The Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Assocation’s (HHOA) year got off to a rocky start.

In January 2021, two pumps and a well failed at the hatchery.

Without water, there’s no fish: the association has stocked Haliburton lakes with more than 700,000 since 1998.

“Local folks and the general public contributed, and we were able to get those major repairs,” said association president Dan Smith.

Twelve months later, Smith said “it’s been a good year.”

Community contributions have been a major piece of the 2021 puzzle; resulting in a $20,000 budget boost and triple the membership.

“That’s a big shot in the arm for us, the community support we got this year.”

Especially, said Smith, since much of the association’s in-person fundraising was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.

“We’re on tenterhooks when we can’t do fundraising,” he said.

Smith said many members, the majority being seniors, were cautious to gather due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

“We got the same work done with less people,” said Smith. An ongoing challenge is preserving the County’s fisheries, with many respondents to the association’s 2021 walleye survey reporting less than usual fish stock.

To combat that, the association stocked locations by helicopter and distributed fish to 25 lakes across the Highlands. Volunteers also spent days cleaning silt off underwater spawning grounds.

Despite a strong financial year, the association is aiming to develop guaranteed incomes over the next years to decrease the reliance on donations.

“Every year we look at our year and say we gotta’ raise this and this and this,” said Smith.

A large source of support is the association’s members themselves: the group went from 35 to 100 members in 2021. Membership chair Ken Fielding said at the HHOA AGM he hopes to attract 100 more by next year.

Smith joined the group five years ago.

“I fished all my life and hunted. I wanted to know where the fish are going, and where the good fishing spots are,” he said. “You can work as little or as much time as you want.”