The Kathleen River drainage, in the Alsek/ Tatshenshini watershed, is home to a very unique distribution of fish species. Lake trout, arctic grayling and round whitefish share the waters with the only naturally- occurring population of land-locked rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri) and kokanee salmon in the Yukon. Rainbow trout swim the waters of three very shallow lakes just east of here; Lower Kathleen, Rainbow and Crescent lakes. Kokanee salmon is most commonly seen in Kathleen Lake and is occasionally sighted in the river below the lake.
The lake system within the Kathleen River drainage is a very rich ecosystem. Plants in the sedge family, such as Carex aqualitis, are abundant in the channel between Lower Kathleen and Rainbow lakes and provide shade and cover for the fish. Further downstream in Crescent Lake, the roots of the pondweed (Potamogeton species) are a rich summer diet for swans and moose. This aquatic plant provides valuable forage and protection from predators for small invertebrates and young fish. The aquatic ecosystem has areas of early open water, providing a boost of oxygen for fish that spend the winter, and an abundant and early source of food for migrating and resident waterfowl.
A Geographic Puzzle
Glaciers covered the Kathleen River drainage from 28,000 to 15,000 years ago. When the glaciers began their retreat, around 12,000 years ago, they shaped the Yukon’s landforms and rivers like the Kathleen River, leaving behind major sediments deposits. In some cases, the deposits blocked fish-bearing rivers and in others they presented barriers to upstream fish migration. Re-colonisation of the Alsek/Tatshenshini drainage basin has occurred from both the Pacific Ocean and from inland waters, resulting in a complex distribution of fish stocks. Continental ice sheets in Kluane Park continue to influence the landforms and sediment deposition within the adjacent rivers. Turn Back Canyon, on the Alsek River, is a good example of a barrier which prevents salmon from migrating up the river system.
Hazards of the Habitat
This river of numerous and unique fish species is both a fish and a fisherman’s paradise. Fish swimming up Kathleen River encounter the heaviest fishing pressure in the Yukon. Fishermen congregate in the 400 metre corridor that stretches from the bridge to Lower Kathleen Lake, locally know as Mud Lake. Ethics are of the utmost importance and regulations are different upstream and downstream from the bridge.
Angling occurs throughout the summer at Kathleen River, but most of it takes place on week-ends from August to late September. Arctic grayling and spawning lake trout are the targeted species in late September. A time when the fishing pressure on them is at its highest for the season.
While live-release is a long-term conservation tool, excessive practice of live-release has the potential to harm rather than save. At best, five will die out of 100 fish caught and released. Survival rates are high but if live-release is practiced without restraint the number of dead fish can add up. Be considerate if you use live-release for recreation.