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Flooding, submerged docks fail to sink optimism over walleye opening weekend in northern Ontario

May 24, 2022 10:10AM ● By Laura Durenberger
Water at Alexander's on Rowan is about 1.5 feet above the usual high water line said head guide, Kris Alexander. (Kris Alexander)

By CBC News Staff - CBC News - May 23, 2022

Between washed out roads, submerged docks and waterfront properties that are even more waterfront than usual, northwestern Ontario's beleaguered tourism operators are dealing with an unusually wet walleye opening weekend.

But one remote fishing lodge operator in the region said  even a flooded boathouse can't sink his optimism over his first real tourist season after two years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We're all just relieved now that the border's open and people can travel," said Kris Alexander, the head guide at Alexander's on Rowan in Nestor Falls, Ont.

"There's definitely a light at the end of the tunnel, and we're basically at the light right now. So everybody's just still kind of in good moods, even though everything is under water and a lot of stuff's broken." 

Remote fishing and hunting lodges in northwestern Ontario, who derive more than 90 per cent of their business from American tourists, struggled to stay afloat for two years due to pandemic-related border closures.

Many people were also stuck paying high overhead costs such as aircraft insurance and maintenance, while making do with what they described as insufficient government assistance. 

Just when they were getting ready to reopen, the extra long stretch of winter weather in the region left them with little time to get into their cabins and prepare them for the arrival of their guests, said Jerry Cariou, Ontario Sunset Country's executive director.

One travel association says walleye may not have spawned yet due to the extra long stretch of winter weather in northwestern Ontario, so it is encouraging people to release large walleye. (Daniel Miller/Associated Press)

Washed out roads are also creating challenges for some operators who are trying to get guests to cabins, he said.

Alexander's boathouse has about four inches of water on the floor, even though it's typically more than two feet above the high water line.

Floating docks were ripped out and pulled away from shore, with one business sharing an account of a muskie fish swimming on what is normally a lawn. 

"She was just kind of curious to check out all the new territory she has," Alexander said.

Safety is key as waters open for the season May long weekend

Cariou was warning individual fishers heading out for the weekend that water levels are very high and currents are very fast.

"Safety is going to be an important part," he said. "You're not going to want to take chances in terms of fast current areas."

He also said people should be careful on roads and investigate washed out areas before trying to cross. 

In addition, he noted that walleye may not have spawned yet due to the extra long stretch of winter weather, so his organization is encouraging people to release large walleye.

High water and an ice jam caused major damage to buildings on Mary Anne Harris' property on Hawkeye Lake, just north of Thunder Bay. (Logan Turner/CBC)

"We do that anyway. But it's important now," he said. "Because they may not have spawned yet. And we want to ensure a healthy spawn given the, you know, poor weather conditions, late ice, and so on and so forth."

Other municipalities in the region have also warned people of the conditions of public boat launches, many of which have been compromised due to high waters. 

Both Sioux Lookout and Red Lake officials have asked boaters to use caution at shorelines, and to be mindful of any wakes that could be created in areas around homes and businesses.

To see the original report and read related stories, follow this link to the CBC News website.

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