The Orillia Perch Festival set a new record this year - a record low, that is.
Of the 65 tagged perch released into lakes Couchiching and Simcoe - five were worth $1,000 each and the rest were worth $500 - just two were reeled in by lucky anglers.
“We had two tags in, which is a record low,” organizer Doug Bunker said at the conclusion of the 38th annual festival about the total number of tagged fish caught. “We had three last year.”
The tags were caught on days 18 and 19 of the 22-day festival
“We started getting excited because we had two in a row there, and then it fizzled,” he added.
Bunker said despite the low number of tagged fish caught, those who participated and those who attended the closing ceremony Saturday night at ODAS Park, had a good time.
The festival this year was unusual, he said.
“Water temperature was still cold when we started out,” said Bunker. “There was ice on the lake during the first week of the event and that made for lousy fishing at the start.”
When the ice melted, the oxygen levels in the lake went up and the hungry perch went in search of food. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the bait set out by the anglers.
“There were too many minnows out there,” Bunker said.
The large number of minnows creates an abundance of food for the perch, he said; that's nature.
“Just like the weather, we can't change it,” said Bunker. “The anglers understand that.”
The grand total of anglers that registered for the festival will be available in the next few days as the numbers are still being tallied, he said.
“We're looking at expediting that process by using technology, maybe have a perch credit card, instead of using a piece of paper,” said Bunker, talking about some of the changes the festival could look at in future. “But the anglers like the social aspect of coming in and bringing their forms in and chitchatting with people.”
He said all aspects of introducing this method will be weighed, with input from anglers.
As for other changes to next year’s festival arrangements, Bunker said, there’s no need to fix what’s not broken.
“I'm not going to try and reinvent the wheel, but I will try to improve certain aspects, such as making it more attractive for people of all ages,” he said, adding that has already happened with the introduction of other festivals in the area, such as those around maple syrup season and butter tarts.
Instead of competing with these family events, he said, the plan is to package them together by encouraging anglers to bring up their families and go fishing and attend a festival or two.
“Fishing is just one part of things in their life,” said Bunker. “Some of them are very passionate about it and the camaraderie is fantastic, but they'll be up here at other times of the year, too.”
The perch festival, he said, tells a fantastic story of drawing people to the area.
“Locals are now close to 30% compared to 20%,” said Bunker. “That's because it's become a thing to do in town. They've embraced it as their event, and it's really affordable."
As for drawing anglers from other areas, he noted, there’s been a jump in numbers from southern Ontario cities, such as Waterloo, Hamilton and London.
As for how this year’s results affect next year's festival, Bunker said, it’s hard to say.
“There are still participants out there,” he said. “And even with these lousy tag numbers, we still have people coming out here.
“You can't blame us for the weather, you can't blame us for the fish,” said Bunker.