A fine fisherman. Twelve-year-old Tate MacKenzie shows off a couple of kokanee caught last spring in Wood Lake. The lake will see an increased opening this year due to a rebound in kokanee fish stocks.

Increased opening on Wood Lake coming this year as kokanee stocks bounce back

Since a major kill-off of kokanee in 2011, the land-locked salmon have come back, allowing for increased angler opportunity

After limiting the kokanee fishing season on Wood Lake to just a few weeks for the past three years, a return to health in kokanee fish stocks will allow for an increased opening for anglers this year.

Fisheries officials have increased the kokanee fishing season on Wood Lake from six weeks to a full four months, opening April 1 and closing Aug. 31 this year.

The increase in the opening comes after three straight years of just six weeks of kokanee angling opportunity on Wood Lake after a serious crash in the fishery in 2011

“Current data suggests that the population is recovering and these changes reflect our confidence that the kokanee population will be able to support increased angling pressure,” said Hillary Ward, provincial fisheries stock assessment specialist for the Thompson-Okanagan region. “We are expecting anglers to be much more successful this year with the anticipated large number of fish returning to spawn.”

The latest crash in the kokanee population in Wood Lake began in 2011 when poor in-lake water quality killed off kokanee of all ages and led to dwindling returns of kokanee to spawn. In 2012 only 2,300 kokanee returned to spawn and 2013 wasn’t much better with about 2,800 spawners counted in Middle Vernon Creek, the primary spawning stream for Wood Lake kokanee.

But last year at a spawning fence on Middle Vernon Creek, 8,879 kokanee returned to spawn, still down from an average in good years of some 14,000 kokanee but enough to indicate the stocks are bouncing back.

“Our data suggests the age-0 fish from 2012 onwards are highly abundant and these fish will be available to anglers beginning this year,” said Ward. “The kokanee population has increased in abundance since 2011 as a result of favourable in-lake conditions and low angling pressure.”

Fisheries biologists presented their findings and results of three years of limited angling to the Oceola Fish and Game Club last week. The club has been integral in helping to sustain kokanee stocks with its work in Middle Vernon Creek and its members also were among the first to notice the lack of kokanee being caught in 2011, leading it to suggest closing the fishery and allowing it to recover.

Club president Sean Richardson says they will continue to work with biologists on helping Wood Lake kokanee and says the increased opening is good news for Lake Country.

“I think it’s a really good sign that there is a longer opening this year,” said Richardson. “It means a lot because people fishing Wood Lake helps to bring in millions of dollars to the local economy. It’s not back to where it was a few years ago when people were ice fishing. It’s fairly conservative but it should result in better fishing and happy people.”

According to Ward the length of the opening this year is based on estimates of sustainable harvest pressure and will be extended further when higher harvest pressure is sustainable.

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