Volunteers serve up a variety of meats at HHOA’s Wild Game Dinner on Saturday, March 23 at the Haliburton Legion. /THOMAS SMITH Staff

Wild game dinner a huge success, says HHOA president

By Thomas Smith

“The wild game dinner was another big success,” says Dan Smith, president of the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association (HHOA). “Everybody had a great time, had plenty of great food to eat, and the silent auction was a success.”
While the HHOA is still awaiting the final number of funds raised, Smith says that it will be over the $10,000 mark.
While Smith considers last year’s wild game dinner a success, Smith estimates that this year’s dinner raised around $4,000 more than 2023.
“All the businesses and private citizens, donations of wild game by hunters, and volunteers of the HHOA and the Legion. Everything came together. I can’t emphasize just how positive of an experience it was,” says Smith.
“By the time I ate at 8:30, it was gone,” says Smith with a laugh. “It was really, really well prepared.”
Smith says the success of the wild game dinner heavily relied on Dan Johnson’s experience and expertise.
“He’s been doing it for well over 20 years,” says Smith.
Smith sends his gratitude to Johnson and his wife Laurie for their help and culinary mastery of wild game.
“You can’t keep up with them,” says Smith with a laugh.
“It was so good,” says Smith. “I didn’t get any of the arctic char, but my wife and I prepared it.”
The HHOA has big plans for this year. The HHOA’s annual walleye watch will begin soon at the Drag River near Emmerson Lumber in Haliburton. Typically, the walleye watch begins at the start of April and runs to around April 20.
“The way the ice is going off the lakes, it might be sooner than that,” says Smith.
To conduct the walleye watch, HHOA members and volunteers use high powered flashlights to reflect light off the walleye’s eyes. Often, over 200 walleyes are counted each night. The Drag River is one of the most important walleye spawning sites in the county.
In collaboration with the MNRF, the HHOA uses the data collected to compare to the previous year›s walleye population and to see where spawning sites are needed.
In the future, the HHOA hopes to raise walleye at their hatchery, says Smith.
“The survival rate of our hatchery is really good compared to natural spawning,” says Smith.
Smith says that in the wild, only 1 in 1000 fish survive to adulthood. Eggs raised at the hatchery have a 60 to 70 per cent survival rate.
The HHOA has people checking the water conditions of the Drag River, as walleye require specific water conditions to spawn.
“They need enough water to cover their spawning shoals for them to breed,” says Smith.
In late April to early May, the HHOA will be releasing around 30,000 fingerlings into surrounding water bodies. These fingerlings include rainbow trout and lake trout, including the lake trout strain Haliburton Gold.
The fish that will be released this year were collected in Oct. of 2022, with the hatchery raising the fish for 18 months.
In June, the HHOA is looking forward to attending the Haliburton Home & Cottage Show.
In July, the HHOA will be resurrecting their Family Fun Day at the Hatchery. This event will offer tours of the facility, have games for kids, and a fishing pond.
“We always encourage new members and volunteers at the HHOA,” says Smith. “For members, it’s a good way to stay healthy.”
“It is a big building that needs maintenance. There is always something to do. Volunteers can stay as busy as they want to be. You do what you can, when you can.”