Steven was seeing fishing for the first time. This was like starting a brand new video game, to him. After fitting lifejackets and explaining the safety items on the boat and what to expect for fishing that morning, we motored out to our fishing grounds. In a side conversation I was told he suffers from anxiety and gaming is one of the many triggers that sets him off. Steven is addicted to gaming but also addicted to his school work. Second addiction doesn’t sound too bad right? It is bad. He doesn’t except having anything less than perfect and he works and works until it is.

His anxieties over the dangers of water, the fear of losing a fish and wondered if his inexperience will take away from the experience of others throughout the trip, had him bashful of participating fully. Having new to fishing people on a trip I try to explain that we don’t catch every fish we hook and sometimes we don’t always hook a fish to begin with. Its fishing. Measuring success is not possible. Each day we are handed a new units of measure. A big fish to one person is a small fish to another. 1 fish is a lot of fish some days, and 20 fish can be less than expected on some days. Success in fishing is not equally calibrated by measured by levels in a video game, or number of points. Maybe the lack of true measure is exactly what a gamer needs as an alternative to see success differently?

Steven’s anxiety was interrupted 10 minutes into our trip when I handed him the rod with a fish on the other end, taking line off the reel while it was in his hands. He was no longer anxious as his concentration was fully on the task at hand. The feeling of a powerful fish, the sound of the reel drag screaming for mercy was obviously like no video controller could ever simulate.

“What do I do? what do I do?” he said. We smiled and like it was already understood by the rest of us on the boat, “welcome to fishing, enjoy this, this doesn’t happen every day”. He learned quickly while working the rod and reel to fight the fish toward the boat and it was nearly within sight at the back of the boat when the line broke.

Steven had no time to be disappointed, the other downrigger rod popped up and I hand over another rod to place in his hand. This time he worked the rod like he was experienced. I wondered if the quick learning and dexterity was from gaming. Maybe a gamer’s brain is trained to adjust and learn quickly or you lose the game. He brought in his first fish an 11 lbs Lake Trout.

If you are a Parent of a Gamer, you might be frustrated, maybe even disappointed that the summer has slipped by without your son participating in constructive things. Your family vacation to the cottage for a week might have provided the much needed break from all that screen time. Consider other opportunities to try other outdoor activities. My son is enrolled in Scouts, it’s a wonderful program I recommend. It is possible to distract your son away from video games outside your scheduled summer holidays. Consider fishing, a hike in the woods, or maybe a day canoe trip. If you like to try fishing but don’t have fishing equipment or feel like you might not be able to find a good spot to catch fish, hire a guide.

Steven, along with many other young boys, that have been gamers for far too long, have many attributes that would make them great fisherman. Let them try fishing. I think it can be the needed outdoor activity to reduce curb screen time.

Shane Thombs

Friday, July 14, 2017

High Water, Fishing on a High in 2017

Environmental conditions are pivotal to providing good fishing. It’s a known fact, but describing what makes good vs bad environmental conditions can sometimes be misconstrued. Some of the most common things I hear, and my responses from Captain Obvious would include some of these:

Q: “When it’s hot out, doesn’t the fish go deep?”

A: Air temperature and water temperature are not the same. Lake Ontario is a deep lake, and yes the fish will at times go deep, but the air temperature is not the reason to go deep. Although Lake Erie is shallower, it also has enough depth to provide its own levels of water temperature comfort.

Q: “Don’t fish come up to the surface to feed during a rainfall?”

A: Sometimes, but it’s likely not the rain that brings them up in the water column. Low light conditions, a low pressure barometer and the benefit of less anglers around (fair weather fisherman) will make the fish rise in the water column. I use the word rise rather then come up to the surface. The surface water might not be what the fish want to be in if the water temperatures are too warm.

Q: “Why are the fish deep when the baitfish are seen near the surface?”

A: The large expanse of open water of the Great Lakes, fish can't hide for safety or hide to ambush. it’s a tug-of-war between baitfish (prey) and the Salmon, Trout or Walleye (predators). Some conditions provide baitfish with the advantage to avoid being eaten; other conditions provide the predators the advantage over prey. Where prey have the advantage, predators usually prefer not to use energy and rather wait for conditions that put them in the advantage. If baitfish can see the predatory fish coming, they have the advantage. If predators can sneak up on them without being seen, predators have the advantage. Low Light conditions, made by early mornings or late evenings, overcast conditions, or waves to break up the sunlight penetration, can provide salmon, trout or walleye with the advantage over baitfish.

Q:“Wouldn’t the fish prefer the clear water over dirty water?”

A: Building on the previous question, predators will usually find the advantage over baitfish when they are disguised in colour (turbid) water. In the spring, coloured water is literally the most important location factor to find catchable hungry fish. Clear water is also most often the colder water and sometimes called lifeless since most anglers will see the SONAR graph display empty and void of any life. The need for coloured dirty water becomes less the scenario in the Summer months since coloured water is less prevalent miles offshore. Instead the benefit to find green water is the goal. Green water is nutrient rich with phytoplankton (microscopic plants) to provide the foundation for a productive food chain, making it full of life as opposed to the clear lifeless water aforementioned.

Q:“The sun is out, the fish should be up sun bathing.”

A: It’s like an urban myth that seems to circulate. Unless we are talking about Carp, I don’t think I had ever seen a fish swim just beneath the surface to soak up the sun. Its not a situation on Lake Ontario or Lake Erie for salmon, trout or walleye.

Q: “How can there be currents in the lake with no river or inlet for many miles?

A: The Great Lakes are much different than a small lake or pond. We are talking about massive bodies of water with a lake surface that can be influenced by winds. Winds and waves move the water and localized winds can influence the currents of other areas not subject to winds. Three other factors are added to creating currents. 1.) Water temperatures will create variations of where the currents will move. Cold water is more dense and often slower moving. Cold water can be imaged in exaggeration as thick molasses where warmer water would have to move around it and slip past it. Vertically we see this between the warmer water above the thermocline vs. the colder water below. Horizontally you may see the smooth surface water with debris gathered alongside the colder wavy water that it meets. 2.) Point sources to add current into the lake. Niagara River for Lake Ontario is the largest catalyst to currents in the Lake Ontario. It is often referred to as the engine that turns currents in the lake in a counterclockwise direction. Lake Erie has the Detroit River at one end and the Niagara River at the other end. In three years the volume of Lake Erie is changed over. 3.) tides are minimal in freshwater but have a slight current created. It is more of a factor during the full moon in September and fishing for salmon staged to move up the river. Tides will move the water around the piers and night time glow spoon chucker’s will see the currents moving when there isn’t any wind. Less a concern for current changes in the main lake, but the tide times or Solunar gravitational pull can influence the times fish feed. Winds, water temperature differences, river water point sources and the effects of the tides are all examples of how the Lake currents are always moving.

Q: “If there’s a current, do fish like the current?”

A: They like the current to bring them food. They don’t like to spend energy fighting the current. The question can instead be asked what is the current bringing to the fish. Is the water rich with baitfish and warmer coloured water, or is it cold, clear and lifeless? Will the current not only move the water, but also move the fish to your area or away? As a fisherman, what consideration would you have to combat currents? Is your trolling speed at the depth of your presentation correct? Are there differences in bottom structure that will change or deflect the lake currents that will provide predators with an advantage to prey on baitfish that might pass by in the current?

Q: “Has this year’s high water made the fishing better?”

A: Yes and No. I think. ?!? Fishing has been exceptional this year, but its hard to say its entirely because of the higher water levels. Certainly the rising water of the Great Lakes has changed the scenario that fisherman have had to adapt. Some might say the fishing is good if they could actually get out fishing. Some boat launches are/were closed and limited fishing pressure in some areas. Some bigger boats were/are waiting for lake levels to subside to gain access to docks that are left submerged. The increased volume of water from runoff might have added a greater amount of nutrients in the lake that will generate a good growing environment for plankton and provide more fuel to the food chain and sustain more baitfish. There is also the thought that the warm winter we had in 2016-2017 along with the increase in water levels has added lots of warmer water to help the lake’s productivity. Localized fishing success as a result of higher water levels might be linked as well. The higher water levels and increased flow from the Niagara River might have changed how the Niagara River has continued to be a draw for fish into the start of Summer. When the river water usually draws fish in May and then warms too fast and fishing slows in the area, the river water still continues to draw fish well into July (thus far). That might be because of the increased water levels and water volume. Areas that seem to be great fishing spots in July have struggled to find consistent fishing, namely Grimsby has seen a slower summer start for reasons unknown to me. The fish are still subject to where the water goes and the baitfish follows. Higher water levels don’t seem to change off shore locations of fish. Whether the water is 210 feet or 214 feet in the same spot has less concern for the salmon swimming 50 feet down.

Describing how good the fishing is from one season to the next is not usually related to the current weather, but the overall climate of the season and past seasons. Cold winters and summers are bad for fishing for Lake Ontario Salmon and Trout and less concerning for Lake Erie Walleye fishing. Water levels as high as they are this year, might or might not be the reason for this year’s great Lake Ontario fishing. There are likely many other similar environmental conditions that tend to be confused with how it might make fish react and how good the fishing will be.

If the fishing is good, Make Hay while the sun shines. If the fishing is slow, When handed Lemons make Lemonaid. Environmental conditions and fishing success have very confusing outcome interactions. Get out fishing and find out if the old sayings are an urban myth.

Shane Thombs

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Agile management of stocking numbers can work. Are you ready?

In March, various newspapers (both hardcopy and digital), social media, and talk around the Great Lakes centered on the collapse of the Chinook Salmon Fishery in Lake Huron and the very real threat of Lake Michigan following the same dismal path. Conversations at tackle shops and fishing club meetings were of concerns that Lake Ontario might also be sucked into the same vortex that leads into the black hole of salmonless waters. The hype over the doom and gloom reports of the salmon fishery on the upper Great Lakes had many thinking we are next and with this thinking after two extremely tough years (2014, 2015) of lake Ontario fishing, it was like the writing was painted on the wall.

I am a volunteer member of the Fisheries Management Zone 20 advisory council. Essentially a group that work together to communicate the various interest groups around the lake. Geographically, Jerry Mitrovich and I have done our best to extend the interests of the Ontario South Shore angling community, covering Hamilton and Niagara to be specific. Maybe more so, being on the council has allowed a better understanding of the state of the Lake. What we know, what we like to know and what we like to see happen to open water and near shore fisheries are discussed and learned by those on the council. Although the members of council share a variety of viewpoints, when the data shows a significant trend, where a variety of data sources seem to coincide, there is no reason to push individual agendas when we have a very necessary mandate to help manage a trophy salmon fishery and mitigate the risk of any such collapse.

The media and angling community buzz was enough for the council to pay close attention to the issue. Coincidentally Lake Ontario data revealed a troubling change nearly upon us. The signs written on the wall were seen by members of council in 2015, but the angling community still hadn’t seen those signs, it was still early to say for certain where the fishery was heading. Fragile – Yes – but with a warm winter in 2015-16 we had high hopes for a recovery. Unfortunately recent survey data shows we did not see a recovery significant enough to provide us hope.

Additionally, the content in the media about the upper Great Lakes were only part of the writing on the wall when it comes to the state of Lake Ontario. The upper lakes mostly struggle with the lack of nutrients and plankton to feed baitfish. Lake Ontario, on the other hand, has more short term concerns related to cold winters in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and the stressed alewife populations with a gap in year classes. Like a car that needs an engine tune up, rather than a full body off restoration.

I am an avid angler with an extreme interest in a quality Chinook salmon fishery but still remain objective on all aspects of a potential decline in baitfish levels, it was absolutely critical not to get sucked into the negative slant the media had played, but also not to take a foot stomping, near sighted “there’s tons of baitfish- I see it on my SONAR – there can’t be a baitfish problem”, stand.

The council continues to be educated on the ecological scenario past, present and future (whatever that might be?). Knowledge is power they say, but it’s not about power, it’s about an understanding and the council requires we work together to abate any possibility of a salmon fishery crash on Lake Ontario. We will soon grapple with what measures we need to take in order to react to changes in predator/prey balance? We need to be agile enough to be proactive instead of reactive. Have trust in the data, the concepts and the idea that a balance of predator/prey is more than an allotment of stocking targets. Make changes ahead of any signs of a failing food web is critical, a lesson we should learn from watching the crash of Lake Huron.

The biggest point of interest to discuss is how we plan to stock fish. Can we work with our neighbouring jurisdiction in New York to find a happy place with not only numbers of fish stocked but how we stock those fish? Not just about acting on increasing or decreasing stocking numbers, instead or also by adjusting the allocation of fish as they relate to the most effective sites and survival rates at those sites. Pen sites vs direct stocking sites vs tributary stocking sites. Some may argue we need to know more to make bold decisions, I think- even if it’s not solid science; I rather do something, and learn from it, then do nothing and learn what we should have done when it’s too late.

Without getting into a great deal of history on Alewife in the Great Lakes and the rise of the Chinook Salmon fishery, Chinooks were likely North America’s and maybe even the World’s largest success story in fisheries management. Projects are often judged by three main factors, Social, Economic and Environmental. Socially, Chinook Salmon are without a doubt the most sought after Salmon or Trout species in the Great Lakes. Economically they generate highest investment over the other Salmon and Trout species. Environmentally, the imbalance in the Great lakes ecosystem in the 60’s with an Alewife population explosion, went through a dichotomy, becoming a relatively stable predator/prey balance once Coho and Chinook salmon stocking was introduced and for the most part remain balanced for the past 50 years.

In the 60’s it was an experiment, in the 70’s the fishery was discovered, in the 80’s the fishery reached an unprecedented flurry of angling attention setting the bar for expectation. In the 90’s the fishery began to turn downward in relation to the expectations set in the 80’s. In turn, this changed angler attitude. Anglers thought stocking numbers would directly correlate to catch rates and a sense of political pressure or measure of accountability towards fisheries managers was the new agenda. Adjustments to reduce stocking numbers to restore a healthier predator/prey balance, was met with angler disappointment rather than a means for providing a balance.

In reaction to anglers holding fisheries managers accountable, stocking numbers became rigid targets to be met to please the angling community.

In the 2000’s that same attitude persisted, but the state of the lake and fishing productivity seemed to have rebounded after anglers figured out how to catch more fish using “new age” trolling techniques.

Folks, it’s time to react to change once more. The rigidity of our stocking targets amoungst a fishery that is dynamic and ever changing, doesn’t work. Perfect example is the state of Lake Michigan’s fishery faced with the same sense of rigid stocking targets became a discussion of stocking entitlement rather than truly reacting to a decline in predator/prey imbalance.

The demographics of alewife in Lake Ontario have recently changed. Recent surveys show data that we are not in a great place. Anglers may say they see lots of bait on their SONAR, but having an understanding of what they are seeing might add knowledge to the subject herein.

The 2012 year class of alewife are currently what is holding up the existing fishery. Subsequent years of recruitment failed to follow suit with its more prevalent predecessor adults born in 2012. We are facing a two and maybe even three year gap that is very concerning for the health of our alewife population in the near future. The 2012 year class are over their prime. It’s like having no men and women in Canada under the age of 50 and then asking 50 year olds to make enough babies to keep our Canadian population strong. Are you getting the sense of the magnitude of the issue?

Yes it’s an issue but it’s not with certain doom. Unlike the upper Great Lakes the most important factor that will help Lake Ontario rebound is that we have much higher nutrient loads to fuel the food chain. Higher nutrients provides- higher phytoplankton provides -higher zooplankton provides - food for Alewife. If we help the Alewife numbers by reducing pressure from its predators, a recovery can happen. This isn’t the case for Lake Huron and maybe even Lake Michigan as it would be only part of the problem they face. We can make good of a bad situation, but we must be willing to act.

Knowledge is not power in this case, but what knowledge we do have on the topic and how we react to this change, we might come out ahead. What do we need to do- change attitudes about the sense of entitlement when it comes to stocking numbers. We need to be creative and forward thinking, be willing to try even without solid evidence that one stocking technique, number or location be the definitive answer to our problem.

Those that like it in black and white…

If you were to give up a significant number (maybe even all) of Chinook salmon stocking numbers for 2 years knowing your catch rates will drop dramatically for the following 3 years as a sacrifice made in order to mitigate the risk of any such collapse, would you do it? Short term pain for long term gain?

You can point your finger and demand to see evidence, but as my mom would say, “ you point your finger and there are 3 others on your hand pointing back at you.” Don’t hold grudges over who gets what and how much, change your sense of entitlement. If the writing is painted on the wall, saying “Enter the black hole leading to salmonless waters here”, why not paint over it?

Shane Thombs