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 with Rob Miskosky

The pressure's soon to be on!

Eight years ago when I first made forays back and forth to my good buddy Ken Colwill’s cabin on Baptiste Lake in Athabasca country for a little fishing, the walleye were contagious. Contagious in the fact that it didn’t take too long to go through a 1/4 pound of bacon—Ken’s favourite walleye bait—while yarding in fish after fish. Granted, many of those fish didn’t carry the required 50 cm length that meant a fish fry, but it wasn’t too hard to get one that did. And there aren’t too many fish that can live up to the feast a walleye provides.

Two years ago I secured my own little place at Baptiste Lake and now consider it to be my homewaters. My homewaters aren’t what they used to be though, in fact, the opposite holds quite true, but the area provides some wonderful whitetail hunting and miles of crown land right off my door step. It’s just that the fishing ain’t so great anymore. At least not if you’re looking for a good fish to take home for the fry pan. The catching hasn’t been that great lately either, although my first morning out this season with a new fly rod and reel saw me catch-and-release eight scrappy pike that just loved my own self-tied yellow rabbit zonker fly with a little flashabou thrown in for good looks. I thought this was a good indication of things to come and was anticipating the walleye bite that was sure to come when the poplar fuzz flew. I’m still waiting, however.

While the walleye fishing hasn’t been that great on my homewaters this year—nor last—there are a few lakes in the area that can provide a walleye feast quite quickly if one is so inclined to travel a little bit.

Justin Marlatt fishing Calling Lake. Notice the size of the waves.
Forty-five minutes up the road from the town of Athabasca lays Calling Lake. As most of you reading this already know, Calling Lake is in its final year of a five year pilot project that allows an angler to keep one walleye of any size, provided you catch that walleye on what is basically the south end of the lake. The north side is off limits. This little project that started on April 1, 2002 was the doing of Mike Cardinal, then Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, and has been a very popular move among those anglers looking for a feast of walleye. I have to admit; I too have taken home a feast or two of walleye from Calling Lake. But I have reason to be concerned with this gem of a lake; fishing pressure is very high and I’m sure the walleye have taken a big hit over the past four years.

In early June of this year, myself and fellow Baptiste Laker, Ken Marlatt, loaded up our two sons, Dakota and Justin, and headed for Calling Lake. The lake itself is a hit or miss proposition, meaning you may or may not get on depending on just how big the waves are. The lake itself is quite large and being almost a complete circle with little or no protection from the wind, some pretty big waves can develop in a hurry. Sometimes you just can’t get on. On this day, however, the waves had yet to make launching too difficult and we managed to get our lines wet. Less than an hour later, however, we found ourselves in three foot waves that were making fishing difficult. With three good fish in the boat already—and several released—we only needed one more for our limit. Minutes later we had our fourth and headed for shore.

Ken Marlatt and Dakota Miskosky on Calling Lake.
Once there we discovered that our success wasn’t singular and that everybody else had creels full of fish as well. Considering there were upwards of 50 boats at the lake during the short time we were there, there must have been several hundred pounds of walleye removed from the lake that day alone. And this has been going on for a long time now. Sustainable Resource Development state that “Success of the project requires that walleye and pike harvests do not exceed levels that the lake can sustain without harming population recovery.”

From my personal experiences fishing at Calling Lake, I can’t imagine the walleye population is holding its own, yet, we manage to catch walleye every time we fish there. Only time will tell what our fisheries managers have in store for Calling Lake but I can’t imagine these regulations remaining as they are.

Two more lakes in the area that have always intrigued me are North and South Wabasca. These lakes are similar in size as Calling Lake but shaped quite differently—long as opposed to round. They both have very liberal walleye limits with regulations allowing for the keeping of 3 walleye over 43 cm. Wabasca is a little farther away from major centres than Calling Lake—that is unless you consider Slave Lake to be a major centre—but it is still less than 4 hours away from Edmonton, a little more than an hour from Slave Lake, and about 2 hours from Athabasca.

The road from Slave Lake is paved, however, in the past the road from Athabasca was several miles of gravel that didn’t fair too well in wet weather. This has helped protect North and South Wabasca Lakes from angling pressure because of the difficulty of pulling a boat on a rut-filled, pothole road.
On a recent trip to Wabasca I discovered that the road is now paved for nearly its entire distance with just a mere 20 miles or so still in the gravel/mud state. These 20 or so miles are currently being repaired and it would appear that in the not to distant future, there will be a paved road all the way to the town of Wabasca.

Our catch, in less than an hour.
One can only assume that when regulations are changed on Calling Lake as early as next spring, and they surely will be, that a large amount of angling pressure will shift from Calling Lake to North and South Wabasca. And it will be a large amount. Those fishing Calling Lake are there for one reason and one reason only: to catch and keep some walleye. And because so many Alberta anglers have an insatiable appetite for walleye, they will most definitely move on to the next and closest source—North and South Wabasca. With available campgrounds and all the required amenities right in town, situated right on the lakes, a paved road makes for an easy weekend trip.

I’m sure many residents and businesses in Wabasca will welcome the soon-to-come influx of anglers, and who could blame them? Anglers spend lots of money.

It will be interesting to see how much angling pressure shifts to Wabasca after Calling Lake’s take-anything-home regulations are thwarted, and how our fisheries managers deal with it.

For now though, Calling Lake is still being managed under the Cardinal Rule and Wabasca is being relatively left alone.
But it won’t be for much longer. Walleye is an angler’s feast, and there are a lot of Alberta anglers looking for just that. And North and South Wabasca can provide it. ■

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