The angling season is set to open on Friday and local authorities have their eyes on the long-term health of the sport on the Red Deer River.
Three fish and game associations — Red Deer, Dickson and Drumheller — in concert with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, have been working hard for the last two years to update the 20-year-old fisheries management plan for the river.
Hopes are that the plan will be finalized by late summer or early fall of this year.
“We’re just formalizing the draft plan and then it will go into internal government review and then we’ll provide it to the public later this year for feedback and hopefully implementation,” said Jason Cooper, the senior fisheries biologist for Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
After two years of surveys on the river between Joffre and the Dickson Dam and down to the Tolman Bridge, there are some encouraging signs, like the increase in certain fish populations. In particular, Wingert said they are even starting to consider returning walleye to harvest status. Walleye have been catch and release only since 1996.
But there are other species like mountain whitefish and brown trout that have seen their numbers decline.
Reasons for declines include everything from environmental factors, to over fishing or illegal fishing.
The Red Deer River has experienced a number of major pressures over the last 20 years that have made an update to the management plan necessary. Chief among them is a growing population in Central Alberta with limited fishing holes.
This means that educating local anglers about the area regulations and concerns has become increasingly important and challenging in the same breath.
“We’ve got the least amount of water body per fisherman than any other province. That puts a lot of pressure on the fish,” said Kevin Wingert, the zone fish chair person for the Red Deer Fish and Game Association.
He added they have a successful stocking program in area ponds, including at Heritage Ranch in Red Deer, to help with the demand.
To help fish species recover, a greater emphasis is being placed on the care taken with fish in the catch and release program. The local fishing scene has also been affected by the floods in 2005 and 2013 and high waters in 2007, even if in some cases it may be too early to grasp the impact of some of those events.
“Those floods impact the river and change the habitat and expose new habitats for them to spawn into, and wintering pools, a bunch of variables that come into effect as well,” said Cooper.
With the long winter and a poor fishing season last year weather-wise, officials are expecting the long weekend launch to be a busy one, making them more reticent in their goal of a safe and well-managed kickoff.
“We’re hoping things are looking real good for the future and in 10 years time we will have stable fish populations and our grandkids can go fishing,” said Wingert, who is itching to get out himself this weekend.
An updated list of local regulations regarding limits and open fishing areas is available at Environment and Sustainable Resource Development office and at local sportsmen shops where fishing licences are available.