Sudbury Accent: The prodigal ling returns to Ramsey – by Bruce Heidman (Sudbury Star – March 21, 2015)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

They aren’t even close to pretty and their song is not nearly as sweet, but the return of ling to Sudbury’s Ramsey Lake after a 100-year absence is serving as a veritable canary in a coal mine.

Local fish biologists were stunned when it came to their attention that ling, an environmentally sensitive cold-water fish also commonly known as burbot, have returned to Ramsey, where the last recorded catch came in 1912. The discovery is significant because it shows the lake has bounced back even better than scientists thought from decades of environmental degradation, mostly due to sewage, mining and acid rain.

Local biologist John Gunn, one of a handful of scientists who have done extensive research on Ramsey Lake, Sudbury’s crown jewel, for the better part of 30 years, didn’t believe the news when he first heard it.

“We were shocked,” he said. “We didn’t think for all the work and time we have spent around that lake that something like that would slip by us. They are not a species people move around and they are a very clean water fish that has been lost in Killarney and Temagami, and the ling disappeared before the lake trout, so when we saw a pollution-sensitive species disappear and then start swimming around in front of the (Living With Lakes Centre) building, we were surprised.

“It’s funny, our media guy tells the fish biologist there are ling in the lake, and here they are.”

That media guy is Laurentian University employee Bill Sanders, an avid angler who put his ice hut on Ramsey for the first time this year and thought nothing of the ling he was catching with regularity. A chance meeting with Gunn in the Living With Lakes Centre parking lot brought the ling to the light in mid-February.

“I ran into John and he asked me if I had been catching any fish, and I said ‘ya, the ling fishing has been great,’ and he said ‘where?’ and I pointed to my shack across the lake and he said ‘impossible, there are no ling in Ramsey.’ So, I said you might want to tell the ling that.

“They were so excited, they asked me to bring a couple to the centre and I caught two and brought them in, and since then they having been putting out lines and have caught quite a few. It’s very exciting. They are the first to go, like frogs, so it’s an indicator the lake is getting healthy again.”

Sanders came across the ling by chance.

“When I got on the lake, I went to where some other shacks were and I asked them what they were catching and they said ling, so I said great,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a big deal, so I put my shack up and started catching ling and I was so happy. I love them, they’re delicious.

“I can’t get over all the attention this little fish is getting,” he added. “I have been catching them forever. I used to put my hut on Penage to catch them.”

Researchers from the Living With Lakes Centre have had no trouble finding ling on their own ever since.

“I’m very surprised with how many we are catching,” said fisheries technician Andrew Corston. “The thing that baffles me is we have done several netting surveys on the lake and have never turned one up. A lot of people here didn’t believe it when we found out and we have tested several spots on the lake looking for them with very simple setups and have had no problem finding them. So it seems to be a fairly large number of burbot in Ramsey Lake, and they are mature fish and immature fish and fish that are spawning.

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