STORM LAKE — After six late nights on the lake, the annual Department of Natural Resources walleye netting on Storm Lake wrapped up Tuesday night.
Nettings are also done on Rathbun, Clear Lake and in the Iowa Great Lakes. The goal is to collect enough fish to hatch 158 million walleye fry that will supply fish hatcheries and eventually stock lakes statewide.
Hatcheries are operating around the clock as workers bring in their nightly haul well past midnight. The eggs are removed from the walleyes each morning and the fish are returned to the lake where they were caught to make room for the next night’s catch.
Netting results indicate a big, healthy crop of walleyes on Storm Lake to await this season’s anglers.
“We had a really good year, with about 315 quarts of eggs collected in six nights. With the hatch rate, that’s enough to produce about 28 million fish,” fisheries biologist Ben Wallace said.
Last year the lake produced an all-time record 641 quarts of eggs out of Storm Lake. Because the hatcheries were empty, the DNR extended the netting much longer than usual. This year’s netting time was short, but the collection was on the same pace as a year ago. Netting was ended when the fisheries reached capacity.
“There have been only six times in 30 years that we have collected over 300 quarts from Storm Lake, and it’s never been done in so short a time,” Wallace said.
“The nice thing is that we are seeing the average length of our females increasing. This year the average was an inch bigger — it takes a lot to move the needle on average, so this is a big deal. Our fish in Storm Lake will be bigger, and from what we can tell there are a lot of them. They are certainly eating — we caught fish that had a tail sticking out of their gullet.”
Along with the walleye the DNR are looking for in the nets, they saw lots of catfish and common carp, some white bass, and some crappie, which they normally don’t see from Storm Lake. “A lot of people have said they have caught crappie through the ice this past season, and based on what we see in the nets, that population may be on the grow. People love fishing for crappie, so that’s going to make a lot of folks happy,” Wallace said.
The netting showed an adult fish population increase for the third straight year. The fisheries research crew will be examining data this year to evaluate growth rates and age structures in the Storm Lake fish population.
Plans are currently to stock about 13 million walleye fry on the lake this year, but this fall, a seine netting study will be done to see how many of those tiny fish survive to fingerling status of five to eight inches.
Normally about 30,000 8-inch fingerlings with higher survival rates are added to the lake in the fall to boost the population, and this can be raised or lowered depending on conditions in the lake. With the population looking so good this spring, the state wants to ensure that the lake isn’t overstocked to the point that fish exceed the food supply.
Catfish are stocked every other year, on even-numbered years.
Despite six long, cool nights on the water, the DNR crew departs the lake happy with their effort.
“There are a lot of fish here to be caught, and we hope the anglers get out there and enjoy this great lake,” Wallace said. “Storm Lake is a big contributor to our fisheries effort statewide.”
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