Whiteswan Lake, one of the most popular fishing spots in the East Kootenay, is set for some significant changes this year.

The provincial ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations will open Whiteswan Lake for ice fishing almost a week earlier than normal, open nearby Moose Lake for ice fishing, allow fishing for rainbow trout below the falls on Outlet Creek (which is on the east side of Whiteswan Lake and flows from the lake to the White River) and build a fish barrier on the creek.

“These are pretty significant, major changes,” said renowned East Kootenay hunter and fisher F.J. Hurtak. “I hope they do what they want them to do.”

The new regulations will take effect next week on Wednesday, April 1st.

Whiteswan Lake will open for ice fishing on December 27th instead of January 3rd, a move which, according to Hurtak, was principally done to allow students — who have the Christmas holiday off — the opportunity to ice fish on the lake before heading back to school.

“It will give these young people an opportunity to fish during the holidays. They’re also going to stock Moose Lake (which is off the west side of Whiteswan) for ice fishing, so the whole area is kind of shifting to become a family fishery, away from what was once described as a trophy fishery,” said Hurtak.

The previous January 3rd opening date had been in place for longer than Hurtak can remember.

Fishers will also be able to cast for rainbow trout (up to a limit of five) below the falls on Outlet Creek from April 1st to July 31st, something that has never been allowed before as those three months are spawning time for rainbow trout.

Hurtak says that move is an effort to help prevent rainbow trout from escaping from Whiteswan Lake (in which they are stocked) and interbreeding with native westslope cutthroat trout in the White River. Since the westslope cutthroat and bull trout, another native species, don’t spawn until the fall, the new fishing regulations shouldn’t affect them.

“They’re also going to build a fish barrier at the east side of the lake (near Outlet Creek) this year or next for more or less the same reason — to keep rainbow trout from getting out of the lake into the White River and hybridizing with the westslope cutthroat trout,” said Hurtak.

The barrier will cost $120,000 to $170,000 to construct.

Westlope cutthroat trout and bull trout are the only native fish species in the East Kootenay.