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Help Wanted: Volunteers seek partners to provide new well for community-run fish hatchery


December 9, 2020
By Colleen Cross

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Photo: Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association, hhoa.on.ca

Haliburton, Ont. – Kyle Smith wants to help make sure the fishing is good in Ontario’s cottage country.

Kyle, who heads up Aardvark Drilling’s location in Carleton Place near Ottawa, and Jake Woodward, co-owner of Haliburton Artesian Water Wells, are volunteering their time, expertise, equipment and supplies to replace a dry well at a community-run fish hatchery and they’re looking for partners to help them get it done so that the hatchery can once again run at full capacity.

For two decades, the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association has operated the hatchery, which receives fingerlings and raises them to stocking size to increase their survival success rate. Last year volunteers stocked the lakes with 34,000 fish.

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Recently one of the wells went dry at Ontario’s largest community-run fish hatchery near Haliburton, Ont.

There is a lot at stake. “The well we are operating now is the best of our three wells,” explains Daniel Smith, who has volunteered at the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association fish hatchery for six years and recently became its president. “We pump water 24-7. If our good well goes south, we need backup. Unfortunately, the pump in the main well gave up the ghost, then we put number 2 into service, but it soon ran dry. We can’t go half an hour without pumping water into the fish tanks. The recovery of that well after it went dry was just horrible. It goes dry after about a minute.”

The Pump Shop in Haliburton checked out the pump in number 2 and the power readings were good, he says. “So now we knew had a well issue.”

The hatchery’s claim to fame is raising Haliburton Gold lake trout from egg collection in the wild where only one or two eggs per 1,000 survive to eight inches due to natural predators. The hatchery’s rate of survival is 650 out of 1,000. The eight-inch trout are then returned to the lakes.

Daniel explains: “In 1998 scientists discovered a particular species common to Haliburton County and found nowhere else in the world. These fish were trapped in the region during the glacial age. They are small but grow quickly and so are good for rehabilitating lakes that don’t usually do well.”

In co-operation with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, volunteers go to the shoals of Redstone and Halls lakes where the trout lay their eggs. “We net them, separate the male and female, squeeze the eggs, fertilize the eggs, raise them starting in October and 18 months later we stock the lakes,” he says.

“We have a 60 to 70 per cent success rate – and that’s what we sell to the Halls Lake Property Owners Association. We’re actually helping the fish population. In a banner year we’ll put more back in.”

The association is a tight ship run by volunteers and one “very part-time” staff member in the office. Normally, they make a small amount of money from hall rentals, but that ground to a halt this year due to COVID.

Daniel Smith, who has fished and hunted all his life, started volunteering for the association when he retired from a career in corrections nearly five years ago. He is not only a dedicated volunteer but also Kyle’s father.

A partnership is born

“This all came together in late November,” Daniel says. He learned from local driller Pat Casey that Rick Ruttig, founder of Haliburton Artesian Water Wells, had drilled the original wells at no charge in the early 1990s. Daniel left a message with Jake Woodward, current co-owner of the drilling company with Dave Walker. While waiting for Jake to call back, father told son about the situation. “At first we thought the well just needed to be jetted, but it turns out the well was enclosed in a pump house so you couldn’t get the equipment in close enough.”

It made sense to drill a new well, but it was an expensive proposition. “Kyle wanted in on it,” Daniel says. “He said Aardvark would supply the pump and other supplies. After my jaw dropped, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ ”

Kyle and his family have enjoyed the hatchery’s outdoor exhibits and Turtle Guardians educational program over the years. “We’d go feed the fish, do morning and evening feedings, check the water rates and water quality,” he says. “Whenever we have the time, we always stop in.”

He shared his dad’s concern. “In wintertime, that’s when they fill the hatchery to capacity. They need more water.”

“We got hold of Jake, and he was more than happy to drill the well, but obviously it’s a costly undertaking,” Kyle says.

Rob Martini, vice-president of Canadian Pipe & Pump Supply Ltd. (Canpipe), jumped on board to donate well casing and screen. Drilling is set to begin on Dec. 17.

Smith also will donate and install the pump and pumping system – “if we can’t find someone to help.”

He says they may ask a local rental company to borrow an excavator to run the lines. Depending on how that goes, they may also need the services of a local plumber and electrician.

He is hoping community-minded businesses will want to be associated with the tourist draw, which is a three-hour drive for Kyle and two hours north of Toronto. A lot of people would be appreciative of companies that donate supplies and volunteer time to this project, he says. “People call it the next Muskoka. It’s a booming area.”

“In our industry 90 per cent of people love fishing. You need to have fish to fish,” Kyle says. “It’s neat because everyone involved with this project is an OGWA member, including the hatchery.”

“We do what we can to help out the community,” Daniel says. “It’s a struggle to keep this place afloat, so when guys like these come forward, it’s great.”

For more information, visit the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association website at https://www.hhoa.on.ca. To get involved in bringing in the new well or help maintain the hatchery’s other wells in future, call Daniel Smith at 705-457-5417 or email him at dbsmith@bell.net.