Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Walleye fingerlings: numbers, not size

Associate Editor

St. Paul DNR fish managers attribute the larger number, but
smaller size of walleye fingerlings stocked this fall to poor
growth rates, as caused primarily by cool temps during two crucial
months June and August.

“Fish are cold-blooded and respond to the environment,” said Roy
Johannes, DNR fisheries program consultant. “If the environment is
58 to 59 degrees, they don’t grow fast.”

The DNR’s goal is fish large enough that there aren’t more than
20 fingerlings per pound. This year, Johannes said it worked out to
22.2 fish per pound. The past couple years the average has been
closer to 10 fish per pound. In terms of inches, this year’s were
typically 4 to 6 inches long; in the past couple years the fish
have been closer to 6 to 8 inches long.

However, this year state and private fish hatcheries contributed
nearly 3 million walleye fingerlings to the cause; last year the
number was closer to 1.7 million.

Had this year’s growth rates been better, Johannes said the
numbers probably wouldn’t have been quite as good. In those years,
the larger of the bunch sometimes dine on the smaller walleye

So what’s better, size or numbers?

That depends on the circumstances where they’re stocked, when
they’re stocked, etc., Johannes said. Area managers try to stock
the smaller fish where they’ll have a better chance of avoiding
adult predators when placed in a new system.

Further, “The later you get into the fall, the less chance
you’ll have predators right up against shore,” Johannes said of the
timing of stocks.

This year’s total poundage of stocked fingerlings is expected to
be about 140,500, Johannes said, about 88 percent of the state’s
goal of 160,000 pounds.

State ponds contributed about 105,000 pounds this year; the
private sector contribution to the total thus far has been about
36,000. Johannes said private vendors were under contract for
41,000 pounds. He said the remaining 5,000 pounds may be recouped
this spring from vendors’ ponds.

Currently the DNR manages 333 ponds for walleye production, or
about 21,000 acres. He expects the department will continue to get
about 40,000 pounds of fingerlings from vendors in the near

This was the fifth year of walleye stocking under the
Accelerated Walleye Program to increase fingerling stocks. This
year was the first in which the goal was 160,000 pounds of
fingerlings; during the previous four years the goal was 130,000
pounds, and the average had been stocks of 136,000 pounds,
including 113,000 in 2000, 161,000 in 2001, 98,000 in 2002, and
165,000 in 2003.

For a few years prior to the commencement of the AWP, the
poundage had been in the 80,000- to 120,000-range. But that was
after stocking levels were at or above what they are today,
according to fishing author and walleye fishing aficionado Dick
Sternberg. In fact, Sternberg said he’s recommended the DNR
increase the fingerling stocking goal to 200,000 annually.

Some lakes in the state need annual stocking, he said, rather
than every other year, or every third year.

Sternberg said he understands that weather probably played a
role in this year’s small fingerlings. “It was a goofy year, no
doubt about that,” he said.

Has the Accelerated Walleye Program worked? To some degree,
according to Sternberg.

“I think it has in some areas, like the Grand Rapids area,” he
said. “In other areas, no.”

To increase walleye fingerling stocking levels, Sternberg
recommends the DNR continue to work with private fish suppliers who
make their living selling fish.

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