Ortonville, Minn. — Kyle Anderson says he’s heard the fishing has been pretty good in the area of late, but one of the few things the DNR fisheries specialist from Ortonville has wanted to do lately it get back in a boat after spending time harvesting walleye fingerlings from area ponds – when air temperatures have sometimes been in the 30s.
But the show must go on, and with water temperatures steadily tumbling, DNR Fisheries folks know the window to harvest walleye fingerlings from rearing ponds – and stock them in state lakes – is closing rapidly. According to Anderson, harvest needs are nearly met, and pond success this year has been better than expected.
But the walleye fingerlings, he said, don’t resemble in one regard those that were netted and stocked last year: This year’s fish are smaller, but they’re more plentiful, and what that means will be determined in future years during lake surveys.
“They had about a month less to grow,” Anderson said this week. “They’re smaller than what we normally produce out here.”
Spring came late this year, and it was later than usual, too, that fry were placed in DNR rearing ponds around the state – some 40 or so in the Ortonville area.
But that later placement of fry in the ponds also meant that more invertebrates were available for the tiny walleyes to eat when they got there.
“They’re fry the size of mosquitos, and they need something to eat,” Anderson said.
Walleye fry also benefitted in a number of locations by the fact that last year’s extended winter increased winterkill of carry-over walleyes – fish that will eat the incoming fry – last winter.
While officials in most Fisheries offices are reporting smaller walleye fingerlings, like those in the Ortonville area, numbers are higher, as is overall pond success, according to Neil Vanderbosch, DNR Fisheries program consultant in St. Paul. Pond harvest was expected to be complete sometime next week, he said.
Fingerling stocking is measured in pounds (fry are stocked based on number), Vanderbosch said, and usually fingerlings number about 15 per pound. This year, it’s been closer to 25 per pound. In other words, lakes stocked with fingerlings are getting more fish, but fish whose survival is more tenuous. It’s also “trickier” handling the smaller fish when moving them from rearing pond to lake, he said.
The fall of 2013 was a turnabout from last fall, Vanderbosch added. While this year more, smaller fish were stocked, “last year was the opposite,” he said.
The overall pounds of stocked walleyes is expected to be similar to last year, primarily because stocking is set in management plans, and only certain factors influence changes in plans – contingency stocking, for example, when a walleye year-class flops in a particular lake.
Vanderbosch said he expects state rearing ponds to produce 90,000 to 100,000 pounds of walleyes this fall; purchase from private vendors should account for another 40,000 pounds. Last year, according to DNR records, about 130,000 pounds of fingerlings (along with some yearlings and adults) were stocked in a total of 292 lakes. That included the purchase of about 51,000 pounds of fingerlings at $18 per pound.
A total of 328 lakes were listed as those to receive fall walleye stocks this year, according to Vanderbosch.
Vanderbosch predicted the last of the fall walleye stocking (not counting private vendor purchases) would wrap up next week.
There are about 340 ponds now used by the DNR to rear walleyes, a total of about 24,000 acres, Vanderbosch said. Usually about 70 percent of those locations yield fish. This year it appeared the percentage of productive ponds increased.
Each year brings with it challenges regarding walleye pond harvest, and this year was no different, Anderson said.
“For us, it was a tough fall from a temperature standpoint,” he said. It took some time for the temperature to drop to the 50s (ideal for removing walleye from ponds and for ensuring survival of transported fish).