Walleye Stocking

How does the MN DNR’s walleye stocking program affect Dead Lake? 

To find out, the Dead Lake Association has sponsored free tours of the DNR’s Walker Lake Fish hatchery.  The hatchery is located 1.1 miles south of Basswood, MN.

Dead Lake groups have toured the fish hatchery and stood on the new platform dock that extends into the Dead River where the walleye netting activity occurs.  Several years ago, the Dead Lake Association contributed $500 towards the purchase of this new platform dock so that it could be used by tour groups to view the walleyes being captured.

The timing of this hatchery tour was critical because the hatchery only operates while the walleyes are spawning (mid-April through early-May).  Walleyes begin spawning when water temperature approaches 45 F. The main warm-water hatchery work begins in April, when DNR workers put out fish nets in the Dead River, located near the fish hatchery, to capture walleyes as they prepare to spawn.  The DNR staff strip the eggs and milt (sperm) from the captured walleyes and mix the two together. The fertilized eggs are then taken to the hatchery, incubated, and hatched. About two-thirds of the tiny fry are stocked a few days after hatching. The rest are reared over the summer to fingerling size (4-6 inches) in more that 200 rearing ponds (winterkill wetlands and lakes). In fall the fingerlings are netted and taken to lakes for stocking.

Annually, the Minnesota DNR stocked Dead Lake with as many as 3.4 million walleye fry.  These small, “mosquito” size walleye fry are stocked in Dead Lake every other year.  The Minnesota DNR stocks walleyes in roughly 900 lakes throughout the state. Not every lake is stocked with walleyes.  In Ottertail County, Dead Lake is second only to Otter Tail Lake in the number of walleye stocked.

The DNR has found that it’s much more cost effective to stock fry (mosquito-sized walleyes) than fingerlings (4 to 6-inch walleyes), so the DNR stocks fry most often. Sometimes a fisheries manager will stock fry in the spring and then check back in the fall to see what proportion survived to reach fingerling size. If not enough did, then supplemental fingerlings may be stocked that fall. The DNR conducts annual fall electrofishing surveys on Dead Lake.  The catch data from these surveys show that natural reproduction can and is, supporting a healthy walleye population on Dead Lake. 

It takes several years for the tiny walleyes stocked each spring or fall to reach 1 pound, or about 14 inches.  On Dead Lake it takes about 4-5 years for the walleye fry to reach 1 lb.

So, if you want to catch larger walleyes in Dead Lake then practice “catch and release” of the medium-sized and large walleyes so that they can reproduce naturally.  This is a great way to “recycle” walleyes and let someone else share the same excitement that you felt when you landed that big one!  A big walleye can provide a meal for the day or several anglers’ memories for a lifetime.  If you would like to help start an official “catch & release” program for Dead Lake, then contact Doug Martin, at 612-991-6230 or e-mail dmmartin2@earthlink.net for more information.

Although walleye stocking is a very popular topic with Dead Lake property owners, the DNR estimates that only about 4% of the annual walleye catch are “stocked” walleyes.  This percentage can be estimated due to the annual electro-fishing surveys conducted on Dead Lake by the DNR in the fall.  It’s roughly estimated that 96% of the walleye caught from Dead Lake come from natural reproduction.  Therefore, if we want to catch more walleyes, Dead Lake property owners must protect and restore fish habitat and water quality on Dead Lake.  Loss of fish habitat, water quality and increasing fishing pressure continue to be the biggest issues in walleye management – not whether walleyes are stocked in Dead Lake.  If you want more walleyes in Dead Lake then protect the fallen trees and aquatic “weeds” along your shoreline rather than removing them.

If you have questions or comments about this article or are interest in helping promote a “catch and release” program on Dead Lake, contact Doug Martin, Dead Lake Assoc. Board Member, at 612-991-6230 or e-mail: dmmartin2@earthlink.net