In our April 27, 2018 report, we wrote about the very strong year class of walleye produced in 2013 in Lake Winnibigoshish. We reported that the strong 2013 year class occurred during a late spring, not unlike the one we experienced this spring.
At that time we knew that through analysis of test data, the Grand Rapids area fisheries staff had come to believe that there is a likely correlation between a late spring and a strong year class of walleye.
Well, a few weeks ago the 2018 DNR Fisheries assessments on Lake Winnibigoshish were conducted and the results are very promising to say the least. It now appears not only likely that there is a connection between a late spring and strong walleye year class, but that the 2018 year class could turn out to be one of the strongest in Lake Winnie history.
The term “year class” refers to walleye recruitment; the spawning, hatching and survival of young walleyes that go on to survive as catchable fish. Year class strength varies from year to year and that’s why we experience “ups and downs” in the overall population of mature fish.
During mid-summer, DNR Fisheries Staff conducts tests by establishing 6 separate locations where small, young of the year fish are captured by seines, fishing nets that hang vertically in the water with floats at the top and weights at the bottom edge. The ends of the nets are drawn together to encircle the fish, which are then identified and counted.
Fisheries staff conducts two separate “seine pulls” at each location, timed one week apart. The timing is important because once hatched; tiny fish immediately go to the surface as they are attracted to light. It doesn’t take long before the wind distributes the small fish around the edges of the lake. As walleye age, they begin to leave the shoreline, moving toward deeper water. In fact, during this 2018 assessment, fisheries staff captured 80% more walleyes during the 1st week than they did during the 2nd week.
Thankfully, we were invited to volunteer, joining the crew as they conducted this year’s assessment. Not only did we see amazing numbers of young walleye firsthand, but it was amazing to see how many other species of fish coexisted in the shallow water. There were 16 separate species of fish identified in one haul, including everything from minnows to muskies.
For walleye anglers, the highlight of this assessment are twofold; young of the year walleye were counted at incredibly high numbers and the growth rate of the fingerlings is phenomenal. The highest individual “seine pull” was 400 young of the year walleye. At 4 stations, 8 “seine pulls” combined to produce more than 700 young of the year walleye.
Even better news than the high catch rate was the growth rate of these young walleye. At the time of the testing, their length averaged 4 inches, also phenomenal for that early in the summer and it is this robust growth rate that may be the help needed to put this year class off the charts.
That’s because winter survival is crucial to producing a strong year class, the larger the fish grow before the lake freezes, the better their chances of survival will be.
“I’ve got my fingers, and everything else crossed” said Gerry Albert, DNR Large Lake Specialist. “There are still some hurdles that have to be crossed, before we can count on a strong year class, but all of the early indications report to a potential Super Year Class of walleye in Lake Winnie.”
Nobody can predict the future, and we’re not trying to. But at this point it is definitely fair to say that we, along with DNR Fisheries Staff are “Cautiously Thrilled” with these 2018 preliminary population assessment results.