Fishing for walleye eggs: ‘Season’ set to kick off
Call it the Pre-Fishing Opener.
And, like with preparation for the heralded Minnesota Fishing Opener, there’s a lot of work to be done here.
“We will be setting up the dock and trap (nets) early next week. We should have fish Thursday-Friday and assume we’ll be working up there daily until around the 21st (of April),” Marc Bacigalupi, Brainerd Area Fisheries supervisor, said in an email Friday of a walleye egg-collecting station north of Brainerd.
There, on Delta Bay, nets are set up where the Whitefish Chain meets the Pine River to temporarily intercept walleyes as they travel during the spawn. And that’s when this season starts — it’s pretty much different every year, depending on ice-out and, in turn, water temperature. Minnesota DNR fisheries specialists sort through walleyes in the nets, taking eggs from the females and milt from the males and combining the two before releasing the fish into the river.
It’s one of several such stations across Minnesota. And each year, at least at the Pine River station, the allure of seeing big walleyes can draw a crowd, with dozens of spectators sometimes gathering on the river bank overlooking the DNR docks and the egg-collection station in hopes of getting a peek at the big walleyes that come through here. Several years back, then-Brainerd fisheries supervisor Tim Brastrup said crews occasionally would come across 15-plus pounders, even about a 17-pounder, plump with eggs.
Bacigalupi said prime time for spectators is in the mornings — “9 a.m. to 11 a.m. is when most of the sorting and good viewing occurs. And our days are longer when we have more fish later in the run.
“Mother Nature can always throw a curveball,” he added, noting that, if you plan to spectate, it’s best to check with Brainerd Area Fisheries to make sure the weather is cooperating and that it’s a go that particular day.
Last year, the state’s walleye egg-collecting operation wrapped up April 29, when the final batch of eggs was collected in Fergus Falls, Minn. In all, more than 4,500 quarts of walleye eggs were collected at 10 operations throughout the state, the DNR reported at the time.
According to the DNR, roughly one-third of the 360 million fry anticipated to hatch were to grow in rearing ponds throughout the summer before being stocked as fingerlings in 362 lakes last fall. The other two-thirds of the fry were stocked directly into 302 lakes within a few days of hatching, the DNR had said.
Each lake that has an egg-collection operation is re-stocked with fry to more than compensate for egg collection activity, the DNR has said. To learn what lakes are stocked, go to www.mndnr.gov/lakefind, look up a specific lake and click the fish stocking tab.
Walleye egg-collecting is a big deal in other states, too. Each spring, staff members at the Oneida Hatchery in Constantia, N.Y., collect eggs from spawning walleye for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation walleye-stocking program. This year, staff anticipates setting nets in Oneida Lake the first week of April to collect approximately 20,000 adult walleyes. Nets are tended each morning and captured walleye are then held in tanks inside the hatchery until staff collects eggs and milt. More than 300 million eggs will be collected for the program, according to the NYSDEC.
After the eggs are fertilized, they’re held until they hatch several weeks later. Newly hatched fish — fry — are either stocked or kept at Oneida or another state hatchery, where they are raised until they are about 2 inches long before being stocked, according to the NYSDEC. The agency annually stocks 40 to 50 waters throughout the state to establish, maintain, or restore walleye fisheries.
According to the NYSDEC, the hatchery is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. seven days a week once the egg-take begins. Fish from Oneida Lake are on display, along with a “petting tub” for kids with mud puppies and small burbot.
In Nebraska, walleye egg-collecting will begin April 2, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Sherman Reservoir, Merritt Reservoir and Lake McConaughy have again been selected for this year’s operation. The collection goal to meet 2017 walleye stocking requests is approximately 78 million eggs, Nebraska Game and Parks said.
Starting April 1, a designated area along the dam at Sherman will be closed to bank anglers and boats following sunset. The collection at Sherman will begin the night of April 2. Anglers and boaters are asked to avoid Nebraska Game and Parks boats and nets.
Depending on the collection results at Sherman, crews will begin collections at Merritt on or before April 7 and at McConaughy during the week of April 10. The netting of walleyes will continue until the egg quota has been met. All adult walleyes are released back into the lake.
Gill netting along the dam at night will capture female walleyes, while an electroshocking boat will collect males. Spawning operations will take place on the lake during the mornings and fertilized eggs will be transferred to Nebraska state fish hatcheries for hatching.
Crews should finish work at Sherman by April 7, at Merritt by April 14 and at McConaughy by April 21, depending on netting success and weather.
Nebraska Game and Parks this year is scheduled to stock nearly 30 million walleye — ranging in size from fry to 8-inch advance fingerlings — into public water bodies across the state.