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Walleye netting season much later and less predictable this spring

This year’s unusually cold, late spring delayed walleye collection efforts to some of the latest dates in the history of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) walleye season.

“Mother Nature presented many challenges this year, but we still met our walleye egg collection goal thanks to the dedication and adaptability of our fisheries staff,” said Jay Rudacille, DNR Warm and Coolwater Fish Culture supervisor at Rathbun.

Crews are usually busy collecting walleyes at Rathbun Lake, Storm Lake, Clear Lake and Spirit Lake within the same couple of weeks in early April. This year, netting operations ended at Rathbun Lake on April 15, a week before netting started at the Iowa Great Lakes (East Okoboji, Big Spirit and West Okoboji) and Clear Lake.

Crews at Storm Lake ended their netting operations on April 24, much later than most years. They netted for three nights, had to stop for a week with the return of winter weather, and netted another four nights. “We usually do not have to stop netting due to poor weather conditions, maybe only taking off a night or two,” said Ben Wallace, fisheries biologist at Lake View. “Taking off a whole week in the middle of the walleye spawn is very unusual.”

 

“We collected over 100 quarts in a single day this year from Storm Lake, we have never done this before,” said Wallace.  He said the 2018 walleye egg collection was excellent at Storm Lake, totaling the second highest amount collected ever.

Ice went out on all three of the Iowa Great Lakes on April 29, breaking the previous records set in 1951. “All three of the Iowa Great Lakes have never gone out of ice on the same day before,” said Mike Hawkins, fisheries biologist at Spirit Lake.

Winter’s ice-covered hold on the Iowa Great Lakes limited walleye netting to East Okoboji Lake only. “Seven crews were ready to net here this year, but only two crews were needed with the persistent ice,” Hawkins said. Staff collected male and female broodstock walleye from the spillway between Big Spirit Lake and East Okoboji Lake.

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. 

Iowa is one of the top producers of walleye fry (newly hatched fish) in the United States, second only to Minnesota. The DNR will release more than 151.5 million walleye fry this spring. While the majority of walleyes are stocked as fry, some are cultured in hatcheries and stocked at different sizes.  More than 1.1 million two-inch walleyes are expected to be stocked into lakes, rivers, and streams across the state this summer.  An additional 340,000, 6-to 9-inch fingerlings will be stocked in lakes later this fall.

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