Muskegon Lake growing biggest walleye yet
Written by Muskegon Chronicle   
Saturday, 06 January 2007 18:16

She's the biggest walleye ever caught in Muskegon Lake, and scientists think her siblings and cousins might get to be bigger yet. Scott Hilliard, of North Muskegon, landed a 15.56-pound female walleye while fishing with his friend, Jeff Powers and his father, Steve Hilliard last week.

Hilliard's trophy catch is the largest documented walleye ever taken from Muskegon County waters, and is among the five heaviest walleyes taken from Michigan waters in more than 50 years.

Ray Fadely's state record walleye of 17.19 pounds, taken from the Pine River in 1951, still stands. But there is reason to believe that if this record is to be broken, it could happen on Muskegon Lake.

"The adult growth rate of Muskegon Lake walleyes is well above the state average," said Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries biologist Rich O'Neal. "In fact, the current growth is as high as it has ever been."

O'Neal said there are three factors that influence the growth rate of walleyes.

"These are the number of fish in a given area, weather conditions and the available forage base," said O'Neal. He said there isn't yet an overpopulation of walleye in the lake, the stresses of an iced-over lake haven't occurred yet, and there are plenty of feeder fish available right now.

Another factor to consider with Hilliard's fish is this huge female would have had more than two months of feeding and egg development before heading upriver to spawn in the early spring. With a length in excess of 34 inches, there was a possibility that this fish -- fully fed and full of even more eggs -- could have eclipsed Fadely's state record.

Over the last 18 months, there have been three documented walleyes taken out of Muskegon Lake that have exceeded the 15-pound mark; since 2004, only one other lake or river has produced a walleye that large. In fact, no other body of water in Michigan has produced more than one documented walleye in excess of the 15-pound mark.

"We had no idea what this fish weighed," said Hilliard, after describing the terrific tussle she put up. "I thought it had to be at least 12 pounds, maybe 13, but I didn't want to exaggerate."

Later that evening, the fish tipped the scales at Adam's Angler Archer at more than 151/2 pounds.

"After checking the scale a second time, I knew that this was the fish of a lifetime," said Hilliard.

The next day Hilliard had his trophy weighed at Drummonds in Ravenna. The walleye had a certified weight of 15.56 pounds and was 34.12 inches long.

Did Hilliard catch the biggest walleye swimming in Muskegon Lake?

Odds are that he didn't.

The previous Muskegon Lake record (15.25 pounds) taken by Scott Ruiter of Muskegon in 2005 stood up less than 20 months and Ruiter has said he's convinced he lost a bigger walleye recently.

Muskegon Lake can never be compared to Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay and Little Bay de Noc when it comes to walleye numbers, but as a trophy fishery Muskegon County is near the top of the list.

How long Hilliard's record will stand is anyone's guess, but veteran walleye anglers are convinced bigger fish are out there.

But anglers should take a lesson from Hilliard's experience: Have a net handy that's up to the task of handling a state record fish.

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