There is no doubt that the Okanagan Valley is home to two world class Kokanee fisheries being Wood and Kalamalka Lake. For years these 2 lakes have naturally produced incredible averaged sized Kokanee in high numbers. Some of the Kalamalka Kokanee have even neared the world record pushing 9 pounds! In highlighting these 2 amazing fisheries it can’t go unmentioned the remarkable conservation work that has been done by The Oceola Fish & Game Club. (OFGC) It can pretty much be said that these fisheries wouldn’t exist today without the OFGC’s conservation efforts over the numerous decades.
To name a few of the OFGC’s Kokanee conservation projects they have included Kokanee egg takes and freshwater incubation to assist in improving escapement results, riparian work around the lakes and creeks, creek debris removals, fish traps for spawner numeration counts and supporting angler creel surveys. These efforts are a part of the ongoing Wood Lake & Kalamalka Lake Kokanee Conservation Project operated by the OFGC Fisheries Committee. The club provides assistance and volunteer conversation efforts where needed to sustain the well-being of these local fisheries.
In 2011 Wood Lake experienced a significant fish kill which put the fishery at high risk of potentially losing the entire stock. Simply put the water was too warm for the Kokanee. High levels of algae sank to the bottom and used up much of the oxygen that the Kokanee needed to survive. This fish kill resulted in an urgent implementation of a management plan of combined efforts from community groups and the local ministry biologists.
Since then the fishery has been under strict fishing regulations and ongoing measures which included the fish counting fence on Middle Vernon Creek. Due to these efforts and the right environmental conditions over the last 7 years we have seen the Wood Lake Kokanee bounce back to staggering healthy populations. In 2018 the Kokanee population was so strong that the ministry increased the daily limit from 2 fish to 5 fish a day for the 2019 angling season. Not only does this limit increase angling opportunity but anglers get to help in managing the carrying capacity of the lake.
With the Wood Lake Kokanee stock now stable the ministry set their sights on improving the management of the Kalamalka Lake Kokanee. The goal for 2019 was to collect fish counts and bio samples to obtain information on the overall health of the Kokanee stock. This would be done by conducting angler creel surveys and the installation of a fish trap on Coldstream Creek in Vernon.
The challenge that arrived for these projects was the lack of funding that became available to pay for them. This is when the Oceola Fish & Game Club and the Kalamalka Fly Fishers jumped into action and sourced out volunteers and community funding to assist with these projects. The OFGC and the Kalamalka Fly Fishers clubs both donated funds. KingFisher Boats who is a locally owned Okanagan company also heard about the funding challenges and made a considerable donation.
Between these generous groups enough funds were raised to pay for the minimum amount of angler creel surveys needed and provided further funding for the fish trap. Once the funds were raised the BC Ministry was also able to provide further funding due to further community involvement.
Creel survey data and enhanced enumeration techniques (fish fence vs visual counts) are used to liberalize/increase the daily quota, increase exploitation rates and stock sustainability. Genetics of shore vs stream Kokanee components is back-up data used to further support management changes.
One of the goals of the angler creel surveys and fish counting fence would be to confirm that the Kalamalka Lake Kokanee are a sustainable stock. Then the fish limit could possibly be increased from 2 fish to 5 fish which would be the same as Wood Lake.
The Projects Moved Forward
Thanks to the funding that became available the angler creel surveys and fish counting fence were able to move forward. The Oceola Fish & Game Club Fisheries Committee worked with Jason Webster and his team from Chara Consulting to facilitate these projects.
In the spring and early summer of 2019, 227 creel interviews were completed which provided some incredible data. The Kalamalka Kokanee that were measured averaged 31cm (12.2 inches) with the largest Kokanee being a staggering 56cm (22 inches)!
The Kokanee Fish trap was installed in Coldstream Creek from Mid-September to the end of October. Over 60 volunteers made up from the local fish and game clubs, UBC Okanagan Students and other community members attended the trap 3 times a day. The Chara Consulting team attended the trap during the evening. The trap project was a huge success as over 38,000 Kokanee were counted with many fish measuring over 60cm, which confirms a healthy Kokanee population in Kalamalka Lake for 2019.
The Oceola Fish & Game Club Fisheries Committee plans on continuing the Wood Lake & Kalamalka Lake Kokanee Conservation Project for years to come. The goal is to continue the angler creel surveys and fish trap to provide the Ministry Biologist the information required to better manage these world class Kokanee fisheries!
These fisheries management projects could not have happened without the incredible support of community volunteers as well as The Oceola Fish & Game Club, The Kalamalka Fly Fishers, KingFisher Boats, Woody’s Pub and Westside Stores who all provided additional funding for these projects.
The Wood Lake & Kalamalka Lake Kokanee Conservation Project is a perfect example on how community groups, local businesses and government biologists can come together for fish and wildlife conservation efforts.
For more details on the Kokanee conservation work for Wood and Kalamalka Lake check out episode 110 of the Rookie Hunter! On this episode Kelly talks to Danny Coyne (BCFishn) and Jason Webster (Fish Biologist) about Kokanee in BC’s Okanagan region and the importance of anglers and hunters when it comes to conservation. Warning: this episode may be interrupted by a bend rod!