Fish Alberta – Pigeon Lake

Pigeon Lake is one of Alberta’s most intensively developed and popular lakes. It is located 60 km southwest of Edmonton, within Leduc and Wetaskiwin counties. The lake attracts people for camping, fishing, boating, swimming, many other watersports and relaxation.

The lake features:

  • 10 summer villages with seasonal and permanent residences
  • 3 provincial parks
  • 2 private campgrounds
  • 5 golf courses
  • 8 youth and church camps
  • 2 hamlets, and several subdivisions.

In 1858, the lake’s name changed from Hmi-hmoo or Ma-Me-O (the Cree word for woodpecker) to Pigeon Lake. The new name likely came from flocks of Passenger Pigeons that nested nearby and were hunted for food.

Fishing – Pigeon Lake is one of Alberta’s most popular recreational fisheries. Sport fish species include northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, burbot, and lake whitefish. Other fish in the community are white sucker, spottail shiner, emerald shiner, trout perch, and Iowa darter. Currently, fishing is open from May 15 to March 31, Special Harvest Licences are available for walleye, pike are catch and release, five perch over 25 cm, 10 whitefish, and one burbot, except zero burbot from February 1 to March 31.

History – Pigeon Lake was first commercially fished in 1918. During the Second World War, unlimited harvest was allowed which overexploited the fish stocks. Quotas were re-established in the 1950s however, walleye were extirpated by the 1960s and the commercial fishery was closed in 2014. To re-establish the walleye, stocking began in 1979, and continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, the walleye stock is managed with Special Harvest Licences and considered to be at low risk of being overfished.

The area around Pigeon Lake has a rich history of settlement and development. Reverend Robert Rundle established the Rundle Mission along the northwest shore in 1847. The site is an Alberta and a National historical site. Agriculture, logging, oil extraction, and commercial fishing were central livelihoods until the middle of the 20th century. At one time, the area boasted a sawmill and a fish packing plant.

Management – Alberta Environment and Parks has several Fisheries Management Objectives for Pigeon Lake:

  • Indigenous Management Objective- Honour subsistence, heritage and ceremonial fishery uses through responsible management of fish populations
  • Recreational Management Objective – Recovery objective for northern pike, Sustainable Harvest objective for walleye, yellow perch, lake whitefish, and burbot.
  • Habitat Management Objective- No further declines in water quality through decreases in phosphorus inputs, minimized erosion of shorelines and the maintenance of natural

Scientists have described Alberta as being a ‘pressure point for fisheries management’ with very few waterbodies, short growing seasons and a rapidly increasing human population. Pigeon Lake, in the Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton population corridor, is especially vulnerable to overfishing, eutrophication and fish habitat loss. Pigeon Lake is highly eutrophic and gets prolonged algal blooms that degrade water quality and in some years this kills thousands of the vulnerable Lake Whitefish.

Despite these limitations and several fish population collapses, the re-established walleye population with the Special Harvest License is doing very well. Eutrophication creates abundant food but unfortunately this can be a cliff edge. Low oxygen from eutrophication can kill other species of fish. As the fisheries manager for Pigeon Lake, I welcome the combined efforts in the watershed to reduce plant nutrients to protect this important fishery.

–  Stephen Spencer, Ph.D. Alberta Environment and Parks, Fisheries, Red Deer-North Saskatchewan Area.

 Location – Pigeon Lake is located 60 km southwest of the city of Edmonton. There are several routes to Pigeon Lake; the main roads in the area are Hwy 2, Hwy 13, Hwy 771 and Hwy 778.  Several turnoffs provide access to the provincial parks, summer villages, and services in the area. Local roads run along much of the south and east lakeshores. Boat launches and day-use facilities are located at the provincial parks and most of the summer villages.

Indigenous peoples – The area around Pigeon Lake was home to the Samson Cree, the Montana Cree, the Louis Bull Cree, and the Ermineskin Cree nations. A Hudson’s Bay Company trading post was established in 1868 on the west shore and operated until 1875. In 1896, Pigeon Lake Indian Reserve was established on the southeast shore. Ma-Me-O Beach, the first summer village on Pigeon Lake, was established in 1924 on land obtained from the Indian reserve.

Geography – Pigeon Lake has a relatively small watershed, as it is only twice as large as the lake itself. Water flows into the lake through several intermittent streams from the north and northwest. The outlet is Pigeon Lake Creek that flows to the south towards Battle Lake. A few natural beaches dot the shores of the lake with the most extensive being Ma-Me-O Beach.

Like most lakes in Alberta, Pigeon Lake 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.