Thu, 11 Jun 2015

Go Fish for Free in BC this Father’s Day Weekend

Bc Family Fishing Weekend Click for larger imageIf you’ve ever considered giving fishing a try, mark June 19th -21st in your calendar. Father’s Day weekend is also the 16th annual BC Family Fishing Weekend, when BC residents can fish licence-free in many of the Province’s fresh and tidal waters.

Close to fifty community fishing events will take place over the weekend, including free learn-to-fish sessions for beginners and loner rods and tackle.

“These events offer a great opportunity to learn about how to fish in a fun and supported environment,” Michele Dusterhoft, President of the Family Fishing Society of BC. “The hundreds of volunteers who organize and participate in these events are passionate about fishing and about sharing their love of the sport with kids and families. They are keen to share what makes fishing such a great pastime.”

The Family Fishing Society estimates that 25,000 British Columbians participate in Family Fishing Weekend each year, with approximately 17,000 of them attending one of the community events.

Funding for the events comes from a number of sources, including grants from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF), Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. HCTF CEO Brian Springinotic says the Foundation supports Family Fishing Weekend because the events connect people to angling and the outdoors – a connection that may ultimately lead to increased conservation of fish and their habitats.

“People care most about the things they know,” says Springinotic. “One of the ways people can increase their knowledge of the local environment is to head out to a natural setting with their families and fish. It’s about responsible use, sustainable use, and stewardship of the resource.”

BC Family Fishing Weekend MapA complete list of event locations and descriptions can be found at, and you can view a map of event locations here.

For information on fishing regulations, visit (freshwater) and (tidal/saltwater).


Mon, 13 Apr 2015
Tags: Fisheries

Wood Lake Kokanee Show Signs of Recovery

Wood Lake kokanee caught in April 2014 (Photo: Jason Webster). Click on image for larger version.

Wood Lake kokanee may not be large fish, but in terms of economic and social impact, the fishery is huge: worth an estimated $1 million a year—all put at peril when the kokanee population crashed in the fall of 2011.

Dubbed “one of the last remaining high-effort kokanee fisheries in Canada,” it’s a highly-accessible fishery that yields a large annual harvest and provides year-round angling opportunities for people of all skill levels, notes Hillary Ward, Fisheries Stock Assessment Specialist for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

She says conservatively it supports more than 15,000 angler days a year and more than $1 million in direct expenditures related to angling.

Because it’s vitally important to restore the kokanee numbers in this small Central Okanagan Lake, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, a BC environmental granting organization, is funding a plan to figure out what caused the problems and how to resolve them.

Since 2012, HCTF has put nearly a quarter million dollars into the problem, and that expenditure has nearly doubled with contributions from other sources, in a project that is a collaboration of the Ministry, the Oceola Fish and Game Club, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the District of Lake Country.

Wood Lake anglers realized something was wrong in 2012 and voted to support a ban on fishing in the lake until the problem was identified and corrected, but members of the Oceola club have been involved in efforts to enhance that fishery for more than three decades.

Danny Coyne is Fisheries Director for the club, and says its volunteers have worked to take eggs from some of the spawning kokanee each fall to incubate over winter and return to Middle Vernon Creek—the main spawning tributary to the lake—in spring. However, incubation has stopped now because they realize such drastic measures are only needed to jump-start a failing population, rather than on an ongoing basis. Volunteers now help ministry staff count spawning kokanee at a fish fence and efforts are underway to replant riparian areas that have been degraded.

It’s been determined that water quantity in Middle Vernon Creek and water quality in Wood Lake has been the major threat to kokanee populations.

In dry years, there has been limited water available in the creek for kokanee to spawn and in the fall of 2011 numbers collapsed due to unusually warm water temperatures and low oxygen levels in Wood Lake.

With the help of the HCTF project, the kokanee population has been intensively monitored, both in Wood Lake and in Middle Vernon Creek. Angler surveys have also been conducted to estimate harvest.

As well, hydrometric stations were set up with the help of the federal government and the Okanagan Basin Water Board at key points in the watershed, to assess the water balance and see where changes could be made to ensure adequate flows in late summer and fall help spawning kokanee survive.

Ward is confident that, armed with the watershed data from the past few years, they can improve the system’s balance, controlling flows by changing releases from Beaver Lake so there’s adequate water left in the lower part of the system in September when kokanee return to spawn.

From that, a water management plan can be created which will help ensure the long-term survival of Wood Lake kokanee, but also take into account the needs of humans, aquatic plants that occur along the shores of Ellison Lake and other users along the way.

“We’re using an ecosystem-based approach. We’ve really made excellent progress and now we’re seeing signs of recovery,” comments Ward.

With a forecast of significant numbers of kokanee returning to spawn this fall, the fishery in Wood Lake has been re-opened this year, from Apr. 1 to Aug. 31—good news for all concerned.

Written by Judie Steeves for the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation


Thu, 28 Aug 2014
Tags: Fisheries

Shaping up Seymour

Seymour estuary restoration earth moving.jpg

is well on its way to being restored to an important transition ground for juvenile seagoing trout, char and salmon making their way out to Burrard Inlet. Major earth moving work for this BIRPP project was completed last week, reshaping and contouring the estuary to make it more hospitable for the fish and other organisms that historically thrived there. Creosote-soaked structures leaking contaminants and invasive plants were removed from the estuary, and huge logs and boulders were strategically placed to both provide cover for young salmonids and to protect the native vegetation that will be planted here next spring. These plantings will complete the site’s transformation from an estuary with virtually no cover or foraging habitat to a functional ecosystem offering multiple benefits to fish, wildlife and humans.


The work at the Seymour River estuary will soon be followed by earth moving at another BIRPP estuary restoration project, Mosquito Creek. This estuary has been reduced to 1% of its historical size through waterfront industrial development. This will be an excellent opportunity to view restoration work in progress, as the site is located at a key junction point for the North Shore Spirit Trail. Check back here in September for more BIRPP project updates.



Thu, 21 Aug 2014

Fishing in the City

Watch a video about this FFSBC program designed to get BC’s urban residents fishing. HCTF funds the Fishing in the City program as part of project # 0-353.



Tue, 29 Jul 2014

Video: Urban Lakes Infrastructure Program

Fishing with Rod just uploaded this video about the Vancouver Island Urban Lake Fishery Development & Improvement Program . HCTF CEO Brian Springinotic explains how this project created docks, boat ramps and trails to increase accessibility to fishing on lakes near urban centres.


The program was made possible through partnerships between HCTF, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, and regional & local governments.

You can view locations and images of infrastructure completed under this program on our interactive map. If you’re on Vancouver Island this summer, why not check them out for yourself? Fishing is a great way to get outdoors, de-stress and spend quality time with family and friends. Better yet, each BC freshwater fishing licence purchase contributes to great conservation and angling development projects like this one.


Mon, 30 Jun 2014

Monsters of the Deep

“So what do you think lives down there?” It’s my first question to government biologist Lee Williston about the eerily deep waters of Quesnel Lake. Williston has just told me that the maximum depth recorded here is an astounding 523 metres, making it the third deepest lake in North America and the deepest fjord lake in the world.

“Probably not much,” he replies, dashing my hopes of a Quesnel Lake Monster story. “But there are definitely some big fish in these waters. People have landed rainbows here in the twenty pound range.”

Like the legendary Gerrards of Kootenay Lake, Williston explains that Quesnel Lake rainbow trout are a genetically unique, late-maturing strain that gets big by feeding on kokanee. The result is the largest wild sport fishery in the Cariboo, and one of the few places left on the continent where you can fish for trophy rainbows in a pristine wilderness setting.

“Fishing on Quesnel, it’s not uncommon to see a black bear, grizzly and moose all in one afternoon,” says Williston. “There’s a whole host of iconic B.C. wildlife living in the watershed. It really is the complete wilderness experience.”

Still, the lake’s remote location hasn’t made it immune to concerns about overfishing. In 2003, a study was published indicating that the number of large rainbows in Quesnel Lake had decreased, and a possible contributing factor was overharvest of older trout. As a result, restrictive angling regulations were put in place and continue to be enforced; currently, all bull trout and any rainbows over 50cm have to be released. However, recent observations from anglers suggest trout numbers have rebounded, and there is understandably pressure to revisit the angling restrictions on the lake. However, without data confirming populations have recovered, it is difficult for Ministry staff to make regulation changes. That’s where the HCTF-funded Quesnel Lake Angler Exploitation Study comes in: Williston and other Ministry staff are working to determine what proportion of large rainbow, lake, and bull trout are being caught here, as well as unravel some of the mystery surrounding the behaviours of these unique fish populations.

“We’re committed to increasing our knowledge of fish movements and behaviour within the lake, and ultimately ensuring angling regulations are based on the best available science,” says Williston. “Much of the work leading up to this project focussed on improving our understanding of the ecology of what is a very complicated system. Now that we have a better understanding of what ecological factors are driving changes in trout numbers, we can focus on the interaction between anglers and these fish populations.”

“Our goal is to have regulations that are sustainable, but not unnecessarily prohibitive,” Williston continues. “If the data we collect from this study suggests that we can alter or remove some of the current restrictions, hopefully that will result in increased levels of angler participation and satisfaction at Quesnel Lake. That’s ultimately what we’re after: sustainable wild populations and increased angler effort.”

To obtain the necessary data, Williston and his team are combining the latest in fish-tracking technology with citizen science. So far, they’ve tagged over 400 rainbow, bull, and lake trout with $100-reward tags to encourage anglers to report any tagged fish they reel in. This will allow the project team to estimate the number of large fish of each species that are being caught, which will guide decisions about whether or not to increase harvest rates.


Williston has spread the word about the study to local angling guides and resort owners, and says the response from the local angling community has been positive.

“Just making people aware of and inviting them to participate in this study seems to have increased the level of acceptance of whatever angling regulations end up being implemented, because anglers have been an essential part of the research process.”

In addition to the $100-reward floy tags, 150 of the fish in the study have been surgically implanted with acoustic tags: small, sound-emitting devices that allow researchers to remotely track fish in three dimensions. There are 22 acoustic receivers situated around the lake, recording the movement of the tagged fish.

“The detection rate on these things is just amazing,” says Williston, “We’re only in year two of the study, and we already have more than a million detections. That’s an incredible amount of information gathered about populations we previously knew very little about.”

This data will provide researchers with information about the fish’s survival rates, behaviours and preferred habitats within the lake.

“It’s still early days,” says Williston “but we have already done some preliminary analysis of rainbow trout movement, and it’s incredible. They are covering the entire lake – that’s 128 km in length – and they appear to be travelling that distance several times a year. It really is amazing.”

Researchers are also gaining some insight into another of Quesnel’s mysteries: the unusual circumstance of having both bull and lake trout living in the same lake.

“There aren’t many lakes in BC where you have both species,” says Williston. “One typically outcompetes the other. Through the tracking of these tags, we’ll probably be able to get a better understanding of how they are able to coexist in Quesnel Lake.”

All of the data collected by the study will help ensure the sustainability of this wild system, with benefits that extend beyond the lake fishery. Quesnel Lake rainbow trout also support high value stream fisheries on the Horsefly and Mitchell Rivers, attracting anglers from around the world.

So when can anglers expect to see regulations changes for Quesnel Lake? “We’ll have collected two full years of data this fall. We’ll analyze it, and see what changes we can make for the following season,” says Williston. But his work on the project won’t stop there; the study plans to continue for an additional five years so that the team can track the population’s response to any regulation changes.

“One of the great things about this study is that it’s ongoing,” he says. “The acoustic tags have a five year battery life, so we’ll actually get to see how the management decisions we make are affecting the fish and be able to make adjustments if we find they’re having a negative impact on the populations. We’ll also be doing creel surveys, so we can find out how much angler effort rises as a result of increased harvest opportunities.”

Whatever the results on angling regulations, the Quesnel Lake Angler Exploitation Study is making great strides in ensuring management decisions are based on solid information about the fish populations they pertain to. The information gleaned about the life histories of these fish may take some of the mystery out of Quesnel Lake, but it’s our best bet at ensuring that this unique watershed continues to have monsters (at least of the trout variety) lurking in its depths.

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is the major funder of the Quesnel Lake Angler Exploitation Study, providing over $170,000 in grants for the project. This funding is made possible through surcharges on freshwater angling licences purchased in BC. To find out about other projects supported by angling, hunting, guiding and trapping licence surcharges, click here.