"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Walleye Hatching and Stocking
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

It was a raw March night in the late 1970s as the Division of Fish and Wildlife shocker boat skirted the east shore of Brookville Reservoir upstream from the dam. There were three or four DFW fisheries biologists in the boat and one very cold outdoor writer.

I, the shivering outdoor writer, had arrived at the DFW fisheries shack at Brookville a little after dark and watched in awe as two 20-foot, flat-bottom boats were hauled to a ramp on the east shore of the lake and made ready for action.

This included rigging the electrodes that dangled from long poles projecting from the bow of the boats, getting the nets and holding tanks ready, and starting the generator motors.

For several years walleye fry (very young fish), and some fingerlings from federal hatcheries had been stocked at Brookville and some other Hoosier waters. Now the DFW was getting its feet wet in the walleye production business. The DFW's walleye hatching/stocking program was on the launch pad.

Without doing a lengthy--and probably fruitless--search for the column I wrote about the experience, it would be next to impossible to recall the number of fish the two crews collected that night. But the biologists explained that they were taking both male and female walleyes--females for eggs, males for milt (sperm) for fertilization.

Back at the fisheries shack, a truly delightful building with facilities for both working and sleeping, the biologists would strip the eggs from the female walleyes into shallow metal pans, fertilize them by stirring in the milt with a turkey feather, and place them in glass jars with running water.

The next day, or soon thereafter, the jars of eggs would be transported to other hatchery facilities where the eggs would hatch in less than two weeks.

Nobody knows how many walleye fry and fingerlings the DFW's walleye hatching program have been stocked in Hoosier waters in the ensuing years. But the value of the ongoing program is reflected in strings of very respectable walleyes from such impoundments as Monroe and Brookville reservoirs in the south-central part of the state, and such natural lakes as Bass Lake, Lake Maxinkuckee, and Clear Lake in the north. But while these waters may be called our best walleye fisheries they are by no means the only waters that host old marble eyes. Kokomo Reservoir can be good.

Dan Jessup, who also serves as manager of the DFW's Cikana Hatchery at Martinsville, rides herd on the DFW's walleye egg-gathering and hatching program, says the walleye program usually nets about 40-million eggs per year (late in March or early in April) and that a 60 percent success ratio is about par for the program.

This translates into to 20 to 25-million walleye fry per year, with some being raised to fingerling stage for stocking in special waters. Fry of a fish species is the living organism soon after it is hatched. In reality, it is an egg with tail and mouth. 

Generally, some 10 to 15-million fry go back to Brookville, which must be considered one of our most productive walleye waters.

It would not be practical to list all Hoosier waters where walleye may be found. But for those who want to try their luck for this highly-prized species, the 2004 "Indiana Fishing Guide," free at most bait and tackle shops, shows many black dots in the "walleye" column of the "Where To Fish In Indiana" feature. Not all of these walleye fisheries are the result of the DFW's walleye program, but many of them are totally dependent on it. Hoosier waters do not offer a lot of natural walleye reproduction, although Jessup does not discount the possibility at Brookville.

Jessup says the walleye egg-gathering/hatching program has undergone some refinements over the years, most notably the replacement of shocker boats by gill nets, and plastic pans for the old metal pans. 

But the walleye eggs still are squeezed gently into small pans and the milt is stirred in with, of all things, a turkey feather . . . a wild turkey, we presume.

Incidentally, if you are thinking of wetting a line with walleye in mind in the next few weeks, you would be hard pressed to find a better bait/lure  than a big, juicy live night crawler drifted close to the bottom on a three hook harness with as little weight as possible (see March 2004 column on this website).

Click on thumbnail photo for enlarged view.

walleye.jpg (32052 bytes)
Dan Jessup, Cikana Hatchery Manager, hatches walleye eggs in jars.  (DFW Photo by John Maxwell)

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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