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Walleye Fishing

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Podcasts

Walleye Fishing .mp3 ( 1.17Mb) 4/23/07

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Steve Carroll:

Welcome to the DNR's podcast on walleye fishing. I'm your host, Steve Carroll, and with us today is Ron Payer, Chief of the DNR's Section of Fisheries. Well, Ron, why is walleye so popular among anglers?

Ron Payer:

Well, the fish itself has so many neat characteristics. They can get to be a big size. They're very attractive fish. They're very edible; people really like to eat walleye. There's kind of this mystique with the glowing eye that you see because they feed in low-light conditions. They're fairly abundant, although they're not real easy to catch. I think that combination of characteristics just is why walleye are the state fish.

Steve Carroll:

Why does Minnesota have such great walleye fishing?

Ron Payer:

Minnesota is blessed with about fifty-five hundred lakes that we manage for fisheries, and in about twelve hundred of those lakes we have walleye in. What walleye require are windswept beaches for natural reproduction. We've got an abundance of those. We have the big walleye factories like Red Lake and Mille Lacs and Winnibigoshish and Lake of the Woods, and these systems where you have the gravel and the good spawning conditions. Big, open waters are just ripe for excellent walleye populations. We also have a lot of other lakes that can sustain good walleye populations. They're pristine, good water quality, good habitat, but they don't have the rubble that you need for natural reproduction, so we stock those waters, and we can provide some very good fishing opportunities in those types of waters as well.

Steve Carroll:

Is there one key to maintaining healthy populations for walleyes?

Ron Payer:

I would say there's two; they kind of lump together. If we don't have good water quality and good aquatic habitat, we won't have sustainable fisheries. And so those are kind of the key; we've often said that good fishing begins on the land, because wise land stewardship impacts the water quality, and that impacts your habitat, whether you do have the clear rubble that you need, the wave-swept beaches, you have aquatic vegetation to harbor the young fish. So those two, and they kind of come down to habitat, but those two are the key to good fishing in Minnesota, whether it's walleye or any other species.

Steve Carroll:

What is the DNR doing to maintain the walleye populations?

Ron Payer:

Habitat is a big key, and we're working with a number of people around the state in watershed organizations and sportsmen's groups. Obviously, we need the public's support and help and coordination to manage our fisheries, so we're looking at water quality, we're working on shoreland standards now. We do provide some habitat in terms of artificial spawning reefs, we're cleaning off the other spawning reefs. We regulate fishing in Minnesota. We have so many anglers, and so many good anglers, that keeping the average size up to a level that satisfies most anglers is a challenge. So we have regulations where we require the release of a certain size of fish, a certain size of walleye, and whether we do it by regulation or through voluntary catch and release efforts, we do need to return some fish to the water if we're going to retain the quality. We also have a very active stocking program, probably one of the biggest in the nation in terms of fingerling stocking; we provide fishing through stocking in about nine hundred waters around the state. So kind of a combination of habitat regulation, working with the public, to make sure that we value this resource and we take care of it.

Steve Carroll:

Let's talk a little bit more about the stocking process. How important is it, and how does the DNR determine what lakes get stocked?

Ron Payer:

It's very important on those waters that don't have good natural reproduction, and our managers go out, folks'll see them, see their nets in the water just about every three or four years on a given lake, and we do an inventory, a resource inventory, and based on that we determine whether or not a lake needs stocking. If it does need stocking, if natural reproduction is not good enough to sustain a fishery, then we'll either stock in two ways: we take walleye at about eleven spawning stations around the state, we strip the eggs, fertilize them and raise them to fry, they're about mosquito size walleye. And we'll either stock those fry directly into lakes, which works very well in some cases, or we'll put the fry into natural wetlands, and those fish grow over the summer to six to eight inches, and we stock at that point in time, and we provide or enhance fishing on about nine hundred waters that way. Fry stocking tends to mimic natural systems more, you have a better chance of kind of an "outstanding-er" class, the big boomer, bustier class, often times after winter kills old stock fry, very successful technique on Red Lake, on Leech Lake. Fingerlings tend to provide a more stable fishery, you don't have, because you're not putting in as many fish, you might not see the big boomers, but it provides a more stable fishery over time.

Steve Carroll:

I see. Well, what can anglers do to help maintain the walleye population?

Ron Payer:

I think selective harvest is a real key. I think anglers need to be conscious that as good as they are and with all the information and all the technology that's out there, that some of these fish need to be returned to the water if we're going to sustain a decent quality fishery. That does not mean that folks shouldn't feel comfortable in taking a meal home once in a while, that's what they're there for, they're excellent food fare. I think they should work to the extent they can in watershed organizations and lake associations to work on that habitat issue, make sure that folks are conscious of how important aquatic vegetation is, especially emergent vegetation around the shores, good water quality, working with folks on wise land use within the watershed, and just being conscious that we have excellent fishing in Minnesota, but the quality fish are a finite resource, and we should be conscious of that.

Steve Carroll:

And where would you suggest people go or turn to if they want to learn more about the walleye?

Ron Payer:

We've got an excellent website, www.dnr.state.mn.us, just a plethora of excellent information. They can tap into "lakefinder", they can learn a lot about individual lakes. Another outstanding source is if you look in the back of our fishing regulation books, there are phone numbers for each of our twenty-eight area fisheries office. Those folks manage about three counties each, they're knowledgeable, they do the surveys on these waters. Give those folks a call, find out what's going on in those particular areas, how they might get involved, how they might help us manage the fishery.

Steve Carroll:

All right, well, that's all we have time for today. I want to thank our guest, Ron Payer of the DNR's Section of Fisheries, and I want to thank you, too, for listening to this DNR podcast on Walleye 101. And again, for more information on Minnesota fishing, visit the DNR's website at www.dnr.state.mn.us. I'm Steve Carroll for the DNR.