Some local sport fisheries that have been closed for years will be reopening this spring.

The new Alberta sportfishing regulations have been released, and it shows limited fishing for walleye in a number of lakes. Cold Lake – Bonnyville – St. Paul MLA David Hanson says the regulations reflect change in the “political will” of the provincial government.

“I think we’ve got a minister in charge right now that’s  willing to step out and push some of these. And some of those lakes have been closed for 20 years,” Hanson said. 

“We’ve had numerous meetings over the last couple of years, community meetings and town halls.And the message we were getting from the people that were actually fishing the lakes is that the numbers were were up, especially for walleye, and that we could afford to open up some of these lakes.”

Marie Lake is one of the walleye fisheries that will be open. The lake will have a one-fish limit within a “slot size” of 50 to 55 centimetres. May, Bourque, Ironwood, and Pinehurst Lakes are among the others.

Ray Morawietz is a member of the Cold Lake Fish and Game Club. He says his experience bears out the opinion that fish numbers and sizes are up.

“I think it’s getting there,” he said. “I’ve had tags on Ethel Lake and you know, no problem catching keeper size or tag-sized walleye. Same with Hilda Lake.”

Wolf Lake has been open on a tag system, and that is still in effect—at least for now. Morawietz said the walleye in that fishery are suffering the effects of overpopulation, which creates competition for food sources.

“There’s been a lot of people saying that the walleye coming out of Wolf Lake are what they call a “hockey stick” fish. They’ve got a big head and a small body, just due to the amount of walleye in the lake.”

Hanson said he has been working to have the tag system removed on Wolf Lake in favour of slot-size limits. “I’ve put a request in to see if we can get that changed, even this year. But if not, we’ll try and get that for next year,” he said.

Morawietz said he has attended meetings where a strategy of rotational opening was discussed. A lake might be subject to slot size limits three years out of five, and be closed altogether for two years to allow populations to maintain themselves.

“What you’re trying to do is get a bunch of those fish that are from 50 to 55 [centimetres],” he said. “So if you can close the lake for
two years, that gives that brood stock a chance to make it over that size, so you’ll always have those bigger fish in the waters producing young. That was one of the things that quite a few people were okay with.”

If people are able to travel this summer, the changes might attract some visitors to the area. But Hanson said recreational fishing is important to local residents.

“One of the things that I heard quite extensively during all of our town hall meetings and visits to the A&Ws and that was that people just wanted to be able to take their kids or their grandkids out and have a fish fry on the lake,” Hanson said. 

And he said there is room for more change if the public makes their concerns known.

“If folks are concerned about a specific lake, they can reach out to my office and let me know. If we can’t make a change for this year, we’ll try to get it for next year.”

A 10 pound walleye isolated on a white background in profile view