Alberta Stillwater Adventures

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Written By Mike (Doc) Monteith

Pothole Lakes; No Respect!


I hear it all the time.  You know; comments about the gooey Loon-crap bottoms, the rotten egg smell, the choking weeds, and the list goes on.  Pothole lakes really do get little respect but you may want to re-think just exactly what a pothole lake can mean to you.

Prairie pothole lakes are usually rather small in size (less than 40 acres).  When observed from an aircraft high above, they look similar to potholes in a road. Pothole lakes are water-holding depressions of glacial origin formed over 10,000 years ago by the great continental glaciers that occurred in 300,000 square miles of prairies in the Northern United States and West-Central Canada. Water is supplied to the potholes by precipitation on the water surface, basin runoff, and seepage inflow of ground water. 

A pothole lake provides food, cover and water for hundreds of species of wildlife.  To a photographer or wild life watcher, this could be considered paradise.  Maybe you have a family and want to take the kids out for a day at the lake.  Thanks to government enhancements like man-made beaches, pothole lakes may be used as a local swimming hole on a hot day.  A summer picnic or BBQ is made possible with the use of playgrounds, fire pits and picnic areas and a cross country ski trip in the winter months may be just what the doctor ordered thanks to mapped out ski trails.  But it can also be an anglers dream come true. Most pothole lakes are nutrient rich fisheries with plenty of bug life meaning fish can grow big and fat in short order.  Surprising to some, it’s not uncommon for pothole trout to grow to trophy size in just a few years. 

Throughout the prairie provinces and in the U.S., some pothole lakes, if deep enough and previously void of any game fish, are stocked as put and take fisheries to give anglers that don't live close to natural self-sustaining fisheries convenient fishing excursions.  The trout stocked in these pothole lakes -usually Rainbow Trout- cannot reproduce without moving water and because of this; these lakes may be stocked frequently according to the amount of pressure they receive.  On the flip side, these lakes may have a delayed stocking schedule according to the type of management the lake is under.  For example, most pothole lakes are managed as put and take fisheries usually with high keep limits (in Alberta, an angler may keep five trout per day).  Most of these lakes are stocked once a year with some being stocked twice a year if angler pressure is exceptionally high.  Then we have some pothole lakes managed as delayed harvest lakes or even trophy fisheries where you may see stocking happen every two or three years. These delayed harvest fisheries could have regulations where an angler may keep one trout over 50cm (20 inches) per day or may have no harvesting at all.  Both delayed and no harvest regulations give the trout an opportunity to grow to a good fighting size and in turn enhance the experience of the angler.


Prairie pothole lakes are one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth. They release their water slowly, and help prevent flooding of streams and river valleys.  They trap chemicals that are carried on the silt, preventing them from polluting rivers, streams, and groundwater and serve as natural sponges, holding excess water and increasing soil moisture. To gain cropland and make way for roads, cities and towns, we’ve lost a lot of our wetlands and pothole lakes since the 1800’s.  But things are being done to try and restore some of what we’ve lost and keep healthy what we have remaining.  The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa have formed partnerships called "Joint Venture." These joint ventures make up the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. It includes government agencies, private conservation groups, and concerned individuals all working hard to educate people about the value and functions of wetlands, and to protect and restore them.


So the next time you’re looking for a date with Mother Nature or just wanting to wet a line, take a trip out to a local pothole lake and hey; show it a little respect, you know what I mean?

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