Things are looking up for Keystone State walleye anglers this season. Here's a look at what biologists are doing and how things are shaping up for 2007. (April 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
At this instant, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is evaluating its walleye stocking program to determine the status of young marble-eyes -- stocked either as fingerlings or fry.
Are they surviving and growing at the rate they should?
According to Bob Lorantas, a PFBC fisheries biologist, the agency has initiated a review of its walleye-stocking program -- which, he said, will ultimately lead to greater evaluation of survival and returns to anglers.
Currently, the main study area is at Pymatuning Reservoir, a 17,088-acre impoundment in Crawford County in the Northwest Region. As it stands, Pymatuning Reservoir is stocked with fry-sized walleyes. The little fish are just three days old when they are put into their new surroundings. In 2003, Pymatuning Reservoir was planted with over 17 million fry. In 2004, 21.4 million were added to the lake, and in 2005, 13 million fry were stocked in Pymatuning.
Biologists want to know if fry-stocking is the best approach for Pymatuning, and possibly other waters -- or if walleyes of a different size should be stocked. In fact, the agency also plans to learn the extent of predation on young walleyes by black crappies.
"The (evaluation) process began with advanced walleye fry stocked into Pymatuning Lake in 2006," Lorantas said. "The evaluation represents a first step in (total) survival evaluation."
Pymatuning is well-known as a walleye hotspot. But of late, anglers have been complaining that the lake's walleye population is not up to its old standards.
"Here we are operating on the hypothesis that when black crappie populations become naturally abundant at Pymatuning Lake, predation upon walleye fry may limit survival of three-day fry," Lorantas said.
"Stocking advanced fry represents a method to make walleyes less vulnerable to the black crappie predation."
Lorantas noted that Leroy Young, head of the Ohio Division of Fisheries Management, began the stocking review.
"He wishes to enlist a process of continued evaluation and improvement to the walleye program in Pennsylvania," Lorantas said.
Knowing how the stocked walleyes are faring is definitely an important consideration, since the agency currently stocks over 100 waters across the Commonwealth. Of that number, about 20 are rivers or creeks, and the remainder includes lakes or ponds. In a typical year, the state stocks over 70 million walleye fry and 70,000 walleye fingerlings.
"Most studies show that warmwater and coldwater species grow faster in the wild as opposed to in a culture setting," Lorantas said. "Stocking juveniles into natural, albeit altered habitats leads to the greatest gains in growth. As would be expected, fish stocked as juveniles must endure the rigors of life in the wild, including predation, and not all will survive.
"The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has evaluated survival of a variety of sizes (life stages) stocked at a variety of times, at a variety of density levels, in a variety of water bodies and uses data from these evaluations to guide rearing and stocking procedures such that survival and resulting population levels are maximized."
Lorantas said that as of this writing, the state's fall fingerling collections from Pymatuning had not been processed to gauge survival of the advanced fry versus three-day fry, but the project is ongoing.
Pymatuning Reservoir is not the only water undergoing a walleye study. The North Branch Susquehanna River has the reputation of a fine walleye fishery, and a recent state survey confirms that fishing should be good, at least in the short term.
Robert Wnuk, Area 4 fisheries manager, concluded the annual assessment of walleye reproduction in the North Branch with both good and bad news. The bad news is that the study team was able to recover only 14 young-of-the-year (YOY) walleyes per hour. This is well below the 12-year average of 61 YOY per hour. And back in 2005, the survey team found approximately 125 YOY walleye per hour.
"Nevertheless," Wnuk said, "strong year-classes produced in 1999 and 2001 continue to provide quality fishing for large walleye."
The state team encountered walleyes up to 25 inches in their survey.
"And a strong year-class produced in 2005," Wnuk continued, "should be reaching legal size in 2007 and 2008."
Francis Slocum Lake in Luzerne hasn't been studied for a few years, but according to the latest PFBC report, anglers seeking to catch their limits of walleyes in northeastern Pennsylvania should consider a trip to the 165-acre impoundment within Frances Slocum State Park.
An earlier trap-netting survey confirmed that the lake's walleye population continues to thrive on the abundant alewife forage base. During the survey, PFBC biologists captured 95 walleyes ranging from 17 to 26 inches long, for a catch rate of 0.37 walleyes per trap-net hour.
Don't let the concern for walleye stocking put you off fishing Pymatuning Reservoir. A spring trap-netting survey by state biologists found a good number of adult fish and sizes to match.
According to Freeman Johns, Area 1 fisheries technician, 917 walleyes were captured in the late-March to early-April survey of 34 sites over 785 hours. Captured walleyes ranged in size from 8 to just over 28 inches in length.
"Legal-length fish made up over 98 percent of the catch," Johns noted, "while 71 percent of the fish were over 18 inches and 32 percent were over 20 inches."
Of the total number of captured walleyes, 82 percent were male, with an average length of 18 inches. The remaining females averaged 22 inches long.
"Ten years ago," Johns noted, "the average walleye in Pymatuning was 15 inches."
When the study team conducted its walleye survey, the fate of walleye stocking was definitely on biologists' minds.
"It is not uncommon for walleyes stocked in
a particular water to exhibit very high survival rates, such that walleyes from one or two year-classes predominate in the population," Johns said. "Those year-classes currently predominating in the (Pymatuning) population were largely derived from the 2000 and earlier year-classes. Because survival of more recently stocked year-classes have exhibited below-average survival, the number of smaller fish, below legal size, in the population is comparatively lower.
"The PFBC annually monitors survival of spring stocked fry in fall at Pymatuning Lake. Through that monitoring, the agency recognized the recent series of low survival years and took unprecedented steps in 2006 to stock marked advanced fry into Pymatuning Lake."
According to state records, a significant number of waters stocked with walleyes lie in the northwest corner of the Commonwealth. At the same time, a similarly significant number of waters in the Northwest Region exhibit the highest average night electro-shocking catch, based on biologists' studies.
Waters with high grades include Edinboro Lake, Shenango Lake, French Creek, Canadohta Lake and Woodcock Creek Lake.
Shenango Lake lies in Mercer County. At 3,500 acres, it stretches under Route 18 above Sharon. Its waters are practically weedless, which doesn't seem to bother the significant walleye population. Also, because the lake has large shallow areas, rainfall and heavy boat traffic often result in an overall brown color.
On one recent trip, I fished Shenango from the Clake Recreation Area and had good luck with a crankbait on the upstream side of the bridge and nearby riprap.
Shenango Lake is a flood-control project operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For a recorded message on lake conditions, including water temperature, call (724) 962-4384.
To reach Shenango Lake from Sharpsville, take either Route 846 or Route 18, both of which cross the lake and have nearby boat launches.
Heading up-lake toward the Shenango River, there is a large no-wake zone. In this area, the river channel winds back and forth beside an expansive flat. At normal levels, "flat" is less than 3 feet deep, but the narrow channel drops down to 12 feet. Many of the lake's veteran walleye anglers fish the edge of the channel.
Since 2002, Shenango Lake has been stocked with between 7 and 8 million walleye fry every year. In addition, the lake has received 36,000 walleye fingerlings every year since 2002.
When the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission lists stocking spots on creeks and rivers, it provides locations from one spot on the flow to another. In years past, the Shenango River was stocked in four areas, but in recent seasons, that has dwindled to just one. The only section on the Shenango now receiving a walleye fingerling stocking is 1.5 miles downstream of the Shenango Dam up to the mouth of the river. Since 1995, 19,000 walleye fingerlings were planted in this area each year.
Ironically, Pymatuning Reservoir, which is receiving all the walleye stocking attention, is not on the "high grade" list. But based on the number of anglers who fish it and the attention focused on 'eyes in the local press and in bait shops, walleye fishing is certainly important at this impoundment.
Last July, a PFBC survey team studied smallmouth bass on Dunlap Creek Lake near Uniontown. They weren't looking for walleyes -- but what biologists found might direct Southwest Region anglers to Fayette County.
They found bass, but also a number of legal-sized walleyes, many 15 inches or greater. In addition to walleyes, the team also found good-sized saugeyes, including one 28.3-inch, 13.2-pound specimen.
According to Gary Smith, Area 8 fisheries technician, the team recorded nine walleyes and eight saugeyes.
Dunlap Creek Lake covers 50 acres, with one boat launch. Motorized boats are restricted to electric motors only. The lake lies north of Route 21 on T-482.
Lake Somerset in Somerset County was studied in 2005 and biologists found good numbers of walleyes, though the number was down from the last study in 1995.
According to Smith, 81 walleyes were captured with trap nets and night electro-shocking gear. The majority of the fish were of legal size, 15 inches or greater.
The walleye catch in 2005 was lower than in 1995, but during the time of the 1995 survey, water temperatures were more favorable to capturing walleyes than in 2005.
"Walleye anglers were very successful at Lake Somerset in 2004, and quality-sized fish are still available. Eight of the 81 surveyed walleyes were between 24 and 29 inches," Smith said.
Since 1988, several management strategies have been implemented at Somerset Lake, including increased stockings of walleyes. In each of the last three years, the lake has received over 10,000 walleye fingerlings.
Lake Somerset is a 252-acre PFBC impoundment in Somerset adjacent to Route 219 in Somerset County. The lake has two boat launches, and motorized boats are restricted to electric motors only.
Southwest Region hotspots recognized by Lorantas as top waters, based on electro-shocking studies, include the Allegheny and Youghiogheny rivers.
Two Southeast Region waters show up on Lorantas' list of waters exhibiting the best electro-shocking survey results: Lake Galena and Nockamixon Lake.
Admittedly, the warm waters of the state's southeast corner are not the hottest region to go for walleyes. But both of these Bucks County lakes fare pretty well in walleye studies.
Lake Galena is a 360-acre impoundment in Peace Valley County Park. The lake is in Fountainville between Ferry Road and Route 313. While Lake Galena is relatively small, it does have three boat launches. Only electric motors are permitted.
To use 20-horse motors, travel to the much larger and deeper Nockamixon Lake near Quakertown.
At 1,450 acres, Nockamixon Lake has more of what a walleye angler is looking for, in terms of structure. Toward the lower end of the impoundment, the shores have steep, rocky sides, and the bottom falls abruptly into 30 feet or more. Walleye anglers often troll this section of the lake.
In spring, however, warmer waters flowing from Hay Creek and Tohickon Creek will make walleyes more aggressive. Outside these two feeder streams, the expansive bays are known hotspots for spring walleyes.
To reach Nockamixon Lake, take Route 476 to the Quakertown exit. Follow Route 663 east into Quakertown, where it turns into Route 313. Follow Route 313 to Route 563 to three launches on the northern side. O
r you can continue on Route 313 to the first left after the bridge, which is Three Mile Run Road. A launch site is on the south side of the lake.
Raystown Lake covers 8,300 acres. To find out how walleyes are faring at this large impoundment, PFBC survey teams study Great Trough Creek, a Raystown feeder stream, during the spawning period.
"Walleyes from Raystown Lake run up Great Trough Creek annually to spawn," said John Frederick, a PFBC Area 7 fisheries technician. "A one-night electro-shocking effort (last conducted in April 2005) provided a snapshot of Raystown Lake's walleye population."
Scales taken from the walleyes caught in this survey gave biologists insight into the age, growth patterns and annual recruitment of these fish. Other surveys conducted on the lake also provided additional information on this species.
"Walleyes have not been stocked into Raystown Lake since 1998. This seven-year period of no stocking will assist biologists in determining the walleye's ability to sustain itself through natural reproduction," Frederick noted.
During the Great Trough Creek survey, 36 walleyes were captured. The catch was comprised of 30 males from 18 to 27 inches and six females from 25 to 28 inches. The largest male was 27 inches long and weighed 5 pounds, while the largest female was 28 inches long and weighed 9 pounds.
Although male walleyes dominated the catch, the survey also included both gravid females (fish holding eggs) and females readily releasing eggs. This, Frederick said, indicated the temperature-driven spawning run was quickly approaching its peak.
According to biologist Bob Lorantas, one hotspot for walleye fishing in the South-central Region is Glendale Lake in Cambria County. The 1,600-acre impoundment shows up as seventh on Lorantas' list of waters exhibiting the highest average night electro-shocking catches.
Glendale Lake is in Prince Gallitzin State Park near Ebensburg. To reach the impoundment, take Route 36 south from Patton to state Route 1025.
Other noted waters in the region are Lake Marburg and the Juniata River.
Rose Valley Lake is a 389-acre reservoir north of Williamsport in Lycoming County on Route 15, six miles east of Trout Run.
To evaluate its population of walleyes, among other species, Fisheries Management Area 3 staff conducted a spring trap-net survey in 2005, using 10 trap nets. Catches were lower than expected, likely due to warmer water temperatures, the staff wrote. Only 12 walleyes ranging from 18 to 29 inches were captured.
However, a previous catch in spring 2003 garnered as many as 138 walleyes at Rose Valley Lake.
There are three public boat launches at the lake, which is restricted to electric motors only.
TO LEARN MORE
For additional fishing information on Pennsylvania's walleye management program, contact the PFBC in Harrisburg at (717) 705-7800.
For travel information, call 1-800-VISIT-PA.
Find more about Pennsylvania fishing and hunting at: PAgameandfish.com.