Lots of work still to be done, says Next Step Team.

There’s plenty of ice remaining on area lakes, which might explain the cool reaction from area stakeholders to the new 2020 Alberta Fishing Regulations.

Changes this year include harvest slot-size limits implemented on close to 30 walleye fisheries and 10 northern pike fisheries. Also, regulations that provide increased harvest using a one fish daily bag limit with no size restriction are in place for seven walleye and 21 pike fisheries.

Additionally, the number of lakes with tag-based harvest of walleye has decreased from 23 to 16, and the overall number of walleye available through a special harvest license has increased.

Ray Makowecki of the regional lobby group the Next Step Team, comprised of anglers, business owners, municipal politicians and Fish and Game organizations, said overall he sees some “positive changes” in this year’s regulations but maintains there is still much work to be done on the Alberta fisheries front.

Steps in the right direction Makowecki said include fewer lakes requiring walleye tags and an increased number of lakes, Lac La Biche, Winnifred, Pinehurst and Elinor among them, where anglers are now allowed a daily catch limit for walleye. The addition of some new lakes to the list of harvestable lakes in the province, including Island Lake, Sylvan Lake and Buck Lake, also opens up some fishing opportunities.

While some lakes have been opened to slot-size pike fishing, among them Fork Lake, the fact that many popular lakes continue to have zero opportunity to keep a pike doesn’t sit well with the Next Step Team.

“To not have a pike allowed at Pinehurst or at Lac La Biche or Winnifred, there’s something wrong with our system. I know the walleye are abundant and we are seeing some change there, so they’ve opened up a little bit and that’s been a relief. Even Lac La Biche allowing one walleye will be useful,” Makowecki said.

He said he can’t ignore the fact that this year’s edition of the provincial regulations indicates some steps in the right direction, so he’ll give credit where credit is due. But, he said, the Next Step Team has been pushing hard for five years and it’s obvious its work is far from over.

“We did get a little bit of a change in 2017 when there were some tags for Lac Bellevue and Lac La Biche but it was a very heavy political push we had going at that time as well. Now at least we see some general things that are looking really positive that there is going to be some change.

“Reducing tags in some lakes I think is a big factor in giving the opportunity to have one fish daily, whether it’s a slot or not, was useful.”

However, he said there are still many lakes in the region that have a lot of restrictions, especially in regards to pike where it’s just catch and release only.

Darryl Lotoski isn’t jumping up and down with joy over the new regulations, but said at least it looks like things are moving forward, albeit slowly. As the owner of Warehouse Sports in St. Paul and an avid fisherman, he has a vested interest in seeing more fishing opportunities in the northeast.

“The wheel has taken a bit of a turn in the right direction. We definitely need more lakes open and more access to walleye, so we can get our perch fisheries back . . . They wouldn’t let us catch walleye; well, the walleye have taken over most of the lake around here which used to be perch fisheries.”

He looks at somewhere like Pinehurst Lake and questions what sense it made for the government to invest in upgrades to the campground while significantly limited fishing there.

“A place like Pinehurst Lake and they still don’t allow us to catch pike? That’s ridiculous. They put all that money into the new campground, which I didn’t think they had to do. They ran power into the campground, which they thought would bring people in, but they still kept the fishery closed last year, and now they’ve opened up for one walleye. Is a family going to want to travel to Pinehurst Lake to catch a walleye, no jack? I think they are shooting themselves in the foot, personally.”