Smoke Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83K/7
Lat / Long54.3666667, -116.9333333
54°22'N, 116°55'W
Area9.59 km2
Max depth8.3 m
Mean depth5.1 m
Dr. Basin Area127 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinSmoky River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x53 µg/L
CHLORO x25.0 µg/L
TDS x96 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Smoke Lake is a popular sport fishing lake set in forested hills in Improvement District No. 16. It is located about 245 km northwest of the city of Edmonton, 83 km northeast of the town of Whitecourt and 9 km southwest of the town of Fox Creek. An industrial road that runs south from Highway 43 at Fox Creek branches east and then south and provides access to Smoke Lake Forest Recreation Area on the east side of the lake (FIGURE 1).

The lake's name is related to that of the nearby Little Smoky River, which was named for the smouldering beds of coal found along its banks (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976). The lake has also been known as Buck Lake (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976).

The native inhabitants in the area northwest of Whitecourt were Woodland Cree, but the Beaver tribe may have lived there at an earlier time (Olecko 1974). The region was close to an aboriginal migration route from Lac Ste. Anne to the Sturgeon Lake area, and sites on Smoke Lake have traditionally been used as hunting and fishing bases. One site on the west side of the lake has been identified as a burial ground (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988[b]). The first European to arrive in the area was probably David Thompson in 1799; he camped at a site that is now the Whitecourt townsite. Missionaries arrived in the region about 40 years later. Industrial development began in 1909 when logging and milling operations were initiated 10 km west of Whitecourt near the Athabasca River. The railroad arrived in Whitecourt in 1921, but was never completed to the Peace River Country, as originally proposed. The area near Smoke Lake was not developed until oil and gas exploration in the 1950s brought the railroad as far as the Kaybob station, 4 km south of the lake. Highway 43 opened in 1955, and was paved and completed in 1962 as far as the town of Valleyview, 70 km north of the lake. There has been no residential development at the lake (Knapik and Lindsay 1983).

In 1988, a lake management plan for Smoke Lake was completed by Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988[b]). The plan assesses potential commercial and public recreational development of Smoke Lake based on environmental, social and economic constraints. It will be used as the basis for an area structure plan to guide development around the lake, which will be prepared by Improvement District No. 16.

Access to the lake is provided at the Smoke Lake Forest Recreation Area, an Alberta Forest Service campground that was built in 1968 (FIGURE 2). There are 47 campsites, 5 picnic sites, pump water, a small sand beach and a boat launch. Popular activities at the lake are power boating, fishing, windsurfing and swimming. There are no boating restrictions specific to the lake, but general federal regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988[a]).The main catches of the popular summer sport fishery are northern pike, walleye and yellow perch. In winter, catches of large lake whitefish in the 2- to 3-kg range attract many anglers (Hunt 1989). Smoke Lake is closed to sport fishing for a designated period during April and May each year. As well, the lake's inlet and outlet streams are closed to fishing from September to mid-June each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). The commercial fishery opens intermittently; its main catch is lake whitefish.

Smoke Lake is quite fertile and the water often turns green with algae during late summer. Water clarity is poor during the rest of the year as well; the lack of clarity may be largely the result of high colour.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Smoke Lake has a fairly extensive drainage basin that is about 13 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). There are no other lakes in the drainage basin. Smoke Creek, the major inflow to the lake, flows into the southeast bay, and the outflow, an unnamed creek, is located on the west side (FIGURE 1). The outlet creek joins the Little Smoky River several kilometres to the west, and eventually flows into the Smoky River.

The drainage basin is part of the Fox Creek Benchland physiographic division, and is underlain by nonmarine sandstones, silty mudstones and coal beds covered by glacial drift. Agriculture is severely limited by a short frost-free period, adverse topography and poor soil structure. The main soils on rolling moraine are Orthic Gray Luvisols that developed on clay-loam textured glacial till. Along the inlet streams, the soils are mostly Mesisols, which developed on very poorly drained moss peat, and in the southern part of the watershed, the soils are mainly poorly drained Gleysols (Knapik and Lindsay 1983).

The watershed is part of the Moist Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion. The rolling landscape supports a dense cover of trembling aspen and mixed coniferous/deciduous forest. Stands of lodgepole pine grow on well-drained soils at higher elevations, and balsam poplar is a major component of the forest on moderately well-drained soils. Black spruce grows on poorly drained soils and willows and sedges are present in very poorly drained areas (Strong and Leggat 1981; Knapik and Lindsay 1983).

All of the land in the watershed is owned by the Crown and most development is related to the extraction and processing of natural gas from the underlying Kaybob South Oil and Gas Field. Dome Petroleum Limited operates two sour gas processing plants at the Kaybob South industrial site (FIGURE 1) and gas wells dot the countryside.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Smoke Lake is a medium-sized lake (TABLE 2) with a maximum length of 5.4 km and a maximum width of 2.7 km. The lake basin is shallow and slopes gently in the southeast bay, but drops off more abruptly in other areas, particularly along the central parts of the north and south shores (FIGURE 2). The maximum depth of 8.3 m is located in the middle of the lake. The banks of the lake drop off sharply in many places, so there is little beach area. The shoreline is sandy at Smoke Lake Forest Recreation Area, but the land is low-lying and poorly drained at the outlet and along the southeast bay and the point of land on the south shore. The remainder of the shoreline is forested down to the water's edge.

The elevation of Smoke Lake has been monitored since 1968 (FIGURE 3). The difference between the historic minimum water level (836.71 m), recorded in January 1978, and the maximum level (837.63 m), recorded in July 1982, is 0.92 m. Changes in the lake's area and capacity with fluctuations in water level are shown in Figure 4.

Water Quality

The water quality of Smoke Lake was studied by Alberta Environment during the open-water period in 1983 and under ice in February 1984 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). The lake has fresh water that is not as hard or as alkaline as that of many other prairie lakes (TABLE 3). The dominant ions are calcium and bicarbonate.

The mixing pattern in Smoke Lake is typical of that in many shallow Alberta lakes: the lake mixes completely in spring and fall and is thermally stratified during summer, as in 1983 (FIGURE 5). During the ice-free period in 1983, the upper layers of the water column were saturated with dissolved oxygen, but in the deepest water, the concentration declined to 2.3 to 4.7 mg/L (FIGURE 6). Under ice in February 1984, there was an oxygen gradient from surface to bottom, but the concentration of dissolved oxygen was almost 5 mg/L at the greatest depth.

Smoke Lake is eutrophic. In 1983, the highest total phosphorus (112 µg/L) and chlorophyll a (54 µg/L) levels were detected at the end of August (FIGURE 7). This large increase in total phosphorus in late summer is likely associated with the release of phosphorus from the bottom sediments. The clarity of Smoke Lake water is consistently poor. The average Secchi depth was only 1.9 m during 1983 (TABLE 4). The poor water clarity recorded when chlorophyll a levels are low may result from high levels of colour in the water.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community in Smoke Lake was studied by Alberta Environment from May to October in 1983 (TABLE 5). The average biomass recorded was 7.8 mg/L; biomass was highest on 5 July (17 mg/L), 31 August (10.8 mg/L) and 18 October (15.3 mg/L). In spring and early summer, the most important algal species were Cryptomonas erosa reflexa and C. ovata (Cryptophyta), the colonial golden-brown algae Synura petersenii and Dinobryon divergens (Chrysophyta), and the diatom Tabellaria fenestrata ( Bacillariophyta). In midsummer, the phytoplankton community was dominated by single species of blue-green algae: in July, Gloeotrichia echinulata, and in August, Anabaena spiroides crassa. In early October, the diatom Stephanodiscus niagarae accounted for 84% of the total biomass, but by mid-October, this species shared dominance with a green alga, Coelastrum microsporum (Chlorophyta), and another diatom, Melosira italica subarctica.

There are no specific data on the macrophyte community; aquatic vegetation grows at the northwest and southeast ends of the lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).


There are no data available for the invertebrates in Smoke Lake.


Smoke Lake supports populations of lake whitefish, walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, white sucker, burbot, spottail shiner and Iowa darter (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). The lake is managed for commercial, domestic and recreational fisheries. There are no catch data for the domestic fishery. A few domestic licences (3 to 4) are issued each year.

Smoke Lake opened for commercial fishing intermittently from 1944/45 to 1953/54, annually from 1954/55 to 1966/67, and again in 1975/76 (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). Low catches during the mid-1960s (less than 875 kg), and a summerkill in 1972 were responsible for the closure from 1968 to 1975 (Hawryluk 1979). The lake next opened for fishing in 1978/79; from 1979/80 to the present, it has been fished in alternate years (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). In 1979/80, the gill net mesh size was increased from 140 mm to 152 mm. From 1979/80 to 1987/88, the average catch was 12,274 kg of lake whitefish, 245 kg of northern pike and 48 kg of walleye. Fishing effort has increased steadily over the period, from 28 licences in 1979/80 to 93 licences in 1987/88. Historically, the largest total catch from Smoke Lake was recorded in 1987/88, when 20,600 kg of fish were taken; 99% of this catch was lake whitefish and the remainder was northern pike and walleye.

The sport fishery is popular with local residents and attracts visitors from as far away as Edmonton. Creel surveys were conducted by Fish and Wildlife Division for 6 days from 19 May to 5 July in 1984 and for 35 days from 17 May to 15 August in 1986 (Hawryluk 1984; 1987). In 1986 (TABLE 6), anglers caught 2,183 northern pike, 935 walleye and 35 yellow perch and kept 60% of the northern pike, 92% of the walleye and all of the yellow perch. The northern pike catch rate in 1986 (0.23/angler-hour) was similar to that calculated for 1984 (0.28/angler-hour), whereas the walleye catch rate for 1986 (0.10/angler-hour) was much lower than the catch rate calculated for 1984 (0.50/angler-hour). The fishing pressure on Smoke Lake is higher than that of nearby losegun Lake and concerns have been expressed about excessive fishing pressure on Smoke Lake.


A wide range of wildlife species is found near Smoke Lake. Waterfowl are abundant and the lake is an important staging area (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988[b]). Species sighted at the lake include Common Loons, grebes, Bufflehead and Goldeneye. Black bears are common in the area and grizzly bears have been sighted. The land near the lake is excellent moose habitat and elk are found in the Little Smoky River valley. Small mammals present include beaver, muskrats and mink.

M.E. Bradford


Alberta Environment. n.d.[a]. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[b]. Tech. Serv. Div., Hydrol. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[c]. Tech. Serv. Div., Surv. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife. n.d. Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. 1988[a]. Boating in Alberta. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

-----. 1988[b]. Smoke and losegun lake management plan. Alta. For. Serv. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

-----. 1989. Guide to sportfishing. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

Alberta Recreation, Parks and Wildlife. 1976. Commercial fisheries catch statistics for Alberta, 1942-1975. Fish Wild. Div., Fish. Mgt. Rep. No. 22, Edmonton.

Alberta Research Council. 1972. Geological map of Alberta. Nat. Resour. Div., Alta. Geol. Surv., Edmonton.

Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. 1976. National topographic series 1:50000 83K/2 (1976), 83K/7 (1976). Surv. Map. Br., Ottawa.

Environment Canada. 1982. Canadian climate normals, Vol. 7: Bright sunshine (1951-1980). Prep. by Atm. Envir. Serv. Supply Serv. Can., Ottawa.

Hawryluk, R. 1979. Evaluation of the Smoke Lake fishery, August, 1978. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

-----. 1984. An evaluation of the Smoke Lake walleye fishery including a population estimate and assessment of angler success obtained during a creel survey, May 19 to July 5, 1984. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

-----. 1987. A creel survey of Smoke Lake, May 17 to August 15, 1986. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

Holmgren, E.J. and P.M. Holmgren. 1976. Over 2000 place names of Alberta. 3rd ed. West. Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon.

Hunt, C. 1989. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., Edson. Pers. comm.

Knapik, L.J. and J.D. Lindsay. 1983. Reconnaissance soil survey of the losegun Lake area, Alberta. Alta. Res. Counc. Bull. No. 43. Alta. Res. Counc., Edmonton.

Olecko, D. 1974. Sagitawah saga-the story of Whitecourt. D. Olecko, Whitecourt.

Strong, W.L. and K.R. Leggat. 1981. Ecoregions of Alberta. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Resour. Eval. Plan. Div., Edmonton.