On the lake’s surface at the end of a fishing line, a splash and the flash of gold confirm the success. It’s a walleye, perhaps the most sought-after fish species in Minnesota.
For many anglers, moments like these are a direct result of skill, persistence and sometimes a little luck. But often, there is another important ingredient – fish stocking by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Without the process of taking fish eggs and putting the newly hatched fry or small walleye fingerlings into lakes, these fish generally could only be caught on large rivers and on 260 lakes predominantly in the northern half of the state. But after stocking, walleye can be found in around 1,300 Minnesota lakes.
“This spring we took more than 600 million walleye eggs. From those, 270 million fry were stocked in 277 lakes,” said Neil Vanderbosch, DNR fisheries program coordinator. “Crews worked in some pretty rough weather including snow this year during egg take. Falling temperatures delayed spawning activity and egg take for a few days, but in the end we met quotas.”
Despite the stocking effort, natural reproduction accounts for the majority of walleye caught and harvested by anglers in the state. An estimated 85 percent of all the walleye harvested in Minnesota result from natural reproduction, with most of these fish are pulled from popular walleye lakes like Lake of the Woods, Leech, Red and Winnibigoshish.
“While most walleye caught result from natural reproduction, stocking provides anglers throughout the state the chance to catch walleye on medium and small lakes,” said Vanderbosch.
Here’s a rundown of this year’s walleye stocking effort that started April 19 in Detroit Lakes and ended May 6 in Cut Foot Sioux in Grand Rapids and Pike River in Tower.
- Egg take sites: eight, located in waters that have naturally reproducing populations of walleye.
- Eggs taken: 5,205 quarts of eggs, or 631,803,214 eggs, about 350 quarts above average.
- 2014 stocking plan: 284 rearing ponds get 115 million fry and 277 lakes get 270 million fry.
- Lakes stocked with walleye (each lake usually every other year): about 1,050.
In all, the DNR stocks about 1,050 lakes that can’t maintain a walleye population through natural reproduction. Stocking usually takes place in lakes every other year, and about half of the stocking uses fry, which are newly hatched fish that are a few days old and about a third of an inch long.
To get the fry, eggs and semen are squeezed out of fish and combined in dishes of water. The resultant fry are stocked directly into lakes, and also into rearing ponds. When the fish grow to be 4- to 6-inches long, they are called fingerlings, and fingerlings from rearing ponds are stocked in the fall.
Factors like weather, habitat and winterkill are taken into account in lake management plans when planning where and when to stock fish.
“It’s no accident that anglers are never far from a walleye lake in Minnesota,” said Vanderbosch. “Fish stocking is a core function of the DNR because we know that well-maintained fish populations make for better fishing. And stocking is paid for by hunting and fishing license dollars.”
However, within each lake there is a stocking sweet spot. At a point, stocking more walleye fry or fingerlings does not mean more walleye in the future due to factors like habitat, the amount of forage fish for walleye, and the hungry-teenager effect – that is, young adults tend to eat more compared to older, larger fish. Competition for food between stocked fish can decrease fish growth, leading to decreased survival and ultimately fewer fish for anglers to catch.
“While our stocking program is successful, within each lake there’s an ideal range we aim for when we stock fish,” said Vanderbosch. “The bottom line is smart stocking means better fishing.”
Those who want to give additional support to walleye fishing can purchase the Minnesota walleye stamp wherever DNR licenses are sold. Proceeds from sales of the stamp, which is not required to fish for or keep walleye, are used to maintain and enhance Minnesota walleye fishing. The stamp costs $5, and the dollars flow into a dedicated account for walleye stocking.
Fish stocking is also not limited to walleye. The DNR rears catfish, muskellunge, lake sturgeon and northern pike in 12 warm-water hatcheries, and stream trout, lake trout, and splake in five cold-water hatcheries spread throughout the state.
To provide youth fishing opportunities, the DNR stocks bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, perch and walleye in numerous Twin Cities metro area lakes through the DNR Fishing in the Neighborhood program. See a list of recently stocked FiN waters.
For stocking information about individual lakes, enter the lake name on LakeFinder at the DNR Fish Minnesota page.