Lake Kashagawigamog Chain walleye have completed their annual spawning run on the Drag River below the Emmerson Dam in Haliburton.

Once again, Haliburton Highlands Outdoor Association (HHOA) volunteers counted the spawning fish.

The effort is part of the HHOA’s Walleye Watch Program that was reinstated in 2021 to help rehabilitate the lake chain walleye fishery. This year, HHOA volunteers counted 1,007 walleyes over 29 nights. Last year, 1,438 were recorded.

Dan Smith, president of the HHOA, said, “unfortunately, spawning walleye numbers have declined in recent years. Prior to 2015, when the HHOA was actively assisting the spawn, as many as 6,000 fish were counted per year at the site. In the last four years, we’ve counted an average of around 1,450 fish per year. The walleye have a lot working against them.”

The original program began in the early 2000s and ran for 15 years. During that time, the HHOA worked with the MNRF to harvest Drag River walleye eggs from spawning fish and hatch them in the HHOA fish hatchery. Walleye fingerlings were then returned to the chain. This effort helped ensure more walleye survived the spawn. Unfortunately, said Smith, walleye stocking was stopped in 2015 and current Fisheries Management Zone 15 rules prohibit the HHOA from assisting the fishery. The Drag River site is considered one of the most important walleye spawning areas in the region.

The spawning walleye face many other challenges as well, Smith said. He noted Black Crappie were illegally introduced to the Kashagawigamog system and are known to feast on immature walleye. Additionally, after the walleye deposit their eggs, it is critical that water levels and flow below the private Emmerson dam remain consistent for at least two weeks after the spawn ends. Without proper water flow, the walleye eggs can be exposed and the spawn will not be successful. HHOA lobbies Parks Canada every year to maintain the water levels, but that effort has not always been successful.

The HHOA conducted an angling survey of the chain of lakes in 2021. Of those responding, 82 per cent cited a significant decline in walleye fishing on the chain.

The HHOA helps create, maintain, and enhance local fisheries. Its mission is to help residents and visitors to the Haliburton Highlands enjoy angling opportunities while practicing good conservation. Since 1998, the HHOA has raised and stocked over 800,000 fish in local lakes. For more information on the HHOA and the program go to: hhoa.