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August 20, 2013

Wisconsin Walleye Initiative underway to improve walleye fishing

LAKE MILLS - Good news for walleye anglers: state fish hatcheries have finished stocking the first of two waves of walleye to go out this year and the number of fish stocked far surpassed original estimates, state fisheries officials say.

Four state fish hatcheries equipped to grow "coolwater" fish such as walleye and musky sent more than 2.3 million walleye out the door earlier this summer, 560,000 fish more than originally expected.

These fish were 1 to 3 inches long when they were transferred into their new homes. They are the "small fingerlings" that DNR has traditionally stocked the most of because growing the fish to the "large fingerling" size of 4 to 7 inches would cost significantly more and exceed hatchery capacity, according to Mike Staggs, DNR fisheries director.

This year is different. In September and October, DNR will be stocking hundreds of thousands of the large fingerlings, made possible by the recently passed state budget that provided DNR more money to produce and procure larger size walleye for stocking.

Normally, DNR would stock 3 to 4 million smaller walleye and 60,000 to 70,000 of the larger fingerling walleye. But the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative allows DNR to hold back more fish instead of stocking them at the smaller size, and give them extra growing time. As a result, DNR will be stocking more than 400,000 larger fingerling walleye this fall and will be planning to produce and stock even more in coming years.

"The fantastic walleye production our hatcheries had so far has not only allowed us to stock more lakes with small fingerlings, but is now giving us a chance to stock as many large fingerlings as we can this fall," Staggs says.

The Wisconsin Walleye Initiative developed by DNR and Gov. Scott Walker aims to improve walleye populations statewide by producing more larger walleye for stocking in waters where it can improve walleye fishing.

"We'd like to thank Governor Walker for supporting this Initiative," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "Stocking plays an important role in maintaining our state's walleye populations, and we think this initiative will help improve walleye fishing in Wisconsin."

Research shows the best walleye fisheries are universally self-sustaining through natural reproduction and produce populations two to three times higher than those waters stocked even at the highest levels.

But stocking more of the larger fish is also the quickest way to increase walleye populations on the broadest scale. Recent research in northern Wisconsin lakes shows that the larger stocked fish survive better.

Stagg says the DNR is mobilizing to put the Walleye Initiative funding, available July 1, to work. Production of the larger walleye fingerlings at state hatcheries has increased, and DNR is drafting the rules and contracts that will allow the agency to buy walleye from private fish farms and provide competitive grants to build the capacity of tribal, municipal and private hatcheries to produce larger walleye for stocking as well, he says.

Banner production year at Lake Mills State Fish Hatchery leads the way

The smaller walleye fingerlings stocked earlier this summer in Wisconsin waters were hatched in May and raised in outdoor ponds at Lake Mills Hatchery, Art Oehmcke Hatchery in Woodruff, Gov. Tommy G. Thompson Hatchery in Spooner and the Winding Creek rearing ponds.

Lake Mills had its best production year ever, producing a total of 1,570,633 small fingerling walleyes, well up from the 1.1 million fish they expected to produce, says Jesse Landwehr, pond foreman.

He says the banner production year reflects some of the tweaks he and staff have been making to their propagation process over the years to improve it, and to ideal weather conditions when DNR staff drained the ponds to collect the fish to place in stocking trucks.

Overcast, cooler conditions meant the fish were less stressed when they were caught in the nets and placed in the trucks, allowing better survival.

Landwehr says the Lake Mills Hatchery was not only able to meet the "quotas" or requests they were responsible for meeting for stocked fish, but had surplus fish they were able to feed into the propagation system.

Ultimately, that meant more waters got more fish, and that stocking trucks in some cases didn't have to travel as far, saving gas money and staff time.

Also importantly, the banner production year also meant that Lake Mills had enough fish that for the first time, they could hold some of the small fingerling walleye longer to experiment with growing them larger on artificial fish food. They also were able to supply local cooperators the small fingerlings so the cooperators could raise those fish to the larger size.

That means that the Lake Mills Hatchery is joining the three other facilities in raising more large walleye for stocking in the fall under the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative.

Landwehr says the walleye growing now in outside ponds and also in tanks inside would be stocked out early in October at the large fingerling size.

Staggs says DNR fisheries staff and partners have done a great job in getting the walleye initiative rolling and encourages anglers and others to follow major developments through the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative web pages.

"Because of the late notice, things are hectic but we'll produce and procure as many large fingerlings as we can and stock them in as many lakes as we can," he says.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Staggs, 608-220-2609

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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