Elk Lake is located on the Saanich Peninsula, roughly halfway between Sidney and Victoria. Tens of thousands of vehicles drive by its shores daily. It’s used by competitive rowing teams, its scenic trails host hundreds of runners and walkers daily, and the park provides room for a number of other activities like fishing, canoeing, swimming, and just enjoying nature. It’s one of the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) jewels and is also the largest lake in the region.
It actually consists of two lakes. Elk is the largest and sits at the north end, while Beaver is located to the south where their combined waters flow into the Colquitz River. At the outflow, a weir was installed approximately 150 years ago to provide a reliable water supply for Victoria. The resulting rise in water level permanently joined the two lakes via a shallow channel. O’Donnell Creek is the largest stream that flows into the lakes. It’s located at the northwest end of Elk Lake and provides some habitat for trout, due in part to pollution control restoration work done by the Victoria Golden Rods and Reels many years ago.
As recently as 2017, the CRD conducted a species inventory of both lakes. According to their trapping results, the largest biomass consists of pumpkinseed sunfish followed by other introduced species like smallmouth and largemouth bass, rainbow trout, bullheads, and common carp that apparently can reach up to thirty pounds. According to CRD, the lake’s native species are limited to coastal cutthroat trout, sculpins, and stickleback. It’s also possible that coho, which are native to the lower Colquitz River, could have ascended to the lakes prior to the weir’s installation. I asked Ian Bruce from the Peninsula Streams Society about this, and he agreed that in spite of a moderate natural barrier between Beaver Lake and West Saanich Road, it might have been possible for coho to ascend to the lakes and make their way into upstream spawning and rearing habitats before the weir was installed.
Elk and Beaver Lakes could be a fishing bonanza or an ecological nightmare, depending on your point of view on introduced species. Some call it a “tank full of invasive fish,” but there is no doubt that it draws a lot of fishing interest, including anglers who are determined to latch onto a monster carp. Carp can be taken from the existing dock or by targeting the shoreline with Powerbait, compressed baitballs, bread, and sweet corn. Trollers occasionally hook them on Rapalas. Elk is the one of the most heavily fished lakes on Vancouver Island, which explains why 18,000 rainbow trout are stocked annually by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC.
Dock Redesign and Fundraising Needs
This brings us to the fishing dock and its problems. It’s roughly thirty years old, it’s run down, and it needs to be replaced. However, it’s also a story of about the love for fishing and what fishing gives back; and especially about personal determination to fix a valuable fishing asset that almost anyone can use regardless of personal limitations.
If you are unfamiliar with Elk Lake, the dock is located on the western shoreline a few hundred meters south of the boat launch. It has parking and can be reached from Highway 17 by exiting at the Sayward Road light and following Brookleigh Road before turning left on Bear Hill Road, which leads directly to the parking lot.
Dirk Mitchell has been a driving force behind the dock restoration project. He was seriously injured at work a number of years ago, and it left him unable to walk, sit, or stand for long periods of time. Dirk was a lifelong Elk Lake angler, so instead of staying at home he began to pursue his angling passion with even more enthusiasm. This meant spending almost every day at the dock.
“After meeting and befriending many dock users, not just locals but travelers as well, it became my second home and the anglers became my ‘dock family’,” Dirk says.
Over time it became clear to Dirk that the old dock needed some serious upgrades. His observations were confirmed by regular complaints from other anglers. One day Dirk had a chance meeting with a CRD crew doing dock repairs. He asked them if he could provide some input into upgrading the floating facility, and they suggested he contact the CRD office.
So Dirk did just that. But first he took the time, without engineering experience, to design a dock that met criteria that were important to anglers. His dock concept was based on feedback from fishers, his own observations, and personal challenges and experiences.
Mick Collins is another advocate for Elk Lake and the fishing dock project.
He has been retired for 15 years. As a Victoria’s Golden Rods and Reels member he’s focused his efforts on watching over Elk and Beaver Lake and the surrounding habitats. This was also an opportunity to use his diverse background in planning, strategic research and marketing to help the project move forward. “It is to re-create a welcoming accessible environment for all,” Mick says, and it will include features like the following:
- A lower bump rail for wheelchairs
- Correct railing height for wheelchair and walker use
- Two cleaning stations at different heights
- Eliminating deck gaps to make it safer and easier to use
- Stands for wheelchair and walker aids
- A wider dock to accommodate better bench spacing and an adequate wheelchair turning radius
The efforts of the Golden Rods and Reels and the dedication of individuals like Dirk and Mick is beginning to pay off. So far, the Capital Regional District Parks branch has committed to 50% of the costs for the new dock, out of a total estimated replacement cost of $200,000 and $250,000. An additional $25,000 has come from the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. However, the Golden Rods and Reels need to raise the remaining $100,000 to hit the target.
The group has been in touch with a number of other organizations with the hope they will join as fundraising co-partners or as direct sources of money. So far the outreach includes the Saanich Rotary Club and World Fisheries Trust Canada as well as various Provincial and Federal organizations. Power to be and Spinal Cord Injury BC have also been approached.
If you want to donate or make an in-kind contribution of materials to this worthwhile cause go to Dirk Mitchell’s fundraising page at https://www.facebook.com/ElkLakeVictoriaBC/. It has all the information on payment options.