Statewide Iowa — The short amount of time to capture 3,100 adult female walleyes did not stop the Iowa DNR from reaching the goal at Clear, Rathbun, and Storm lakes.
The 2023 season was one for the ages. DNR Warm and Coolwater Fish Culture Supervsor Jay Rudacille says that “Mother Nature provided incredible weather for a fast and furious spawning season.”
Rathburn and Storm lakes began netting operations on April 6th, according to the Iowa DNR, while Clear Lake started gill netting for walleyes on the 9th of April. The last night for netting at the three locations was a couple days later on April 11th, however the spawning of fish continued as “green” females ripened in the hatchery.
Netting crews collected enough walleyes to produce 763 quarts at Rathburn Fish Hatchery, where crews at Storm lake spawned enough females to produce 631 quarts of walleye eggs. Clear Lake produced fewer at 356 quarts of eggs. The Clear and Storm Lake hatcheries transferred their eggs to the Rathburn and Spirit Lake hatcheries to be incubated and hatched.
Storm Lake and Clear Lake stations already provided over 85% of the walleye eggs needed to fill the Spirit Lake Hatchery by April 13, which was the timeframe that ice did not go off Big Spirit and East Okoboji lakes this spring. Because of the amount of eggs provided by the satellite hatcheries, only local teams needed to net for one day to collect enough muskellunge and walleye broodstock to meet egg quotas for the two species, and out-of-town crews were not needed to be called in to assist this season. The Iowa DNR says that hatchery staff believe this is the first time that the satellite stations provided nearly enough eggs to meet quotas prior to local lake netting.
Rudacille says that the goal was to collect 1,880 quarts of walleye eggs to produce over 162 million walleye fry, and that goal was exceeded, as the total walleye eggs that are being incubated are 1,891 quarts.
Mark Flamming, district fisheries biologist at Rathburn Lake says that “abundant 17-28 inch walleyes allowed (the DNR) to capture more than 1,300 fish in just 6 nights.”
The Iowa DNR says that it is typically difficult to catch a lot of big fish, but according to Ben Wallace, district fisheries biologist the walleyes with excellent size were collected in abundance at Storm Lake this year, and “Storm Lake’s walleye population is stellar right now and will likely remain that way for some time with the protection of the slot limit.” He says that with a repeat of good environmental conditions, a repeat should be seen next year.
The Iowa DNR says that Iowa is one of the top walleye fry producers in the United States, surpassed in annual production only by Minnesota. They say that walleye fry will be stocked into 31 public bodies of water and 13 watershed rearing ponds. More than 1.6 million two-inch Walleyes are expected to be stocked into lakes, rivers, and streams across the state of Iowa this summer, and more than 320,000 larger 6-9 inch fingerlings will be stocked in lakes later this fall.
Rathburn Fish Hatchery’s sole focus in the spring is collecting and producing walleyes, the Iowa DNR says that crews at Sprit Lake collect muskellunge, and northern pike, in addition to the walleyes. DNR personnel collected 257 norther pike, which produced more than 2.4 million fry, and a total of 141 muskellunge were collected, and are being held in the hatchery waiting to be spawned.