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The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ spring fish spawning season is over and Iowa’s cool water fish hatcheries at Fairport, Rathbun, and Spirit Lake are filled to capacity.
“Our goal was to collect 1,858 quarts of walleye eggs to produce 149.9 million walleye fry that we can stock in Iowa lakes or raise to a larger size in hatcheries before being released,” said Jay Rudacille, DNR warm and cool water fish culture supervisor.
Walleyes were caught at East and West Okoboji lakes, Rathbun Lake, Spirit Lake, and Storm Lake from April 3-12. Netting crews collected enough walleyes to produce 1,093 quarts of eggs at Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery, 533 quarts at Rathbun Fish Hatchery, and 361 quarts at the Storm Lake satellite hatchery.
“In total, 1,987 quarts of walleye eggs are being incubated,” Rudacille said. “A true team effort allowed us to not only achieve our goal, but exceed it by 129 quarts of eggs.”
Netting operations returned to Storm Lake Hatchery this year. “It had been a couple years since we netted fish at Storm Lake with the hatchery closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020,” said Ben Wallace, Black Hawk District fisheries biologist. “We were happy to see high catch rates and quality size fish still there.”
While the sole focus at Fairport and Rathbun hatcheries in the spring is collecting and producing walleye, crews at Spirit Lake collect three species of cool water fish: muskellunge, northern pike and walleyes. DNR personnel collected 173 muskies to provide 1.5 million eggs for hatching to raise fish to 12 inches, as well as 207 northern pike that produced almost 850,000 fry to stock in Iowa’s shallow lakes.
“Outdoor recreation and fishing hit unprecedented levels last year during the pandemic,” said Mike Hawkins, Spirit Lake District fisheries biologist. “Our spring hatchery operations are a key part of maintaining healthy lakes and fisheries for all Iowans as use increases.”
Iowa is one of the top producers of walleye fry (newly hatched fish) in the United States, second only to Minnesota. While the majority of walleyes are stocked as fry, some are cultured in Iowa DNR hatcheries and stocked at different sizes. More than 1.2 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 311,000) will be stocked in lakes later this fall.
With little natural reproduction, Iowa’s 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.