A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Eric LaMontagne at a Sportsman show in Connecticut. We were both operating our separate booths but did have the time to talk quite a bit about the state of our respective lakes, mine being Lake Ontario and of course his being Lake Champlain. The subject of Lamprey eels dominated the brunt of our conversation as both of our respective waters have been dealing with them for quite some time.
Recently, while preparing an article for my website www.acecharters.com, it dawned on me that the Lamprey eels were not the only invasive species that both our Lakes share. Invasive species such as zebra mussels and alewives have been greatly publicized and are present in both lakes. After doing a bit of research it seems that some of the invasives that we have in Lake Ontario are knocking on the door steps of Lake Champlain. Specifically, they include Quagga mussels, Round Gobies, Fishhook Waterfleas, and Spiny Waterfleas.
From a recreational standpoint, I would like to shed some light on how this can and does affect fishing for trout and salmon in Lake Ontario and how it can subsequently affect the Lake Champlain fishery if that body of water was to become inhabited by these invasives.
Quagga mussels are another variety of mussels like the zebra that inhabit more of the benthic or deeper layers of the water column In Lake Ontario. They are known to inhabit depths of over 400 ft. or more. They pick up where the Zebra mussels leave off on the floor of Lake Ontario. They are very prolific in reproducing and can populate a lake bottom in a very short period of time. Although the overall long term affects are still not known, it is known that Quagga mussels as filter feeders compete for phytoplankton which the native zooplankton feed on. This can greatly upset the food chain. They are also known, as a byproduct of their filter feeding, to reduce oxygen levels in the water and to release toxins into the food chain which can biologically magnify. From a fishing standpoint, they can foul hooks when lures come in contact with them requiring the lures to be brought in and cleaned. Experience has shown that fish will not attack a lure that is fowled with quagga or zebra mussels so it would be prudent to check fishing lines every time they bump bottom.
Round Gobies were first reported in Lake Ontario around 1990. As an invasive species their impact is sort of bittersweet. They are voracious feeders and prolific reproducers which compete for forage with native species such as spiny water sculpens and log perch. They can out compete these native species for food and subsequently reduce their populations. The good news however, is that they have been documented to consume zebra mussels and control their population numbers. Gobies have also been found to be consumed by smallmouth bass, trout and salmon. The unknown potential problem is that because gobies feed so voraciously, especially on zebra mussels, they can biologically magnify toxins into the food chain. From a fishing standpoint they have been known to fowl hooks when they have come in contact with lures which have either bumped or have been run close to the bottom.
From a pure fishing standpoint quaggas and gobies are not significantly impacting the everyday act of fishing, at least in the physical aspect of it. But enter the waterfleas!!! The spiny and fishhook waterfleas have inhabited Lake Ontario for a few decades, with the spiny waterfleas showing up in the early eighties and the fishhook waterfleas in the late nineties. They compete for zooplankton along with other members of the aquatic environment. From a recreational fishing standpoint they can be a royal pain in the butt. Basically the only way that a fisherman can combat them is by using thick fishing line. In Lake Ontario we use 40 lb. test to keep the fleas off. An informational article on how we deal with the waterflea problem aboard my charter boat is available in our fishing info and tips section.
I do not think that Lake Champlain fisherman would want to have to fish this way, especially when trolling for trout and landlocked salmon. So what as sportsmen can we do to stop the invasion?
There are many good organizations that are actively working to stop the invasion of these undesirable organisms. Some of these include:
As a fellow fisherman I would highly recommend everyone to check out these sites for more information on what is happening and what’s being done to help prevent the influx of invasive species into Lake Champlain. Organizations such as these are always looking for new members and financial support to help further their efforts. Lake Champlain is a jewel of a lake that deserves the support of all recreational fishermen as well as our government to keep her as pristine as humanly possible!