North Buck Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83I/9, 10
Lat / Long54.6833333, -112.5333333
54°40'N, 112°31'W
Area19.0 km2
Max depth6.1 m
Mean depth2.5 m
Dr. Basin Area100 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinBeaver River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x30 µg/L
CHLORO x13.3 µg/L
TDS x181 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


The attractive natural qualities of North Buck Lake and area have made it a local and regional focal point for recreational and residential development. North Buck Lake is situated on the border of the County of Athabasca and Improvement District No. 18 (South), immediately north of the hamlet of Caslan and 180 km northeast of the city of Edmonton. To reach the lake from Edmonton, take Highway 28 north to Highway 63. Travel north on Highway 63 to its junction with Secondary Road 663, then turn east and drive until you reach Caslan. Turn north on Secondary Road 855, which skirts the east side of the lake (FIGURE 1). An access road from Secondary Road 855 leads to North Buck Lake Provincial Recreation Area (FIGURE 2).

The origin of the lake's name is not known. Locally, the name is frequently shortened to Buck Lake (Chipeniuk 1975). "North" may have been added to distinguish between this lake and the Buck Lake located about 100 km southwest of Edmonton (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976).

The history of the region near North Buck Lake was influenced by the fur trade. A trading post at Athabasca Landing (now the town of Athabasca), 45 km west of the lake, was reached by the Athabasca Trail, which ran north from Fort Edmonton. The trading post served as a gateway to the north via the Athabasca River. A trading post at Lac La Biche, 40 km east of North Buck Lake, was established in 1798. It was accessible from Athabasca Landing via the Athabasca and La Biche rivers. Settlement of the Lac La Biche area began in 1857 and proceeded slowly until the Northern Alberta Railroad arrived from Edmonton in 1914. To the west, the Canadian National Railway was completed from Edmonton to Athabasca in 1912 (Kjearsgaard 1972). By the early 1900s, the only developments on North Buck Lake were a trading post and the homes of several Métis families (Alta. Cult. Multicult. n.d.; Chipeniuk 1975). In 1917, the Wagner and Lyons Fish Company began to fish the lake commercially. During the 1930s, land east of the lake was opened for homesteading.

By the 1970s, North Buck Lake had become a very popular recreational lake. As the demand for recreational and residential development increased, the need for a management plan was recognized. In 1985, development of all lands within 1.5 km of the lake was restricted until a water quality study was completed by Alberta Environment and a lakeshore management plan was completed by the County of Athabasca and Improvement District No. 18 (South) with the assistance of Alberta Municipal Affairs. Lakeshore management plans determine the extent of future land developments, allocate land use and determine ways to minimize environmental impacts and conflicts in uses of the lakeshore. They recommend preferred lake uses and ways to minimize lake-user conflicts. Following completion of the lakeshore management plan, work began on a planning strategy, which was adopted as an area structure plan in March 1988 (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987; Alta. Mun. Aff. 1988; N Buck/Chump L. Plan Commit. 1988). Also in 1985, Alberta Energy and Natural Resources addressed problems of Crown land management through the initiation of an Integrated Crown Land and Resource Use Management Strategy for the Caslan/North Buck Lake area. Concurrently, Public Lands Division developed a management plan for a natural area to be located on the western side of North Buck Lake and on land surrounding Chump Lake.

A 1987 survey of lake-user groups found that North Buck Lake was most valued for fishing, the beauty of the natural setting, clean water and good boating (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987). Favourite activities of lake users are camping, general relaxation, fishing, swimming, boating and water skiing. There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas, either all boats are prohibited or power boats are subject to a maximum speed of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). There are no sport fishing regulations specific to the lake but provincial limits and regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

The largest recreational facility on the lake is North Buck Lake Recreation Area. It is located on a peninsula on the southeast side of the lake, 4 km north of Caslan along Secondary Road 855 (FIGURE 2). It is the second most popular provincial recreation area in northern Alberta (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987). Day-use services at the recreation area are provided year-round and camping services are provided from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving Day. In 1988, the facilities consisted of 100 unserviced campsites, 2 water pumps, picnic tables, a beach, a dock, 2 boat launches and 1000 m of lake frontage. Upgrading is planned for the near future, when the recreation area will be expanded to include the rest of the peninsula. Eventually, additional expansion may include land on the western side of the lake across from the existing campground. Recreational activities in the new areas will focus on walk-in picnicking, beach development, hiking, walk-in/boat-in camping and cross-country skiing (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987).

Two recreational areas operated by the County of Athabasca are located along the north basin of the lake (FIGURE 2). The first is a small campground with approximately 10 informal campsites, a boat launch, firepits and picnic tables, which is located at the north end of the narrows. The second is a day-use area with several picnic tables, firepits and a boat launch, which is located at the extreme northwestern tip of the lake. A playground is planned for the day-use area in the future (Driesen 1988). Improvement District No. 18 (South) maintains a public boat launch, parking lot and swimming area in the subdivision on the southern bay.

There are one private and two commercially operated recreation areas on the lake: the citizens of Caslan hold a recreational lease on land just north of the provincial recreation area, and the two commercial campgrounds are located north and south of the provincial recreation area, on the eastern shore of the lake near Secondary Road 855.

The water in North Buck Lake is quite clear during most of the year, but high concentrations of blue-green algae may colour the water green during late summer. Aquatic vegetation grows densely around much of the shoreline and provides habitat for wildlife and waterfowl production and spawning areas for yellow perch and northern pike.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The drainage basin surrounding North Buck Lake is 5 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). There are no major inflows, only four intermittent streams that flow into the northwest and central basins (FIGURE 1). The outlet stream flows from the southern tip of the lake to the Amisk River.

Most of the land north and northwest of the lake is level to gently undulating (0 to 5% slope), whereas land to the northeast and southwest is gently rolling (5 to 9% slope). The primary soils are Eluviated Eutric and Dystric Brunisols and important secondary soils are Orthic Gray Luvisols. A complex of Eluviated Eutric Brunisols and Orthic Gray Luvisols is located in the southwestern and north-central parts of the watershed. Eluviated Dystric Brunisols are located mainly in the northeastern and southwestern sections and Orthic Gray Luvisols are located east and northwest of the lake. The few partially cultivated areas in the northwestern portion of the watershed are Orthic Gray Luvisols, which have a poor to fair arability rating (Kjearsgaard 1972). There are many areas of Organic soils throughout the watershed, particularly between the lake's main and northwest basins and east of the south basin (FIGURE 1).

North Buck Lake is located in the Dry Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The main tree species on upland areas is trembling aspen. Balsam poplar is also common, and jack pine and white birch are present in localized areas around the lake. A number of wetlands are located close to the lakeshore and along inflowing streams (FIGURE 1). Sand hills located east of the south basin and between North Buck and Chump lakes were historically prime blueberry- and cranberry-producing areas. Berry production has declined because of increased recreation, encroaching underbrush and dryness during critical growing periods (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987; Mitchell 1988).

There are three subdivisions on the lakeshore. In July 1987, Blue Heron Estates consisted of 38 developed and 79 undeveloped lots on the northern side of the northwest basin; South Subdivision consisted of 8 developed lots on the eastern shore of the main basin; and Golden Nodding Estates comprised 55 developed and 19 undeveloped lots on the western shore of the south basin (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987).

Lake Basin Characteristics

North Buck Lake is a fairly shallow, moderate-sized water body with a very irregular shoreline (TABLE 2, FIGURE 2). The lake has a large main basin and two smaller, shallower basins. The northwest basin has a maximum depth of approximately 1.5 m. It is connected to the main basin by a shallow, weedy narrows. The main basin is generally 3-m deep or less in the northern portion, but as deep as 6 m in the southern portion. The south basin, which is connected to the main basin by a narrow, weedy channel, has a maximum depth of approximately 4.5 m.

Much of the shoreline has a gentle slope or is rounded. Beach areas are associated with the provincial recreation area and opposite the recreation area on the west side of the lake. They are also present along the northeast portion of the south basin, along the north shore of the north basin at Blue Heron Estates, and along parts of the north shore of the main basin (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987).

The lake's water level has been recorded since late 1968 (FIGURE 3). The difference between the historic minimum (608.50 m in 1968) and the historic maximum (609.21 m in 1978) is 0.71 m. This range in water levels would have little effect on the area of the lake (FIGURE 4). The maximum fluctuation between 1980 and 1988 was 0.38 m.

Water Quality

The main basin of North Buck Lake was sampled monthly by Alberta Environment between May and October 1986 and once in January 1987 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). The lake has hard, well-buffered, fresh water and the dominant ions are bicarbonate and calcium (TABLE 3).

During July 1986, the water column was weakly thermally stratified. It became well-mixed for the remainder of the open-water period (FIGURE 5). Levels of dissolved oxygen were high at all depths during the ice-free season but had declined to 0 mg/L below a depth of 5 m by late January 1987 (FIGURE 6). Dissolved oxygen concentrations above 5 m, however, probably were sufficient to sustain the fish population for the rest of the winter.

North Buck Lake is eutrophic. During August 1986, chlorophyll a concentrations reached a maximum of almost 42 µg/L (FIGURE 7). This peak corresponded to a total phosphorus peak of 40 µg/L in the euphotic zone and a phytoplankton biomass of 10 mg/L. Total phosphorus concentrations during the open-water season in 1986 averaged 30 µg/L (TABLE 4). Phosphorus loading from sources external to the lake has been estimated for North Buck Lake (TABLE 5). The lake's watershed is small compared to its surface area, so phosphorus loading through runoff is low. The major sources of phosphorus are precipitation and dustfall (41%), runoff from agricultural land (31%) and runoff from forested land (28%). Loading from cottage septic systems and residential land is assumed to be negligible (less than 1% of the total external load) because of the small number of cottages on the lakeshore. The areal loading rate for North Buck Lake (0.06 g/m2 of lake surface) is similar to the rates calculated for Lake Wabamun (0.08 g/m2) and Moore Lake (0.06 g/m2), and much lower than those calculated for Baptiste Lake (0.36 g/m2) and Lac la Nonne (0.41 g/m2).

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community in North Buck Lake was studied by Alberta Environment from May to October in 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[al). Total biomass was quite low (1 to 5 mg/L) on all sampling dates except 21 August, when it exceeded 10 mg/L (TABLE 6). In May, green algae (Chlorophyta) such as Oocystis lacustris and diatoms (Bacillariophyta) such as Melosira islandica helvetica formed most of the biomass. From June through August, however, the blue-greens (Cyanophyta) Anabaena flos-aquae and A. planctonica were the dominant species. By mid-September, another blue-green (Oscillatoria agardhii), two diatoms (Melosira islandica helvetica and M. granulata) and two cryptophytes (Cryptomonas erosa and C. Marsonii) were the most important species. During October, the diatom Asterionella formosa was the dominant species but Cryptomonas sp. remained important .

There is little information on the aquatic macrophytes in North Buck Lake. Their general distribution is indicated in Figure 8.


There are no data on the invertebrates in North Buck Lake.


Seven species of fish have been reported in North Buck Lake: northern pike, yellow perch, lake whitefish, walleye, cisco, burbot and white sucker. Walleye was indigenous to the lake, but most of the stock disappeared during the 1950s. Walleye fingerlings were planted in 1984, 1986 and 1987, at an average rate of 64,400 per year (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1984; Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1986; 1987). A few walleye were sighted in 1988, but they were not a catchable size. The population will not reproduce for 7 to 9 years after the first planting. The important spawning areas for yellow perch and northern pike are shown in Figure 8. Nearby Little Buck Lake is an important northern pike spawning and rearing area. This lake is joined to North Buck Lake by a culvert under Secondary Road 855 (Sullivan 1987).

North Buck Lake is managed for commercial, sport and domestic fisheries. There are no data available for domestic catches. The commercial fishery has operated since 1917 but records were not kept until 1942. Lake whitefish is the main catch and cisco, northern pike and burbot are secondary in importance. Historically, the largest catches were: 17,177 kg of lake whitefish in 1946/47, 14,540 kg of cisco in 1952/53, 29,548 kg of northern pike in 1947/48 and 3,200 kg of burbot in 1966/67. Between 1981/82 and 1987/88 the average annual harvests were: 10,132 kg of whitefish, 181 kg of cisco, and 214 kg of northern pike. Between 1981/82 and 1985/86, the average burbot catch was 440 kg. Yellow perch were harvested until 1965/66 and walleye until 1969/70. After 1970, only occasional walleye were taken. The largest walleye harvest since 1970 was 54 kg taken in 1987/88 after the stocking program had begun (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976).

A creel survey of the sport fishery at North Buck Lake was conducted during 1984 (Sullivan 1985). Northern pike and yellow perch were the main catches; no walleye were taken during the survey period. It was estimated that 11,623 anglers fished for 24,771 hours (TABLE 7). Approximately 35% of the northern pike and 40% of the yellow perch caught were released. The average harvest/angler-hour for 21 lakes in the Northeast Region surveyed between 1984 and 1987 was 0.22 for northern pike and 0.32 for yellow perch (Sullivan 1989). In comparison, the harvest per unit effort at North Buck Lake was twice the regional average for pike and very similar to the regional average for perch (TABLE 7). Almost half (49%) of the anglers interviewed at North Buck Lake caught at least one pike, but relatively few (14%) caught at least one perch. The largest catches of pike were taken during the latter half of May and the largest catches of perch during early June. The lake is noted for the small size of its pike and large size of its perch. North Buck Lake received the second heaviest angling pressure of seven Northeast Region lakes surveyed during 1984, and produced the largest number of pike and the second largest number of perch. Only Lac Ste. Anne was fished for more hours. Because of its smaller size, however, North Buck Lake received more than double the angling pressure (15.7 angler-hours/ha) than did Lac Ste. Anne (6.4 angler-hours/ha).


There is little information on the wildlife in the area. A Great Blue Heron colony is located at the north end of the lake (FIGURE 8). In 1985, there were 27 active nests (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987). An Osprey nesting site is located on the northwest side of the main basin. Upland game bird species in the area include Ruffed, Spruce and Sharp-tailed grouse.

Moose and white-tailed deer are the most common ungulates and mule deer are seen occasionally. The furbearer harvest consists mainly of muskrat, beaver, coyote, mink and squirrel. Other species taken occasionally are ermine, fisher, fox, lynx and marten (N Buck L. Plan Commit. 1987).

M.E. Bradford


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-----. 1989. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., St. Paul. Pers. comm.