Assessment of the Summer Sport Fishery for Walleye and Northern Pike at Smoke Lake, Alberta, 2003


Mike Blackburn


To aid in the management and recovery of Alberta's declining walleye and northern pike populations, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD) developed new management strategies for walleye and northern pike in 1995 and 1999, respectively. Smoke Lake, near Fox Creek, Alberta, was classified as having a stable walleye population from 1996 to 2000, which allowed sport anglers to harvest three walleye daily with a minimum size limit of 43 cm total length (TL). In 2000, ASRD adjusted the sport fishing regulations at Smoke Lake to a harvest of two fish over 50 cm TL because of high angling pressure and a potential conflict with walleye management at nearby Sturgeon Lake. From 1999 to 2003, the northern pike population was classified as a stable recreational fishery enabling sport anglers to a daily harvest of three pike with a minimum size limit of 63 cm TL.

In 2003, Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) and ASRD conducted a summer creel survey at Smoke Lake to collect data to evaluate the status of walleye and northern pike populations and to review sport fish regulations. Using angler interview data it was estimated that 2,142 anglers fished Smoke Lake for 4,126 h or 4.3 anglers-h/ha. Angling pressure was lower in 2003 compared to a creel survey in 1998 by ACA when 2,326 anglers fished the lake for 6,869 h or 7.2 angler-h/ha.

In 2003, an estimated six walleye were harvested at Smoke Lake with an estimated mean weight of 1.074 kg, resulting in an estimated yield of 0.007 kg/ha. Walleye yield declined in 2003 compared to 1998 when the estimated yield was 0.423 kg/ha. In 2003, anglers reported a release rate of walleye of 1.66 fish/h, resulting in an estimated release of 9,275 walleye. The estimated total yield (harvest + incidental mortality) of walleye was 525 or 0.361 kg/ha.

An estimated 24 northern pike were harvested at Smoke Lake in 2003 with an estimated mean weight of 1.730 kg, resulting in an estimated yield of 0.042 kg/ha. Estimated harvest and yield were lower in 2003 than in 1998 when 167 northern pike were harvested with a mean weight of 1.186 kg, resulting in an estimated yield of 0.207 kg/ha; however, the estimated weight increased. In 2003, anglers reported a release rate of northern pike of 0.244 fish/h for a total of 516 northern pike. The estimated total yield of northern pike was 34 or 0.048 kg/ha.

In general, Smoke Lake had high densities of small walleye (< 50 cm TL) with a stable age-class distribution, which was composed of slow-growing fish that matured at a relatively young age. Based on criteria in the Walleye Management and Recovery Plan, the walleye population at Smoke Lake in 2003 was likely stable.

According to the Northern Pike Management and Recovery Plan, five of the nine criteria used to evaluate the status of northern pike populations indicated that Smoke Lake had a vulnerable northern pike population in 2003. The remaining four criteria indicated a collapsed pike population. The northern pike population at Smoke Lake could be classified as vulnerable-to-collapsed.

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