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DNR sees success in fall walleye stocking


A healthy fall walleye fingerling, reared in DNR ponds near Belmont in Kent County, is ready to be released into Crystal Lake in Montcalm County. Photo courtesty Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A healthy fall walleye fingerling, reared in DNR ponds near Belmont in Kent County, is ready to be released into Crystal Lake in Montcalm County. Photo courtesty Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Fall is harvest time in Michigan, and while most may be thinking of picking apples or plucking pumpkins, Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries crews are thinking about walleye.

Specifically, they’re collecting the last of the walleye fingerlings that are raised in rearing ponds for stocking and getting the fish to where they want them to be.

For the most part, walleye are reared for a short period of time in ponds and stocked as spring fingerlings—most at less than 2 inches in length—in high densities. But fisheries biologists know that fall fingerlings can be stocked at much lower densities and produce better results than spring fingerlings.

Volunteer members of the West Michigan Walleye Club lift a fyke net (a bag net for catching fish) of fingerlings out of a DNR walleye pond near Belmont in Kent County. Photo courtesy Michigan DNR.

Volunteer members of the West Michigan Walleye Club lift a fyke net (a bag net for catching fish) of fingerlings out of a DNR walleye pond near Belmont in Kent County. Photo courtesy Michigan DNR.

Recently, DNR technician supervisor Ed Pearce brought his crew (technicians Mike Wilson and Matt Smith) to the state’s walleye ponds near Belmont in Kent County to get the walleye out of the ponds and into a couple of southern Michigan lakes.

A dozen or so members of the West Michigan Walleye Club, who spent the summer babysitting the ponds, assisted the crew in the operation.

“We have found that if we put in fall fingerlings, their survival is very, very good,” said Jay Wesley, the DNR’s Lake Michigan Basin coordinator. “It’s really the key to stocking walleye in southern Michigan. We’ve done it with fry, but it’s really hit or miss.”

Although walleye are much in demand—anglers love them—most southern Michigan waters are not ideal for the fish, which prefer cooler water than most southern Michigan lakes maintain in the summer.

In addition, most lakes have established fish populations that predate heavily upon the tiny walleye. By stocking fall fingerlings, fisheries managers not only enjoy better fish survival but are also more likely to establish fishable walleye populations.

“If we can get a cool-water hatchery facility, our capacity to raise more fall fingerlings would increase,” Wesley said. “Right now, we’re kind of doing it experimentally, pond by pond, but we need a coordinated effort at one hatchery to really get it going.”

At some ponds, crews leave a percentage of the fish there after spring harvest to grow into fall fingerlings. At Belmont this year, production was so poor that fisheries managers decided to leave them all in the pond to grow until fall.

The operation at Belmont consists of three ponds—a fill pond, fed by a natural creek; the walleye pond; and a minnow pond, which is stocked early in the season with fathead minnows that will reproduce and provide forage for the walleye pond.

Members of the club tended the ponds all spring and summer. In spring, they fertilize the ponds to produce the plankton the fry need to survive.

“For six weeks, we put 500 to 600 pounds of fertilizer—a mixture of alfalfa and soy meal—into the ponds to provide the nutrients for the plankton,” said Al Davis, club director. “We started with 100 pounds of minnows in the minnow pond, and we produced more than 400 pounds of minnows this year—and we’ve still got minnows in there.

“We had more than 90 man-hours in just feeding fish and transferring the minnows from the minnow pond to the walleye pond.”

Fall harvest involves lowering the water level to congregate the fish more closely, then installing trap nets to collect them. It takes two days of water-lowering and net-setting to get the bulk of the fish.

Next, the remaining water is drained into what the guys call a “wolf trap”—a concrete and screen box below the pond’s discharge tube—where the remaining fish are entrapped and netted out.

“We’ll get 90 percent of the fish out with the nets, then we’ll seine the wolf trap,” Pearce said. “We’ll get all of those fish.”

Pond production is highly variable, depending largely on environmental factors over which no one has control. The poor production this spring led to a bonanza of fall fingerlings.

“It has been a good year this year,” Davis said, as he handled nets at the recent fingerling harvest. “In 2010, we had a bunch of fish, but a flood came through and blew the dike. The fish all wound up in the Grand River.

“But since 2009, this pond has produced more than 800,000 walleye fry.”

Raising fingerlings is costly and time-consuming. The club chipped in to help defray the cost of fertilizer and provided the bulk of the labor.

Pearce, who praised the club effusively, said the program would be nearly impossible without the club’s assistance.

“These fall fingerlings are worth their weight in gold,” Pearce said. “We use them in lakes that are full of bluegills; bluegills are good predators, so we put them in at a size that they’re not going to get eaten up.”

Fall fingerlings tend to measure 5 to 7 inches. It’ll take about two years for them to recruit into the fishery, when they become legal targets at 15 inches.

Schoolchildren from two nearby schools also attended the first day of the fall fingerling harvest.

For his part, Pearce said the fall fingerling harvest is one of his favorite tasks as a fisheries worker.

“This is enjoyable,” Pearce said. “You’re doing your job, and you’re educating kids, too. These are the days we look forward to.”

Get more information on DNR fish stocking at michigan.gov/fishing.

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Fishing Tip: Northern pike tips & tricks to try


A good spring catch.

A good spring catch.

This Saturday, April 30, marks the opening of the inland walleye, pike and muskellunge seasons in the Lower Peninsula. Are you ready to try your hand at northern pike fishing?

Northern pike like to spend their time in the weedy shallows of both the Great Lakes and inland waters. In rivers they can be found around log jams or fallen timber. They are often taken with live bait (such as large minnows) or different kinds of artificial lures.

When fishing for northern pike, many anglers like to use a six to eight-inch wire or steel leader directly in front of hook or lure. Pike have large, deep mouths with extremely sharp teeth. They are known to engulf the entire bait or lure and sever the fishing line with their teeth when it is attached directly to the hook or lure. This leaves the angler watching as the fish swims away with their offering.

Some well-known northern pike waters include Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River and drowned river mouths along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Want to learn even more about northern pike in Michigan at www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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Weekly fishing tip


 

From the Michigan DNR

OUT-fishing-tip-walleye-april2-2015webEarly autumn walleye – what you need to know

Targeting walleye in the fall can offer some of the best fishing of the season. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you target this sport fish in the coming weeks.

  1. In early fall walleye can be found in a variety of locations within the water body, including deep, shallow or anywhere in between. Keep that in mind and don’t stick to one depth range.
  2. If you’re out in the morning, check the areas where deep water meets the shallow spots.
  3. As the day goes by, start heading deeper, as walleye can be photosensitive.
  4. Don’t forget to try your luck during the nighttime hours. This can be a very productive time during the fall, especially along rock points and flat areas.

 This tip was adapted from Michigan Outdoor News. 

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Muskegon River walleye egg collection to occur this spring


 

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds Muskegon River anglers that Fisheries Division personnel will be taking walleye eggs below Croton Dam this spring.

The DNR plans to collect approximately 62 million walleye eggs from the Muskegon River in 2014 that will result in 13.4 million fry for transfer to rearing ponds throughout the Lower Peninsula. These walleye will be raised to fingerling size and stocked in late spring or early summer in lakes and rivers throughout the state.

Lake Michigan walleye populations in the Lower Peninsula depend on the fingerlings produced from Muskegon River eggs, as well as many inland lakes in the Lower Peninsula. The size of the walleye spawning run in the Muskegon River is presently about 40,000 to 50,000 each year. DNR crews will strip milt and eggs from approximately 700 adult fish, which will be returned to the river, except for 60 that will be sent to Michigan State University for fish health testing.

“This adult population consists of mostly stocked fish,” said Rich O’Neal, fisheries biologist for the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit. “The Muskegon River has the largest run of walleye in the Lake Michigan watershed south of Green Bay.”

The DNR plans to collect walleyes with an electro-fishing boat beginning as early as the week of March 24 and concluding by April 15. Eight days of fish collections are planned during this period. The actual date when collections will begin depends on water temperatures and the presence of ripe fish. This schedule can change on a daily basis for many reasons, but it is anticipated most work will be completed during the last week of March through the second week of April.

Sampling using electro-fishing usually begins each day at Croton Dam at about 8:30 a.m. and proceeds downstream to the Pine Street access site. If more eggs are needed, additional collections may occur downstream to the Thornapple Street access site.

Egg collection and fertilizing is conducted at the Pine Street access site, about 2 miles downstream of Croton Dam. This process generally begins between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. The public is welcome to observe how the eggs are removed from the fish and fertilized before they are packed and shipped to Wolf Lake and Platte River state fish hatcheries.

Anglers who wish to avoid the walleye collection activities should fish downstream of the areas of the river previously noted. The DNR asks anglers to exhibit caution when fishing near the electro-fishing boats. Wading anglers will be asked to exit the water when the boat approaches to ensure anglers’ safety during the electro-fishing work. The DNR appreciates angler cooperation during this critical egg take operation.
Learn more about fisheries management and fishing opportunities at the DNR website www.michigan.gov/fishing.

 

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DNRE returning walleye fry production to historic levels


The Department of Natural Resources and Environment has begun gearing up to return hatchery production of walleyes to historic levels.
The DNRE plans to take some 50 million eggs this spring to produce fry for pond-rearing and direct stocking, an eight-fold increase over the last two years.
Since 2006, the DNRE has cut back on most of its walleye rearing activities because of the presence of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) in the brood-stock waters. Now, after several years of testing, a technique has been found to disinfect walleye eggs and prevent spreading VHS. As a result, the DNRE will now resume large-scale rearing and stocking of walleyes.
“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have cut our walleye fry production,” DNRE Director Rebecca Humphries said. “But the specter of bringing VHS into our hatchery system or transferring VHS to new waters was just too risky. The ecosystem is constantly changing and our management practices must change with it. We are pleased that an effective treatment for walleye eggs against VHS has been found and we’re ramping up our production accordingly.”
The DNRE expects it to take two years to return to full production of walleye fry. A number of the rearing ponds, which have been idled for the last several years, are in need of maintenance before they can be brought back on line for production.
Nonetheless, the DNRE expects to produce at least 80 percent of the total capacity for walleye fry in 2011 and be back to full production in 2012. For more information, visit http://www.michigan.gov/dnrfishingwww.michigan.gov/dnrfishing.

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