Leech walleye population appears to be on rebound
Written by Star Tribune   
Tuesday, 31 October 2006 13:16

Leech Lake anglers -- reeling from poor walleye fishing in recent years -- finally have reason to smile. The walleye population appears to be rebounding.

Good walleye reproduction occurred in 2005, and another strong hatch is thriving again this year, based on fall test netting by the Department of Natural Resources. The presence of back-to-back strong year classes means walleye numbers are abundant, an adjective not used in recent years when describing Leech Lake's walleyes.The perch population also seems to be on the rise, adding to the good news.
Walleyes that hatched last year -- including 7 million walleye fry stocked by the DNR -- now are in the 12-inch range.

"People are telling us they are catching them," said Harlan Fierstine, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Walker. That should give winter anglers some action, and it bodes well for next year, when those fish will be in the 13- to 14-inch range.

This year's walleye hatch also looks strong. Those fish are about 7½ inches now. Walleye numbers in the main lake have improved most. Throughout the lake, walleye abundance in the test nets increased from 4.9 walleyes per net in 2005 to 7.1 per net this fall. In the main lake, walleye abundance more than doubled from below 4.0 walleyes per net to nearly 9.0 walleyes per net.

The DNR stocked about 20 million walleye fry in the lake this year. Last year, 39 percent of the 2005 year class was attributed to stocked fish.

Cormorants to blame?

Cormorants have been a prime suspect in the demise of Leech Lake walleyes. And while the jury is still out, the evidence against them is building, Fierstine said.

In 2005, officials launched a cormorant-control effort, and sharp-shooters killed about 3,000 of the fish-eating water birds. This year, officials culled another 3,300 cormorants.
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