Kokanee numbers continue to climb in Wood Lake spawning tributary

Second highest count recorded this year with 36,000 kokanee entering Middle Vernon Creek to spawn

Volunteers work a kokanee fishing counting fence on Middle Vernon Creek earlier this fall.

More than 36,000 Wood Lake kokanee entered Middle Vernon Creek to spawn this fall, pointing to a continued rebound of the kokanee fishery in the lake.

Volunteers from UBC Okanagan joined the Oceola Fish and Wildlife Club to count fish from Sept. 22 to Oct. 22 this fall at the club’s fish-counting fence on Middle Vernon Creek as it hits Remke Road.

“These are very positive numbers,” said Danny Coyne, a member of the Oceola club.

“Things are trending upwards. This year’s water levels were exceptional in the creek, mainly due to the flows from Duck Lake and all the rain we had.

“There is no problem with spawning habitat. There is nothing really wrong with the creek.

“There is plenty of room for them to spawn.”

Kokanee in Wood Lake have been on the rebound since a collapse in 2012, as evidenced by the numbers of spawners counted at the fish fence for the past four years.

In 2014, there were just 9,000 fish counted while that number grew to about 21,000 last year.

This year’s 36,000 is the highest number since the club started counting fish at the fence.

Prior to that, the provincial government used a different method to count fish and only 1999 saw a higher number of spawners recorded in Middle Vernon Creek than this year.

“In our club’s opinion, this definitely supports the position that the kill we had in 2012 was more in-lake conditions than spawning habitat,” said Coyne.

“With the numbers trending upwards it shows as long we control the level of water in the spawning grounds we should have a sustainable fishery in Wood Lake.”

Coyne did caution that things can change quickly, especially if there is a hot summer as opposed to this past summer that saw regular rainfall keep Middle Vernon Creek from going dry.

The provincial government controls flows to the creek with a monitoring station at Duck Lake, allowing it to release water from Duck Lake to keep water flowing through Middle Vernon Creek when it gets dangerously low.

“Even though we are seeing a good fishery now, things can change due to warm climate,” said Coyne.

“If we get a warmer summer next year it could change all the progression and turn it backwards.”

The average size of kokanee spawners this year was 34 centimetres while there were also some large fish counted, including three over 50 centimetres.

About 95 per cent of Wood Lake kokanee spawn in Middle Vernon Creek while a small number spawn in Winfield Creek.

Coyne said this year’s count was aided by the assistance of sixteen students from UBC Okanagan’s fresh water and earth sciences program.

“We couldn’t have done it without those UBC students stepping up,” he said, noting that counting was done at night as well.

“It was the most engaged group of students I have ever dealt with.”

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