Dog Lake at a Glance by Martha Wall
Our beautiful Dog Lake, located twenty kilometers north of Kingston, is only one of Ontario’s approximately 250,000 lakes. These lakes cover about 15 per cent of the province and constitute an astonishing one-third of all the freshwater on the surface of the Earth. One other Ontario lake with the same name lies near Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario, and a few other Dog Lakes are scattered far and wide with four in the United States and one in British Columbia.
The natural phenomenon that gives our own lake its distinctive surroundings is the extraordinary Frontenac Arch. This ancient granite formation, 80 km wide, stretches from the Canadian Shield to the Adirondack Mountains, and was named in 2002 as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. And the ancient glacial origin of Dog Lake can be seen in its deepest sections where the glacier that covered most of northern Canada retreated, carving out a basin in the sedimentary bedrock of marble and sandstone. In the two original northeast basins of Dog Lake, the deepest waters reach 163 feet. However, in some more recent areas Dog Lake is quite shallow so that its average depth is 19 feet.
Despite its ancient glacial origins, it is the Rideau Canal System that has shaped our existing lake. Dog Lake is one link in this famous waterway of lakes, canals and locks joining Kingston to Ottawa and providing vacationers with some 200 km of boating. The Rideau Canal System was built from 1827 to 1832 using “slack water” methods, i.e. flooding obstacles like falls and rapids rather than carving through rock. This construction technique greatly altered the size and configuration of the original, smaller, natural Dog Lake. For after canal dams and locks were built at Morton and Upper Brewers, a large marsh lying between the Cataraqui and Gananoque watersheds was flooded, creating Cranberry Lake as part of the canal system. As a result, Dog Lake was also extensively flooded, creating our southern basin of drowned land, and connecting us to the Rideau Canal System through proximity to Cranberry Lake. The lake’s modern perimeter is 59 km or 36.9 miles; the surface area is 964 hectares or 2,382 acres; and the coordinates are: Lat. 44° 25' 49"; Long. 76° 20' 04".
A further consequence of the construction of the Rideau Canal was the creation of Crane’s Nest Lake, which flows into Dog Lake and was named after the cranes that nested in the tops of dead trees killed by the flooding. For a time, this tiny lake served as the start of a water route for logs felled in nearby forests. A more unpleasant result of canal construction flooding are those stumps we all dread to hit. These are always an indication of drowned land and are found along the entire Rideau Canal. Whether or not these remnants of forest growth remain in place depends on the kind of tree, the type of soil in which they were rooted, and the severity of current or wave action in their area.
Human Activities, Past and Present
Dog Lake attracts visitors every summer to enjoy fishing and boating, but its most famous visitor may have been Samuel de Champlain! While there is no firm evidence for his exact route and location, his own journal describes a trip in 1615 up a river onto a lake where he fished for pike and trout "of immense size." Speculation is that the route that best fits his description is up the Cataraqui River to Dog Lake and then by portage to Loughborough Lake. Let’s assume it’s true.
The public dock area at the western end of the lake, known as the Shipyards, serves as a reminder of the Dog Lake's history. Once boat building was a vibrant industry here. Scows and barges to ship iron ore from mines near Battersea, or phosphate, wood, logs and lumber were built here, as well as several steam-driven tugs. A community of workers was established near the Shipyards. The name alone remains!
Dog Lake was for a large part of the twentieth century a recreational area for summer residents in traditional cottages and for tourists attracted by the superb fishing. Since the 1990's, Dog Lake is also becoming a residential area with permanent homes built by retirees and people commuting to work in Kingston and other nearby locations.
Dog Lake is well known for its superb fishing. Major species include large and smallmouth bass, splake, northern pike, perch, bluegill, and black crappie.
Loons with their plaintive calls are also a common sight on Dog Lake. Did you know that the word “loon” comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “clumsy?” This would seem to reflect their difficulty moving on land, as their legs are placed very far back on their bodies. In the water, however, they are excellent divers and swimmers, easily overtaking fish and staying underwater up to 3 minutes if necessary.
Other animal species present on the lake include, beavers, muskrats, herons, ospreys, and in recent years a few golden eagles.
As with many other waterways in Ontario, Dog Lake has been subjected to unwanted invasions by plants and animals. Key among these are aquatic vegetation and zebra mussels. Aquatic vegetation grows in all the shallow (12 feet or under), and in wind- or current-sheltered areas of water. The predominant growth is Eurasian Milfoil, an invasive species introduced to the Rideau Canal system in the 1960s. Zebra mussels are believed to have been introduced into North American in the late 1980's by ballast water from transoceanic ships from Europe carrying veligers (larvae), juveniles, or adult mussels. These mollusksincrease water clarity, thereby allowing the growth of weeds in much deeper water, due to the further penetration of sunlight.
There is no doubt that Dog Lake and its environs have a long rich geologic and biologic history. While little is known about the aboriginal peoples that may have enjoyed the bounties of what is now Dog Lake, the influences of European settlers and their descendants have had profound effects, in altering the shape of the lake, using the lake for recreational opportunities, and through the Dog lake Association attempting to shepherd wise and caring use of Dog lake and its environment. ___________________________________________________________________________
Dog Lake Cottage Association Fisheries Committee History
Frank Kirkpatrick was a founding member of the Dog Lake Cottagers Association and held the position of President for many years. He wrote this history in about 2005. It gives a good overview of the work of the water quality and fisheries committee, and some of the issues then and now.
When we started the Dog Lake Cottage Association our goal was to develop a method of addressing the growing problems that affected Dog Lake.
For years I worked with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), trying to improve the existing fisheries and the poor water quality of Dog Lake. I found, that despite my efforts, it was very difficult to generate any support for the concerns I had brought forth. I contacted a few people in the community and we decided to band together to form the Dog Lake Cottage Association. Of the original members of the Association, only myself (Frank Kirkpatrick), Randy VanKoughnett and John Rushton still sit on the Executive. I took the Fisheries Committee chairmanship position and remain in that position today.
These are the efforts our Association has made thus far:
Myself and Randy VanKoughnett met with the MNR. We developed a working relationship with the Regional Biologist Alex Palionis. We started taking fish creels to gain information to prove we had a problem. We attended workshops, seminars and meetings to develop a better understanding of the MNR policies and procedures.
Some of our main concerns were the declining Pike and Lake Trout fisheries and the protection of the Bass fisheries. I had noticed a large drop in these fisheries in the 1970s and 80s. The Lake Trout populations appeared to be non-existent at that time. It was then determined that the Trout fishery was basically dead. Over-fishing and illegal netting through the 40s and 50s lowered the creels excessively. Along with poor water quality and heavy weed growth on existing spawning shoals ruined successful spawning. Therefore Dog Lake was classified as a ‘put and take’ fishery.
In the early 1980s the Splake Stocking Program was introduced. Splake are a hybrid cross between Lake Trout and Speckled Trout. They cannot reproduce, although they do go through the spawning process. The first few years we stocked 3000 to 4000 Splake per year. When the program proved to be successful, we increased the amount of Splake to 16000 to 18000 per year. The fingerlings are anywere from 3 to 10 inches long when released and grow quickly. In approximately eight years time the Splake can reach up to fifteen pounds and provide a very good deep water fishery. We also tried to introduce Rainbow Trout the first two years the Splake program was implemented but this proved unsuccessful.
To support the failing Pike fisheries we worked on protecting the spawning areas and encouraged everyone to live release sport fish and made efforts to improve the water quality. In the mid 1980s our Association worked with the MNR to set up a program, to stock pond- reared pike into Dog Lake. This had worked well with Pickerel in other lakes. Unfortunately this never got off the ground with MNR.
To prove to MNR that the Pike creels were dropping and to check the status of Bass creels, we persuaded the MNR to hire students to spend the summer on Dog Lake. The students were to check boats and do a fish count and to take samples. Our Association was able to develop a better understanding of the concerns of the various Ministries and we were able to develop new programs with the help of Ken Wallin our Water Quality Committee Chair, and monthly meetings were held with representatives of MNR, Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Cataraquai Region Conservation Authority and Ministry of the Environment.
The Bass sanctuary signs were developed from these meetings and with MNR support. The signs inform fishermen and encourage protection of the Bass during the early Pike season and during spawning. Pike spawn when the ice leaves the shoreline and they do not guard the eggs or the fry. The season opens on the second Saturday in May every year. Pike stay shallow in May and early June and are therefore in bass spawning areas. Many Bass are caught during this time and during their spawning season which is late May/early June. The sanctuary signed areas protect the Bass and give the Pike the same protection. When the Bass are on the spawning beds they are very protective and try to protect eggs and young fry and they will bite at anything. If the Bass are pulled off the nests the pan fish, such as sunfish, rock-bass and perch with eat the eggs and fry before the Bass can return to the nests. Bass season opens the last Saturday of June every year.
It was also decided that because the sport fisheries on Dog Lake had been greatly reduced, the balance between sport fish and pan fish was disrupted. MNR recommends the removal of Sunfish, Rock-bass, small Perch, Crappies, Suckers, Dog fish and Carp to help restore the balance. Our Association encouraged everyone to take pan fish out and to live release Bass and Pike.
Through the Water Quality committee, water quality testing was started, and a septic system study was performed by students in the mid 1990s. Poor water quality destroys spawning beds and reduces oxygen content in the lakes. Also sores on Pike, referred to as ‘red spot’, increase. These sores are unsightly and can kill the Pike. The sores don’t affect the meat and can easily be cut out. Pike caught with large sores should be removed from the lake. More and more, sores are found on Large and Small-mouth Bass. It should be noted that a lot more dead fish have been found floating on the lake.
In the late 1990s, Queen’s University came to Dog Lake to see what kind of effect sanctuary signs were having. The Bass that were caught showed a large bruise where the hooks had entered them. Divers counted the number of Bass that had been hooked during the spawning season in the sanctuary signed bays, as compared to the unsigned bays. If I recall correctly, the number of fish in the signed bays was from 20% to 40% more than in the unsigned bays. The sanctuary signs are not law but an honour system. All members of the Association try to inform anyone in these bays about the program and try to prevent illegal fishing. Are these programs working? I cannot be 100% sure, but I am sure they won’t hurt.
The Pike fisheries improved and in the mid 1990s, peaked. The last four or five years have seen a steady drop in the Pike creels, while the bass creels have appeared to stay steady, other than the number of large size bass has declined.
Through studies with MNR and in the opinion of various fishermen on Dog Lake, here are some of the Dog lake fishery problems:
Fishing Derbies: There has been a huge increase in winter fishing pressure along with Pike fishing derbies in both the winter and the summer season. While many of the winter derbies support good causes (local fire departments, kids camps etc) little effort is being made to have ‘live release’ derbies. The Bass Tournament Associations have their derbies on Dog Lake, and then have their ‘weigh- ins’ on Cranberry Lake or Seeley’s Bay. Large Bass are usually the target of these derbies and when they are released it is in a different part of the Rideau system, not back into Dog Lake where they were taken from. After years of removing large Bass from Dog Lake, it now appears that fewer large sized Bass are being caught and this could affect future spawning success. The last couple of years has seen better effort by the Bass Clubs to return the Bass back to the lake from which they were caught, but more effort is needed. Removal of hundreds of three to six pound Bass from Dog Lake is going to hurt the future of the Bass fisheries.
Creel Limits: Currently fishermen are allowed to take six Bass and six Pike per day. Although it is illegal to have more than that limit, how is this monitored? What we would like to see is a reduction to three or four of each species. We would also like to see out of province fishermen having a Conservation License ONLY. That would allow only two of each species.
Guiding: Guiding puts pressure on Pike and Bass fisheries and usually targets smaller sized Pike and Bass to cook for shore dinners and for their clients to take home. 99% of the clients are American. The Guides work hard to promote live release. It would help the Guides if out of province fishermen would only be allowed a Conservation license. This would vastly reduce the amount of fish being taken from the lake. Currently we only have two Guides on Dog, who average fifty days per year, and five or six Guides who work from five to fifteen days per year. The Guides Association has worked hard for many years to protect and enhance the fisheries on Dog Lake by promoting live release and lower creels.
Illegal Fishing: This has a huge impact on the fisheries. Many Bass are taken all winter long and during the spawning season. If you see poachers on the lake, please call the MNR and report known offences.The Number of Fishermen: There has been a huge increase in the number of fishermen, with better equipment and knowledge. With better bait, fish finders, faster boats and educated fishermen it has put more pressure on the existing fisheries. As well, the proximity to the U.S border and the high demand for waterfront properties has increased fishing pressure.