Researchers at the Wisconsin DNR are looking for answers as to why walleye populations are declining in the state.
DNR Research Scientist Gretchen Hansen says adult walleye numbers are declining statewide by an average of two percent per year.
“So there’s a lot of variability. So in some lakes, populations are going up, but in the majority of lakes populations are going down. And a lot of that is driven by failed recruitment, so failed reproduction.”
Heading into the second weekend of fishing season, conditions look slightly more favorable than they did for the opener.
Mel’s Trading Post Owner Mitch Mode says more and more lakes are opening up.
“Well things are looking better, we’ve had some warm weather this week, we’ve had some rain. Rain certainly helps break up the ice. Warm weather starts to drive the water temperature up, and everything comes around water temperature.”
That temperature affects fish spawning cycles, and that affects what fish do and where they can be found.
Fish hatcheries in Mole Lake and Lac du Flambeau will be getting money from the DNR to raise larger walleye fingerlings. It's part of a round of grants to nine hatcheries statewide totaling $2 million.
The Wisconsin DNR wants to stock lakes with bigger walleye fingerlings, because they have higher survival rates. This round of grant money will pay for infrastructure like ponds and tanks….that will allow hatcheries to raise more of those 6 to 8 inch fingerlings.
The state Natural Resources Board has authorized the DNR to take emergency steps to protect Wisconsin’s fish supply. The move comes after Wisconsin’s Chippewa tribes declared they’ll reserve a record number of walleye in the spearing season.
Wisconsin’s six Chippewa tribes plan to spear up to 63,000 walleye this spring - five thousand more than last year. As Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission spokesperson Sue Erickson explains, typically tribal members only take about half of what is declared.
While the next several days outdoors are all about things white tail, the DNR recently said the first year of the Walleye Initiative has been a success.
After the legislature came up with more funding to improve state fish hatcheries and programs earlier this year, the DNR announced the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative, aimed at stocking larger fingerlings in state waters.
The DNR's fisheries director Mike Staggs talks with Ken Krall:
The larger fingerlings are in the 6 to 8 inch range, which biologists say gives the young walleyes a better chance to grow to maturity.
The DNR is looking for public input on walleye stocking. State officials are holding a meeting in Rhinelander next week.
It’s one of a series of meetings where the DNR is hoping for feedback on its walleye management goals. Steve Hewett from the DNR’s fisheries program says it’s also a chance to talk with the public about which lakes are stocked and why.
A changing climate could bring one piece of good news for walleye fishermen.
A study out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison says increasing temperatures in Lake Superior will expand habitat for fish that thrive in slightly warmer water, like walleye, Chinook salmon and lean lake trout. Researcher Jim Kitchell says that means populations of certain fish in Lake Superior could increase in coming years.