Wisconsin Walleye Initiative coming to a lake near you
Not a ripple was visible on the fish rearing ponds at the Art Oehmcke Fish Hatchery in Woodruff last Thursday morning, but that changed fast when employees started draining the water and corralling the 7- to 8-inch “large fingerlings” that will make their way into area lakes in the next few days.
This project is part of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative which is a two year, $13 million dollar project that was adopted into the state budget this past June. The money will be used by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to expand stocking of larger walleye in bodies of water all over Wisconsin. These larger fingerlings are expensive to produce but survive better.
The Initiative will also allow the DNR to contract with tribal, state and municipal hatcheries to grow more walleyes for stocking. “The big cost in getting the walleyes to this size is their forage,” said Steve Avelallemant, DNR northern district fisheries supervisor. “When the fish are smaller they eat zooplankton but as they grow they need minnows and those minnows cost a lot on money.”
Fishery personnel had to scramble this past spring to harvest enough walleye roe to fulfill the Initiative’s goals. “The walleye eggs we harvested all came from fish in Lake Tomahawk,” said Avelallemant. “We had to really work fast to harvest these eggs because the project went into effect in early spring. This summer we raised four times the amount of fry that we usually do to stock area lakes.”
Gary Muench, hatchery pond foreman, is in charge of overseeing the seven ponds that were used to raise the fish. “There are about 10,000 fish per pond,” he said. “We are raising two types of strains. One is a Lake Michigan strain and the other is the Mississippi Headwaters strain. The walleyes with these genetics have a much better survival rate in this part of the state.”
Smaller fingerlings in the two to four inch range were released in certain lakes earlier this summer. While these fish may have a lower survival rate, they are appropriate for certain lakes that provide these fish with adequate food and cover. “About the time the fish go from eating zooplankton to live forage is when we harvest some of the smaller fry,” said Muench. “That gives more room in the ponds for the remaining fish to grow bigger.”
Normally the DNR stocks 3 to 4 million smaller walleye and 60,000 to 70,000 of the larger fingerling walleye throughout the state in one year. This split in numbers was dictated by limited budgets because the smaller fish are cheaper to reproduce.
The ponds at the Art Oehmcke Hatchery are about a half acre in size and are lined with heavy plastic. Each one has pipes and controls that regulate the depth of each pond. To harvest the fish, workers don waders and take a large seine net and stretch it across the water. Then they slowly bring the net together corralling the fish.
Buoys and poles fit over the net to form a small holding area where the fish are scooped out by net and placed in five gallon buckets. These are handed up one by one to a waiting trucks that will transport them to area lakes. They are discharged into the water through a pipe coming from the holding tanks.
Throughout this process a few fish are taken out and measured and weighed. The fish harvested on Thursday ranged in size from 6 to 8 inches and weighed between .16 to .2 pounds. It takes about 113 days living in the rearing ponds to get the fish to this size. “The key to getting them into their new homes is speed and not too much handling,” said Avelallemant. “Once they are in the holding tanks on the trucks we move fast to get them to their new homes. The fish are released at boat landings and in areas where we can access shorelines with the truck.”
In the Rhinelander area those new homes will include parts of the Moen chain. There will be 4,600 fingerlings release throughout the chain itself, with another 2,400 released in Fifth Lake and 2,580 in Fourth Lake. There will be 1,985 released in Indian Lake. The Minocqua chain will get 13,600 and Lake Kawagausaga will received 6,700 fingerlings. Earlier in the week fingerlings were released in lakes in Florence and Forest counties and Vilas county lakes such as Little St, Germain, Little Spider, Long, Pickerel and Towanda will also be stocked.
According to Avelallemant the DNR makes a list of priority lakes that will be stocked every year, but in the past only the lakes at the top of the list received fish. “With this Initiative we will be able to go farther down that list and stock more lakes in the coming years,” he said. “Also this fall and winter we will be having meetings where the public can get involved and that will allow organizations like lake associations to talk about stocking in their lakes.”