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Fishing Lines - Stocking lakes helps maintain the resource

Fish stocking programs in our state have helped maintain our fishing resource. Minnesota receives heavy fishing pressure from both in-state and out-of-state anglers. The restocking programs have helped bodies of water that have poor natural reproduction continue to be viable fisheries.

In our area, we have observed and experienced the obvious success of the Musky stocking program. Sturgeon has been the current stocking craze. Because I am an admitted "walleye addict," I am, of course, more interested in the walleye stocking program.

This year created some concerns because of the extremely warm temperatures. Many of the walleye rearing ponds suffered significant losses of fingerling-sized walleyes. The state did end up meeting the stocking goal of 150,000 pounds of walleye, but some of the walleyes ended up being 1, 2, and even 3-year-old walleyes instead of the fingerling-sized walleyes that are usually stocked. The reason for the larger, heavier walleyes was due to the lack of winterkill in the rearing ponds and walleyes from previous years were netted out for restocking. The state was able to produce about 100,000 pounds from the stock ponds and then purchased 51,000 pounds from private stocking suppliers.

When I initially found out the state paid $18 a pound for the 51,000 pounds I was really disappointed at the high cost and assumed that maybe we as taxpayers were getting ripped off. I then learned that the purchased walleyes were all of the fingerling size and not the 2 or 3-year-old fish that the state had harvested out of its rearing ponds. That put a more reasonable price to the purchase. It takes about 20 fingerlings to make a pound, so we paid less than a dollar per privately purchased walleye.

The overall number of fished stocked was less this year than a typical stocking of fingerlings, but the flip side will be that many of the fish will be of harvestable size for fisherman in the next year or two instead of 3-5 years out. The survival rate will also be higher as the smaller walleyes have a significantly higher mortality rate.

One problem I have observed over the years is that when walleyes of the 9-13" size are stocked into a lake in the fall, they are aggressive feeders and stage on structure that makes them easily caught. Unfortunately, this leaves these undersized walleyes vulnerable to be harvested by fisherman that will keep them. I have also noticed that the "hot bite" for these small walleyes in the fall become a target for some ice fisherman also.

If you have been harvesting these undersized walleyes, please stop. Let them acclimate to their new environment and grow up for another year before you take a few home for dinner.

Fish that are able to reach maturity start contributing to the success of spawning activities and then in turn help maintain fish numbers in our system.

If you hook one of these smaller fish and it is bleeding bad you may as well keep it, as it is not as likely to survive release. If it is hooked deep, but not bleeding, cut the line and release the fish. Is the life and future of that fish worth your 20 cent hook? C'mon man, really! Let's do our part to be true sportsman.

By the way, putting back those 20-28" fish will also continue to help maintain our fisheries as they are the brood stock and primary spawning walleyes. For me, the 14-17" size are the best walleyes at the table. The size is plentiful; they cook up better than the big girls and taste better too!

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)