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Kam Lake, an urban fisherman's paradise

Hunter Verheul, 15, caught this yellow perch after biking to Kam Lake with his brother Zayden last month. photo courtesy of Hunter Verheul

Kam Lake is a toxic waste dump, right?

Its few surviving fish are three-eyed freaks and just touching the water will give you the shakes so bad you’ll think you’re Elmer Fudd standing next to a gong as Bugs Bunny whacks it with a hammer.


It’s probably only a matter of time before they build a wall around the lake and call it the Forbidden Zone.

Fortunately, no one has thought of that yet because this poor and much maligned body of water has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance with me the last few years.

There was a time when I used to drive my boat to the Hearne Channel every weekend. Needless to say those days have entered a prolonged hiatus. Two kids, two-income household, not a lot of time. I need fishing grounds a little closer to home, within cell range and minus the $200 gas bill.

And Kam Lake, arsenic be damned, has got some fish. My friend Steve Whittaker and I borrowed a canoe on Saturday and in a few hours, caught and released dozens of them. I unhooked a pike close to 40 inches that yanked us around the lake as if it were a draft horse pulling a sleigh. Steve caught a humongous walleye that peeled line and dug so deep we were sure it was another monster pike.

Saturday’s trip was inspired by confirmation from a colleague of a friend whose kids caught some yellow perch there last month.

Fifteen-year-old Hunter Verheul and his 12-year-old brother Zayden biked down to the lake a couple times recently and Hunter produced perch on both occasions while casting a small spoon. He had enough of an inkling that his catch was unusual to send a picture to his dad to confirm the fish were perch.

Do you think perch are good to eat?” he asked.

Well, when it comes to Kam we all know the answer to that one, don't we.

The emerging yellow perch

Yellow perch are a dime a dozen south of the NWT but very rarely seen north of Great Slave Lake.

In fact, they were sampled from just one lake – Madeline – during a survey of Ingraham Trail lakes in the early 1970s. That more of them are showing up is something that should be studied because it could be a sign of climate change.

I have since caught them in another small lake near the highway and was fairly certain they were in Kam a couple years ago after seeing some darting around in the shallows.

Hunter's impressive catch is the first on-camera evidence I have seen so I had to try myself. And wouldn’t you know it, Steve and I caught four of them!

It was a great outing and revelatory in a few different ways. One, there may be arsenic in the lake but it doesn't seem to be bothering the fish. All the fish we caught looked healthy and free of lesions, sores and other ailments that might indicate a population stressed by contamination.

That we caught big and small fish and all sizes in between tells me at least the pike and walleye are spawning normally and surviving well into adulthood.

I also noted a great variety of fish-eating birds, including grebes, terns and mergansers that also seemed to enjoy fishing on Kam Lake.

I have to admit the good doctor, chief public health officer Andre Corriveau, has spooked me well enough so I refrained from harvesting any fish from the lake. It was just fun to get out for a few hours, catch some fish and enjoy a bit of nature at the edge of town.

Frankly, what worries me more than the arsenic is all the other garbage we're dumping into our lakes: the industrial runoff, fertilizers and detergents.

This stuff causes algae blooms that kill lakes. Frame Lake once had fish in it but decades ago the city was dumping the snow it scraped from city streets onto the ice, which changed the water chemistry of the lake and eventually all the fish died.

It seems Jackfish Lake is on its way out too, if it's not dead already.

Kam Lake survived decades of mine runoff but other streams feeding it flow through an industrial site and soon a golf course and burgeoning residential neighbourhood.

What are the phosphate levels of these streams? Does anybody check that? I'd like to know.

I think it's a beautiful thing to be able to head down to a lake inside the city and catch a few fish. I hope my children get to enjoy the same one day and not live in a town surrounded by dead lakes.