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Spring walleye netting season exceeds goal

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ spring fish spawning season is over and Iowa’s two walleye hatcheries are filled to capacity. Netting crews collected enough walleye to produce 1,116 quarts of walleye eggs at the Spirit Lake hatchery and 914 quarts at the Rathbun hatchery.

“Our goal was to collect 1,774 quarts of walleye eggs to produce 158 million walleye fry that we can stock in Iowa lakes,” said Jay Rudacille, DNR warm and coolwater fish culture supervisor. “We collected 2,030 quarts which is over 14 percent more than our goal.”

Walleyes were caught at East and West Okoboji lakes, Spirit Lake, Storm Lake, Clear Lake and Rathbun Lake from April 4-11. The effort from all the lakes combined collected more than 249 million eggs.

Fisheries staff netted over 2,800 walleyes on Big Spirit Lake, East Okoboji Lake and West Okoboji Lake in seven nights.  Roughly half of the walleyes caught were female.

The Spirit Lake Hatchery also cultures muskie and northern pike. DNR personnel collected 171 muskies to provide eggs for hatching. Northern pike were netted from Spirit Lake and Diamond Lake, producing 1.62 million fry, most of which have already been stocked.

“We collected over 300 quarts of egg this year from Storm Lake,” said Ben Wallace, DNR fisheries biologist. “While this didn’t beat Storm Lake’s record of 641 quarts collected last year, it’s the most eggs we’ve collected in such a short amount of time.” 

With the other hatcheries doing so well, efforts at the Storm Lake ended after just six nights, compared to last year’s 10 night effort.

Anglers will find higher numbers of larger fish in Storm Lake. “The large year class of fish we have been seeing has put on more growth,” said Wallace. “Our average length of the females has increased by an inch, which is substantial.” 

With little natural reproduction by walleye in Iowa, walleye populations rely heavily upon stockings.  Walleyes are stocked throughout Iowa into natural lakes, interior rivers, flood control reservoirs, and selected larger man-made lakes. 

The DNR plans to release more than 158 million walleye fry in late April and early May. While the majority of walleyes are stocked as fry, some are cultured in Iowa DNR hatcheries and stocked at different sizes.  Over 1.1 million two-inch walleyes are expected to be stocked into lakes, rivers, and streams across the state this summer.  Larger 6-9 inch fingerlings (more than 340,000) will be stocked in lakes later this fall.

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