Alternative Species Angling

Written By: Marguarette Vaughan
Secretary-Treasurer/Client-Public Relations,
Alternate Species Consultants
Originally Published in the March 1993
issue of The Outfitter Magazine.


One of the latest trends to come rippling through the sport fishing scene is the realization of the fun and excitement of pursuing our less traditional fish species.

Perhaps it is increasing interest among anglers to learn more about their lake’s or river’s ecosystem. A desire to see the “bigger picture” in other words. It could also be the increasing awareness among anglers, of European fishing systems and the various fish sought after over there. Whatever the reason, this “new wave” of angling interest can be an opportunity tourist operators can grab hold of. Possibly even put them on the cutting edge of the tourism market, which can be a great advantage in these recessionary times.

Marketing is definitely the key when it comes to alternate fishing species. Either you seek clients who are already “in the know”, or you take the initiative to spark interest among your existing clientele. Either way, it can mean more and more satisfied guests staying at your establishment. After all, by promoting the alternate fish species in your locale, you really develop a “win-win” scenario. You put extra and more secure dollars in your pocket, while showing your guests that caring about your lake’s environment is “where it’s at”. How do you show you care? Well, by promoting the taking of alternates, you help spread fishing pressure over a greater number of species. The result? A more balanced harvest of our fisheries, which leads to a healthier aquatic environment.

I recall doing an Alternate Species seminar and workshop for John Smart at Granite Hill Resort near Hornepayne. During the few days I spent there, it quickly became very obvious that John’s guests held a great deal of respect for him in the conversation department. During the after-hour’s, fireside chats, they would talk about the fine food, service and accommodations, not to mention the excellent fishing. However, the fact that John was showing some concern for his lake’s fisheries, was the point that kept coming up over and over. It appeared to me that he would be getting a lot of return business as a result.

Unfamiliar with the term “alternate species”? Well you usually hear them called under-utilized, less glamorous or perhaps even coarse fish in some cases. Actually, the term represents “alternate opportunities” for anglers, which in turn could mean “alternate revenue” for you. I prefer to define “alternates” as the “less traditional” or “less sought-after” fish, found in any given area. The “given area” point is very important to keep in mind, because what is less sought-after in one location, can be highly sought after in another. Surprisingly, this extreme difference in attitudes among anglers can occur over short geographic distances.

Take a look at Lake Simcoe for instance. The popularity of the lake whitefish there was so great that a 2-fish daily limit restriction had to be imposed to help protect the fishery. In Northern Ontario however, it’s a whole different story. Here, the limit is usually 25 and the species virtually goes untouched. Hard to believe, considering it is the same fish species!

Sometimes popularity and unpopularity between areas exists over a much greater distance. While common carp is mainly considered as a “garbage” or “junk” fish on our side of the Atlantic, in Europe it is highly prized. Some English coarse-fish anglers spend between $6000-$7000 dollars annually in pursuit of carp. These are just the middle-income anglers, spending their dollars mainly on fees to gain access to fishing waters. Most, if not all, of these angled carp are then released to maintain the sport for the future.

In eastern European countries, carp is also a very popular Christmas Eve dish, similar to our turkey. Surprised? Don’t be. There are a lot of misconceptions about our multi-species alternates. Consider the burbot. More commonly known as ling, lawyer, eel-pout or Maria. Just the mere mention of the name can sometimes send anglers running in the opposite direction. Get one of these guys on the line and it is usually cut off in no time flat. This ugly critter must certainly be a trash fish then? Right? Well, the folks in Walker, Minnesota beg to differ. They have taken this so called “trash” fish and turned it into a “cash” fish, hosting a nationally significant fishing festival each year. What’s the real drawing card? The burbot of course. The catch is that the smart people of Walker knew how to properly market the whole event. Thousands of anglers now attend from far and wide, bringing heaps of tourism dollars into the local economy. Amazed? Well, the burbot is, after all, the freshwater version of the saltwater cod. No kidding!

Here’s another interesting tidbit…in Europe, the valued whitefish and burbot are even protected by law in some areas. Imagine that!

I can tell you about a very enterprising guide I know in Manitoba, who also knows a good thing when he sees it. He has a remarkable carp fishery in his back yard and is inconspicuously trying to keep it a secret. Only his European and “in-the-know” clients realize the gold mine he has. When angling, he educates his guests on all aspects of the species being sought-after, while using European tackle and equipment to entertain them. Most of the fish caught are then released for another day. He ends up helping to manage the fishery for the future to everyone’s benefit, including his own…

Perhaps, I could best sum up the fun of angling for “alternate species” by the words of two young anglers I met fishing one summer. These two opportunistic youngsters were very much multi-species anglers, who were actively pursuing all species readily available to them. So I posed this question to them. “Since you both seem to love the excitement of “Alternate Species” angling, how would you convince others to try fishing for them?” Their answer was quite simple. “You have to show them. That’s all.”

When I think about their answer, I remember how I became hooked on alternates. Back in my angling beginnings, I was very much a glamour species specialist all the way. Being wrapped up in things like glamour species fishing tournaments, I was totally unaware of the untapped fishery that was waiting out there. However, it didn’t take me long to realize the fun and excitement I was missing.

My husband, a fish and wildlife technical graduate, had somewhat of a head start on me. He could easily explain the finer points about these species and knew some of their hidden qualities, so that helped me to see the light quicker. Though I didn’t entirely begin to see the forest for the trees until I, like my young angler friends, had reeled in a few.

There is a treasure-trove of species out there you can benefit from. A lot may even be found right in your own back yard. From the more obvious like yellow perch, ciscoe (lake herring), lake whitefish and black crappie, to the more exotic fishes like bowfin (dog fish), and longnose gar. I know what your thinking. Bowfin and Gar? Well, they are what I call “cool” alternates. Their fighting abilities are spectacular, not to mention their unique physical features. With such extraordinary “looks”, they would definitely catch the eye of your guests if pictured on your lodge wall. Can you imagine the interesting conversations which would arise around the dinner table, about these unusual creatures?

There is a definite twist in angling for alternate species. It’s a new sport fishing angle, chalk full of fun and variety. Your guest’s will love it! How does a whitefish, burbot or perch shore lunch sound? 

I guess what it all boils down to is taking advantage of what’s out there at the time. Instead of focusing on a mere handful of species, we can enjoy them all. So, why not expand your angling opportunities to a multi-season experience. Sounds like a plan to me!

Whatever way you look at it, opportunity is definitely knocking. The time is right to spread the truth and dispel the myths about the lesser known fish species, while helping conserve your local waters, and even bring in a bit of additional revenue on the side. I can think of no better way to have your cake and eat it too.


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