Fish Alberta – Wabamun Lake

‘Wabamun’ is the Cree word for mirror – It’s an apt name for the large, shallow, calm lake situated 60 kilometers west of Edmonton.

For generations, people living in Alberta have enjoyed Wabamun Lake’s natural beaches, beautiful wilderness and recreational opportunities.

For generations, Albertans have enjoyed swimming, sailing and fishing at Wabamun Lake

The area has three sailing clubs, multiple boat launches, and a provincial park. Surrounded by small communities such as Seba Beach, Rich’s Point, and Ascot Beach, Wabamun Lake attracts people for opportunities to go boating, sailing, swimming, wakeboarding and water skiing.

Fishing

Wabamun Lake is a very popular sport fishery. Sport fish species include northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, burbot, and lake whitefish. Other fish in the community are white sucker, brook stickleback, spottail shiner and Iowa darter. Currently, only catch-and-release fishing is allowed at Wabamun.

After significant recovery work, Wabamun is now open for catch-and-release fishing again.

“Wabamun Lake has a fascinating history of settlement, development, and related uses of fisheries for food and recreation. The recovery of Northern Pike and restoration of Walleye fisheries indicates how appropriate management supports recreational angling opportunities in Alberta.”  

– Bill Patterson, MSc, Fisheries Allocation and Use Specialist, Fisheries Policy

History

Wabamun Lake has been commercially and recreationally fished since the late 1880s. The lake was so popular in the 1930s that it was nearly impossible to find parking on the ice to either set a net or fish. It is an unsurprising consequence that there have been many population collapses in recorded history – including the extirpation of walleye.

The first coal mines in the area began underground in 1910 and as strip mines in 1948. The coal fired power plants have provided electricity to many residents and businesses over the years and have generated much controversy.

Historical records, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library, show substantial catches of whitefish, pickerel (slang for walleye), and pike in 1912-1913.

 

 

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Fish production has been negatively affected for several reasons including, shoreline alteration by industry or residential use, a train spill in 2005 of oils, issues with spawning linked to coal power generation and its cooling processes. The closure of the commercial and sport fisheries led to the considerable increase in the number and size of Pike which led to the fishery becoming a very popular destination again.

“I tend to think that we have trouble with overharvest due to the few lakes in the province and the (recent) huge increase in human population. However, Walleye were extirpated from overfishing a century ago with a 1/10 to 1/15th of the human population. This speaks to the vulnerability of these lakes to overharvest and the continued need for careful management.” 

– Stephen Spencer, PhD, Senior Fisheries Biologist, Red Deer/North Saskatchewan Management Area

Management

Alberta Environment and Parks has several fisheries management objectives for Wabamun Lake:

  • Indigenous Management Objective – Honour subsistence, heritage and ceremonial fishery uses through responsible management of fish populations.
  • Recreational Management Objective – Restoration of the walleye population, old growth or trophy northern pike fishery, and recovery of the lake whitefish population.
  • Habitat Management Objective – Decrease phosphorus inputs from fertilizers, minimize erosion of shorelines and maintain natural shorelines.

Location

MapWabamun Lake is located 60 km west of the city of Edmonton on Highway 16 (Yellowhead). Several turnoffs provide access to Wabamun Lake Provincial Park, the town of Wabamun Lake, summer villages of Kapasiwin and Seba Beach, and the Paul Band Reserve. Local roads run along much of the lakeshore. Several boat launches provide access to the lake for fishing and boating.

Geography

Natural beaches surround the lake with rocky shorelines along the east shores. At 82 square kilometres, it is Alberta’s 16th largest lake. Water flows into Wabamun from seasonal runoff and from groundwater, and then drains to the south toward the North Saskatchewan River.

Like most lakes in Alberta, Wabamun was carved out of the landscape through the movement of glaciers over the past four ice ages. The last glaciation, the Wisconsin, retreated 12,000 years ago and left behind impressions that formed Alberta’s land and water features.

Indigenous people

Indigenous people travelled a vast territory from the Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains and along the foothills to Montana. Together, the Cree and Nakoda, acquired tools and goods from the Hudson Bay Company, moved westward taking part in the fur trade, and settled mainly in the foothills.

One of these groups, the Paul Band signed Treaty No. 6 in 1876 and settled on the southeast shore of Wabamun Lake. The lake was also referred to as White Whale Lake for the large lake whitefish caught there. The name reverted back to the Cree name near the turn of the century (1900). The community of Wabamun Lake was established in 1912 along with the cottage subdivisions at Lakeview and Kapasiwin.

Wabamun is the 16th largest lake in Alberta.

Wabamun’s rich history, beautiful vistas and accessibility make it an amazing place to visit, as well as a great example of Alberta fisheries management personnel. Through evidence-based practice, and long-term thinking, this area will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

6 thoughts on “Fish Alberta – Wabamun Lake

  1. Great to see some articles about fish production and management but I’d appreciate a better explanation of the following quotes from the article and a few more details about the long term impacts of coal mining, effluent & RR spills on fish habitat in Wabamun Lake.

    “I tend to think that we have trouble with overharvest due to the few lakes in the province and the (recent) huge increase in human population.”

    I ‘d suggest this statement describing a significant increase in Alberta population (humans) is ignoring the serious decline of licensed anglers (from 350,000 in 1985 to 200,000 in year 2000 and still less than 300,000 today). Overharvest from anglers, net fisheries and habitat abuse occurred in the 1980s but angler harvest doesn’t explain the current loss of productivity.

    “Historical records, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library, show substantial catches of whitefish, pickerel (slang for walleye), and pike in 1912-1913.”

    Pickerel might be slang for walleye but extirpation based on one very old record, over 100 years ago, is also questionable, since many anglers, commercial fishermen and fisheries officials were likely to confuse chain & grass pickerel that look very similar to pike, rather than reporting a substantial harvest of pickerel (on just one occasion).

  2. I believe it’s highly questionable whether walleye were ever actually native to this lake based on historical catch records and if they were caught think they may have been migrants from the North Saskatchewan River. Further, I’d like to know why there isn’t a season on lake whitefish on this popular lake which has been closed since 2005.

  3. Your blog fails to mention the crashing lake whitefish population, once one of the most productive for both commercial and sport fishing in the province. You also failed to mention the lower number of pike being caught and the deterioration of their condition (skinny fish with heads much larger than bodies). All this points to these populations not adapting well to the new predator (walleye) introduced to the lake. Perhaps those walleye should be aggressively harvested to help build the whitefish and pike back to their self-sustaining populations…?
    Also, why were walleye introduced to a lake that 1) had just endured a catastrophic oil spill, 2) was being groomed as a trophy-pike lake, and 3) was seeing its whitefish population in serious decline?
    It just might be possible that walleye don’t belong in this lake…?

  4. Ha Ha Ha Ha… the government has ruined this fishery by transplanting millions of walleye into a lake that never really had a walleye fishery. The perch are stunted in size. The pike are now being out competed for for food and the large majority are sickly skinny and likely to die after being handled. You catch
    10 walleye that average size is @14″ to every one Northern pike that you catch. This lake has been destroyed by AEP… great job guys.

  5. It would be great to have healthy populations of all species in the lake. The chance to catch 5 different species makes for fun fishing.

    • Thank you for your comment, Derek. Anglers in the Wabamun Lake area have told us the same thing, that a diversity of fishing is what folks want. We also need to have healthy populations of fish to meet Treaty obligations. You can never please everyone but a natural diversity of abundant native species is a good compromise. There is stronger evidence for walleye being native to Wabamun Lake than otherwise. Consequently, Wabamun Lake was identified by senior fisheries managers and stakeholders in 1992 as a high priority for walleye restoration. There were numerous restoration attempts made in the 1980s and 90s; however, they were not successful. Those previous failures are thought to be related to habitat changes caused by hot water effluent from the former power plant at Wabamun town. That problem is no longer a factor and the latest effort appears to be succeeding!

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