By Fred Dobbs
Did you know that Chinook salmon fishing is very popular in Collingwood and Wasaga Beach? If you’ve ever been to the boat launches in Collingwood and Wasaga Beach in the summer, you probably saw many boats with tall fishing rods and strange looking booms with pulleys attached to the stern. These boats are specialized for deep trolling for Chinook salmon in Georgian Bay!
If you ask anglers where these salmon came from, they will often tell you that they come from hatcheries, given that the salmon fishery in Georgian Bay received an original kick-start from hatchery fish stocked in 1985. In fact, several years later, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry did a background study and determined that 95% of the salmon caught by sport fishermen in Georgian Bay were wild fish which had spawned successfully in tributary streams. Only 5% of the Georgian Bay catch resulted from fish raised in hatcheries.
Local residents of the Collingwood area are quick to point out that wild Chinook salmon spawn successfully in the Pretty River and Silver Creek where these fish have access to about 15 km of good quality spawning and nursery habitat. NVCA’s fisheries biologists believe that the bulk of the salmon fishery in Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and the Township of Essa is supported by natural reproduction in the Nottawasaga River.
The combined production of young wild salmon from the Upper Nottawasaga River (south-west of Alliston) and the Pine River (which joins the Nottawasaga River at Angus), likely represents the largest source of wild Chinook salmon in Georgian Bay.
In August, September and October, adult Chinook Salmon in Georgian Bay find the mouth of the Nottawasaga River at Wasaga Beach and often migrate up to 150 km upstream to the Upper Nottawasaga River, Pine River and several other tributary streams to lay their eggs. These eggs hatch in March and the baby salmon (juveniles) spend three to nine months in the river before following the same path as their parents did back out to Georgian Bay. Adult salmon typically return to its birth place to spawn after spending 3 years feeding in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.
Spawning adults are about 72 cm long and weigh approximately 4 kg, although many fish larger than this have already been captured in the summer of 2020!
To maintain and enhance recreational opportunities for sportfishing and economic benefits to the area, NVCA is playing a coordinating role to implement the Nottawasaga River Restoration Program. This initiative focuses on the restoration of high quality salmon spawning habitat in the Upper Nottawasaga River and its Sheldon Creek tributary in the Adjala-Tosorontio. This summer, NVCA and its partners have just completed its second year of operation!
Restoration work includes planting native trees and shrubs along the rivers, stabilizing eroding streambanks, installing woody instream cover habitats, re-creating floodplain habitats and working with local landowners to install livestock exclusion fencing. This work plays a strong role in improving water quality and also provides habitat benefits to a wide range of other fish species including native lake sturgeon and northern brook lamprey as well as popular sport fishing species such as migratory rainbow trout and resident brown trout.
Thanks to a grant from a private foundation, NVCA will be developing a habitat restoration plan for the Pine River in 2021 that will act as a catalyst for future stream improvement work and salmon habitat enhancement in Mulmur Township.
If you ever have the chance to fish for Chinook salmon in Georgian Bay or anywhere in the Nottawasaga River Watershed, remember to thank the Upper Nottawasaga River and Pine River for providing high quality spawning areas and rearing habitats for young salmon.
Fred Dobbs is a fisheries biologist and Manager, Stewardship Services at the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority