The Fergus Falls DNR fisheries crew is preparing for the annual Walleye egg take at Walker Lake Hatchery. The hatchery is located at the inlet of Dead River to Walker Lake and has been operated since 1974. It is one of 12 seasonal, cool water hatcheries operated by the DNR in Minnesota and only one of two spawn take sites to collect Red River strain walleye eggs. Walleyes are the only species of fish raised at the Walker Lake Hatchery.
Unfortunately, Walker Lake Hatchery will be closed to the public this spring due to COVID safety protocols. Walker Lake Hatchery has historically been open to the public to view the egg stripping process and tour the hatchery. Public tours of the hatchery have been very popular in the past and even a tradition for some families. Hopefully, hatchery tours can resume in the future.
In April, when water temperatures in Dead River approach 45 to 50 degrees, Walleyes make a spawning migration from Otter Tail Lake into the river. DNR fisheries crews place a large funnel-shaped net into the river to capture walleyes as they move upstream. Approximately 5,000 male walleyes and 1,000 female walleyes will be captured over the length of the spawn take. Each day, eggs are stripped from the female walleyes and are fertilized with sperm from male walleyes. Eggs are then transferred to the hatchery where they are placed in “hatching” jars and the incubation process begins. Egg stripping continues until the annual quota is reached. About 400 quarts of eggs are collected and hatched each spring. Each quart consists of approximately 135,000 eggs. Eggs are held in jars at a water temperature of 54 degrees. After about two weeks, eggs will begin to hatch. The baby walleyes that emerge from the eggs are referred to as a fry. Newly hatched fry are about the size of a mosquito. About 70% of the eggs will successfully hatch into fry. Walleye fry are stocked within one day of hatching. It is important to stock them soon after hatching as they need to feed to ensure survival. Fry eat tiny organisms that live in the water called zooplankton. Fry survival depends on numerous environmental variables, including suitable water temperature and the amount of zooplankton available.
Walker Lake Hatchery produces about 30 million Walleye fry on an annual basis. Approximately twenty-three million fry are stocked into lakes with public accesses. Another 7 million are stocked into shallow rearing ponds where they will grow into fingerlings. The 2021 fish stocking proposal for the Fergus Falls fish management area identifies 50 lakes to be stocked with walleye fry. Some of the lakes to be stocked with fry include Blanche, Buchanan, Dead, Lizzie, North and South Lida, Orwell, Star, Pelican, East Battle, Prairie, West Leaf, North Turtle, Anna, Swan, and Fish by Weetown.
For questions or comments concerning local fisheries resources, contact MNDNR Fisheries at 218-671-7931 or e-mail at email@example.com.
Steve Kubeny is a Fish and Wildlife fisheries specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.