SpruceRoots Magazine - July 2004

Anderson Lake, Tlell River Watershed, Haida Gwaii

The ragged coastline fronts Hecate Strait.


from the Tlell River Watershed Legacy Project

By Erica Thompson
The most curious of fishermen have been known to trail blaze amid deep salal searching for a small lake in the upper reaches of the Tlell watershed. These remote waters are shrouded by legend as liberal as “the one that got away,” aplace so thick with trout that fishers were advised to beware.

This is Anderson Lake, named after Ed Anderson, the local promoter of trout tales at the turn of the last century. Charlie Hartie, of Queen Charlotte, reportedly said Anderson was known to say that there were so many fish in the lake he had to hide behind a tree to bait his hook.

Nearly a century since Anderson wandered through the Tlell’s highlands, Haida Fisheries biologist Frank Reindl walked into Anderson Lake to survey fish populations and habitat capabilities in the upper parts of the watershed. The forests surrounding the lake are now considered part of Weyerhaeuser’s TFL #39, and it is strikingly different place than the trout jumping lake touted by Anderson. Contemporary fishers need not worry about bait stealing trout; the concern, rather, is if there are any fish living there at all.

The lack of fish in Anderson Lake became immediately apparent to the fisheries crew, Reindl says. Once arriving at the lake, they set a floating gillnet across the lake in an effort to establish the type and numbers of fish living below the surface. The net remained in place for five hours until a pair of curious loons appeared. To avoid any chance of the tangling the loons, Reindl pulled in the nets and to everyone’s surprise, the nets were empty.

On the next day, a sinking net was set in another section of the lake and this time one Dolly Varden was documented.

It is difficult to say exactly what has happened in Anderson Lake to so drastically effect the fish populations reported nearly a century ago. However, testimony from those who have hiked the area in recent years and clues from terrestrial resource inventory maps do shed some light on the mystery.

Reindl says the lake historically consisted of two lakes joined by a stream flowing between the two larger bodies. The midstream reach may have provided a good spawning channel, supporting healthy fish populations. However, today, due to excessive flooding Anderson Lake has swollen and looms as one body of water. The general surface area has increased from 18 hectares to approximately 28 hectares, and the mid stream channel is now a stagnant reach lacking flowing water critical to oxygenating spawned eggs. This could be the reason for the absence of fish and the misfit legend, he says.

Sitting high at the end of the lake is the home of the flood maker; a massive beaver dam rising two meters high and supported across the back by a spine built from an old cedar. The dam’s flood zone is impressive, pushing water back into the surrounding forest. On the east side of the lake, where flood waters wash deep into the forest, trees have fallen into the shallow waters unable to hold on in the persistent waters surrounding them. Reindl says the beaver dam is well established and has shown up in survey reports and aerial photo- graphs taken of the area as far back as the 1970’s.

If migrating fish want to get into Anderson Lake, they must first somehow get through or over the beaver dam and the chances of that are slim.

“The chances juvenile fish getting up and over the beaver dam are as unlikely as the chances of the lake returning to its past status,” Reindl says. Making matters worse, is an eight metre high waterfall located one hundred metres down stream. This section between the outlet of the lake and the waterfall may provide the best opportunities for spawning habitat but the fry would have a difficult time getting through or over the beaver dam and up into the lake.

You never know if some little hole could appear at the side of the dam or a bear could come along and knock out part of the dam, Reindl says, because dams are only temporary obstructions and things are always changing.

Although the decline in the trout population over the last century at Anderson Lake is not a favorite story amongst hopeful anglers, it is a revealing story of a changing landscape and the myriad of impacts which affect local fish populations.