5/17/2017 10:28:00 AM Walleye lakes dependent on hatching, stocking
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
Well, the marvelous Minnesota walleye weekend party for this year is behind us. In case you haven't realized it by now, Minnesota is pretty much in love with our openers. Walleye, bass, dove, duck, deer, pheasants, turkeys; they've all become a part of our heritage if hunting and fishing is what you like. And, that's about half of us. If you had some success catching a few of those golden, olive-colored fish with the big side mounted eyes that get even bigger at night, you should probably thank some of the hard-working staff of five at our area fisheries headquarters here in Windom. It has happened that our Minnesota state fish no longer spawns naturally very well in most of our shallow lakes here in southwest Minnesota. (Actually, all across southern Minnesota). Exceptions to that would probably include Windom's Fish Lake, Talcot, Sarah and Lake Benton. Shetek and Round Lake east of Worthington would be examples of a few that have occasional natural reproductive success. All of the other 70 to 80 lakes in our southwest 10-county area depend almost exclusively on fish hatching in an artificial setting and subsequent stocking. Fishery science Gradually fish scientists and field observations have come to realize we have a very unique lake at the headwaters of the Upper Des Moines River drainage. That would be Lake Sarah, just on the west of Highway 59, about half way between Slayton and Marshall. Lake Sarah has a genetic strain of walleyes that seems to have adapted to the ever-changing environment of our agricultural region. They appear to be more prolific spawners, their tiny embryos survive better, and the young fish grow faster and bigger. Not much about that to dislike. 2017 results For the last three years our area fishery crews, with the help of five to 10 volunteers from local clubs, have collected female eggs (spawn) and male sperm (milt) from Lake Sarah walleyes. The fish are caught in large muskie nets set in the shallow, warming waters of spring. The spawn and milt are gently squeezed from the abdomen in a process called milking. Then the fish are released into the lake and safely return to deeper waters, their spring contribution completed. The spawn and milt are mixed together almost immediately and then transported to the fish hatchery at Waterville. In 2015 52 quarts were collected, in 2016 84 quarts and this year, 2017, an amazing 106 quarts. They will stay in the hatchery an average of 14 days. Then the tiny fish called fry are taken to area lakes on a rotating basis for a scheduled release. Some of the fry will be taken to walleye rearing ponds to be more safely raised to fingerling size. Examples of the 17 rearing ponds would be Warren Lake just north of Windom, Clear Lake, Maiden Lake, Carey and Summit. In the fall these fingerlings will be removed from the rearing pond and released in area lakes as scheduled. Fingerlings survive much better than fry so the Minnesota DNR is always trying to secure more rearing ponds. This year a new rearing pond has been established at the Round Lake south of Storden where County Road 13 passes in the middle. At that lake 375,000 of the fry have been released. With eight million fry taken from Lake Sarah this year our area fishing quotes were met plus 675,000 leftover for out- of-area stocking. An early ice out with gentle warming of shallow waters was responsible for most of that success. Plus, big walleyes with filled bellies from Sarah. This new fishing science that enables genetic testing using just a few scales is quite amazing. It should help reveal even more about the Lake Sarah walleyes and enable their strong reproduction and genetic traits to improve walleye fishing across all of southern Minnesota. Orioles are back We all like our brightly colored small birds. Nothing lights up a backyard feeder like a red cardinal. But the return of orioles is almost as great because they've been gone so long. Most people say they return around the fifth of May. This year I saw my first one on the sixth in Pope County at our cabin. Then on the eighth I had a female visit our home feeder here in Windom. It seems to me, unlike most other birds, that the female oriole arrives back a few days before the male. That is a contrast to robins where the male usually arrives back nearly two weeks before the ladies. Red head comeback I'm not writing about Eric the Red or Leif Ericson here, it's the red headed woodpecker not your Norwegian ancestors I speak of. Recently I was walking the river sidehill with Gary Olson near his home. He mentioned he had one of them at his feeder recently. Almost on cue one flew by. Then two days later I had a red head in my backyard and recently I've seen a couple more flying through the county. The last few years of excellent crop production also saw similar results in some of our wildlife. The rains did it!