Michigans Walleye Stocking Program Going Strong
Written by MI DNR   
Thursday, 11 May 2006 14:30

As thousands of Michigan walleye anglers take to the water this spring, fisheries managers with the Department of Natural Resources are behind the scenes, working to ensure the fishery remains a vital component of the states water landscape.

When walleye fishing began gaining popularity among anglers in the 1970s, the Michigan DNR started developing methods to rear large numbers of young walleye and thanks to these successful efforts, this program is now well established. Currently, DNR produces 5 to 10 million fingerlings annually from fry stocked into rearing ponds and grown out to fingerling size, according to DNR Fish Production Manager Gary Whelan. Additionally, DNR directly stocks up to 5 million fry each year. While fry stocking is less expensive and simpler to do, it is much less dependable so both fry and fingerling walleye are used in the DNR stocking program to ensure success.

Today, walleye rank in the top three angling opportunities in Michigan, with bass and salmon, Whelan said. The stocked fingerlings complete most of their growth outside controlled conditions of a hatchery.

In fact, walleye spend less than a week of their lives in a hatchery setting. Each spring, adult walleye are netted from three areas of the state. The eggs are fertilized and then sent to either the Wolf Lake or Thompson State Fish Hatcheries where they incubate 18-21 days before hatching. Within a few days the walleye fry are placed in a special bath which marks their bones with a permanent mark, then transferred to one of 50 to 70 outdoor ponds located throughout the state.

The mark makes it easy for us to differentiate between hatchery fish and wild fish. The marking process leaves a stain in the bones of the hatchery fish that can be seen under a black light. This process gives us valuable information as to the percentage of fish in the overall population that are wild or hatchery-produced, Whelan added.

Many of the rearing ponds are owned by private groups, working in partnership with the DNR to increase walleye populations in Michigan. In early spring, specialists and cooperators fill the dry ponds then fertilize them to increase fingerling production. In late April or early May, the ponds are stocked with fry from either Thompson or Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery. In June and July, when the fish reach 1 ½ inches on average, they are ready to go to their permanent homes in rivers, inland lakes and the Great Lakes.

Walleye are the largest member of the perch family. They are challenging to catch, delicious to eat and provide a year-round sport fishery. In the spring, walleye congregate in shallow bay waters, where they seek out rocky areas and submerged bars. They prefer a water temperature of 55 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Walleye are carnivores, consuming large quantities of minnows, sunfish and alewives along with other small fish, burrowing mayflies and crayfish. Prime feeding times are in low light periods that include very early morning and evening, and night.

The average walleye caught in Michigan is three years old and weighs from one to three pounds. The state record walleye was caught in the Pine River, Manistee County, weighed over 17 pounds and was 35 inches long.

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