One an­gler’s big catch stirs more dam de­bate

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - LOCAL NEWS - RANDY RICH­MOND rrich­mond@post­media.com The London Free Press

It’s a top-of-the-food chain, big game, wilder­ness sym­bol of the Thames River’s re­newed health.

And a slap from a fairly large tail fin in the face of Spring­bank dam sup­port.

A photo of London an­gler Matt Elias and a large muskie — the kind peo­ple fly to north­ern On­tario to catch — has re­newed ques­tions about the value of fix­ing the bro­ken dam just as the city fin­ishes gather­ing public com­ment on the idea.

Elias caught the muskel­lunge, about 100 cm long and weigh­ing about 8.6 kilo­grams, up­stream of the bro­ken dam on Labour Day week­end. The Free Press posted his photo on Face­book a few days ago.

He and his friends “couldn’t be­lieve that it was a muskie, but once we saw the fish go air­borne, jump­ing out of the wa­ter, we were all ex­cited to get it to shore,” Elias said in a se­ries of emails.

He needed help from his brother, Isaac, and friend Danny Bre­uninger to land the big fish.

“A cou­ple of peo­ple walked by as I was fight­ing the fish and once I landed it they couldn’t be­lieve the size of it and the fact that it was a muskie.”

Elias re­leased the muskie, pro­vid­ing video proof that shows as well the majesty of the fish.

Over the last few years, an­glers have been catch­ing some large muskie up­stream of the dam, said Rob Huber, pres­i­dent of the Thames River An­glers As­so­ca­tion.

“That is by far the big­gest we’ve seen,” Huber said. “This is the topof-the-food-chain preda­tor fish. It’s the kind of fish peo­ple will pay $1,000 to hire a guide in North­ern On­tario to find. In­stead, it’s right here in the city of London.”

The big catch takes place as city hall col­lects public com­ment on the fate of the Spring­bank dam, part of the One River en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of the ur­ban por­tion of the Thames.

Public meet­ings are planned for Oc­to­ber, with rec­om­men­da­tions about the dam ex­pected for politi­cians in Novem­ber.

In 2006, years af­ter flood­ing dam­aged the dam, a $6.8-mil­lion re­pair was started. But bolts sheered off one of the four new steel gates dur­ing test­ing in 2008, and the river has flown freely since.

Many ca­noeists and pad­dlers sup­port fix­ing the dam be­cause it raises wa­ter lev­els for re­cre­ational pur­poses in sum­mer, up­stream to the Forks down­town.

Caught in the mid­dle are city politi­cians, es­pe­cially Mayor Matt Brown. He cam­paigned on a prom­ise to fix the dam, but has backed off af­ter hear­ing about species thriv­ing in the free-flow­ing wa­ter.

At one end of that spec­trum is the tiny, spiny soft­shell tur­tle. At the other end is Elias’s muskie.

Big muskie can only make it up­stream if wa­ter lev­els are high enough down­stream of the dam, the dam is open and there are plenty of other fish species to dine on, Huber said.

“As the river has opened up, they have come up­stream to where they can find good habi­tat and food to eat.”

The Up­per Thames River Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity doesn’t do fish test­ing in the main chan­nel of the river, so it’s dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine if the num­ber of muskie caught up­stream of the dam is on the rise, said aquatic bi­ol­o­gist Michelle Fletcher.

But it is the sec­ond time this year she’s been con­tacted about a muskie catch up­stream of the dam, she said.

“The an­glers on the ground are the ones who have a bet­ter idea,” she said.

MIKE HENSEN/TPOSTMEDIA NEWS

John Hlo­dan, left, and son Ryan pad­dle the Thames River just be­low the bro­ken Spring­bank Dam Mon­day. A lo­cal an­gler’s re­cent catch of a muskie in the river has re­newed ques­tions about the value or re­pair­ing the dam.

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