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State of the Key River Walleye/Pickerel Population

by Jerry Smitka, VP KRAA

At some point during the 1960's or early 1970's the Key River walleye population collapsed.  We did not fully understand the reasons but now have a much better idea.

From the early 1980's to the mid 1990's, the community pulled together to restore the population.  During the late 1990's, the population became self supporting and a robust expansion occurred until the early 2000's.

Unfortunately, the population is once again shrinking very quickly and it is for the same reasons as before i.e. low water, lack of access to spawning areas, loss of eggs into deeper water, and lack of utilization of the entire potential of the spawning site.

In order to avert a total loss of the population and another tragedy, immediate action is required.  Possible actions may include re-structuring of the spawning habitat below the CN bridge in Ludgate and a major change at the outlet of Portage Lake.

Discussions are ongoing with a number of organizations to help set the course for work that must take place.

Information updates will appear on this website and in our newsletter.


During the summer of 2015, there was a large amount of rock deposited on the existing spawning areas in the upper Key River. We already knew that the spawning population had dropped substantively. That knowledge was as a result of ongoing monitoring since the late 1990s. While eggs were spotted in many of the typical areas, the density was very low. I hate to be a pessimist but I'm not at this point confident that the population will recover. I will continue to monitor annually and we will have a better idea in about three years.


The KRAA contributed $2,000 in 2015 towards the Key River Walleye Restoration project through the EGBSC in an effort to vastly enlarge the walleye spawning areas below Ludgate bridge and further upstream at the base of the Portage Lake chute. These changes have improved both spawning locations so that regardless whether water levels are high or low, favourable spawning conditions should exist. In the spring of 2016, both locations were examined to determine the extent of egg deposition. The good news is that eggs were located at both locations including some of the areas where rock was newly placed. The not so good news is that the amount of eggs deposited appeared to be low. We will have to wait another 2-4 years before making any final verdict of whether the population will rebound or whether further intervention will be necessary. In the meantime, we will continue our spring egg counts and continue discussions with MNRF biologists to determine if there are other interventions that are possible over the short term to help boost the walleye population.


The Eastern Georgian Bay Stewardship Council has issued its summary report of the Walleye spawning habitat restoration project they have undertaken with the KRAA. The report has lots of detail and some great photos showing the work that was done and the end results. (Hint: If you are paying attention, you'll spot our own Jerry Smitka in the photos.) Great work! Thanks to EGBSC and to Jerry for leading from the KRAA side.


The unprecedented 14 years of low water between 2000 and 2013 has been very damaging upon the Key River walleye population. The upper spawning area was not accessible and the lower site's spawning quality could best be described as marginal at best. We've made wholesale improvements to both sites in an effort to resolve access problems during low water periods and to improve the general quality of the spawning habitat. This was done by the placement of about 160 tons of river rock between 2 and 12 inches (5-30 cm) that is suitable for spawning and an additional 42 tons of larger boulders that is suitable for providing resting and hiding refuges. We are hoping that these efforts will be sufficient to protect our walleye from any further declines or a possible collapse. We will notice if our efforts pay dividends in a few years as walleye are prolific spawners given the right conditions.

Thank you Jerry Smitka for all of your great work and environmental advocacy protecting the fishery.

The Eastern Georgian Bay Stewardship Council is undertaking a study of walleye spawning areas all along the eastern shore. KRAA will be contributing information and assistance as needed and as we are able.


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