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Published: Sunday, 11/8/2009

'09 walleye hatch, economy dive

So, the walleye catching wasn't all that good on Lake Erie this year, everyone knows the walleye population is cycling low, the economy stinks, and there is a lot of nervousness in fishingland.

The anxiety mostly would go away if the lake just would produce a couple of average hatches, back to back, to the stocking stock on sounder footing. But that's a mighty big "if."

Lots of suggestions are floating along the lakefront docks where most of the fishing boats have been pulled and stored for the winter. Almost none of the suggestions is without supporters and detractors. There are no magic bullets.

"I'm concerned," begins Jeff Tyson, Lake Erie fisheries research supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "Obviously we've had highly variable recruitment the last 10 years. What we're not seeing are average years back to back. That's what we need."

An average year for walleye hatches will put 10 million fish into the adult stock as 15-inchers two years after hatch. There was just such a hatch in 2007, but 2008 and 2009 fell flat.

The Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission each March sets the year's catch-quota for its members - Ohio, Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York.

This year the Ohio Division of Wildlife sought and was granted a change in its administrative code that allows it to set annual creel limits by May 1 rather than March 1. That at least will allow managers to base their decisions about creel limits on actual data from the LEC late each March, rather than having to guess months in advance what might occur.

Tyson said Lake Erie walleye creel limits have been standardized at four fish for March and April and six the rest of the year. But the new rules in the code include quota table that signal a change to lower limits if the lake's standing stock, estimated by the LEC, falls below 15 million and the state's catch-quota drops below one million.

"If we don't see an average [or better] hatch next year, or we get below 15 million fish, we'll see the quota-table come into play," said Tyson.

The catch-quota for 2008 was 1.8 million and the actual catch was 1.1 million walleye. The 2009 quota was 1.25 million and catch tallies are not yet complete. But Tyson said the 2009 catch "will be down from last year." The spring jig-and-minnow fishery was all but weathered out with lots of wind and resultant muddied near-shore waters.

When looking at remedies, the fisheries researcher said the most critical yet uncontrollable variable is weather during and after spring spawning. No matter what other plans or schemes are run up the flag pole, weather remains the ace overall, he said.

He noted one of the largest walleye classes on record, 1982, was spawned by standing walleye stock of just 18 to 19 million fish. That is right where the standing stock rests now. The other mega-year, 2003, emerged from a stock of 22 million fish. So it does not take 70 million walleye, where stocks once peaked, to produce super year-classes.

Ideally, what is needed is a fairly steady warming rate in the spring, with a minimum of mud-stirring northeast storms, which can suffocate eggs on the reefs under a layer of silt.

Beyond a good hatch, larval walleyes need enough food - microscopic zooplankton - to feed on, with more and bigger food items required each step of the way up to age two, when walleye are considered adult and reach minimum keep size, 15 inches.

Know too, state fisheries managers are as eager as anyone to see a stable walleye stock.

It saves them a lot of headaches in trying to explain reasons for low stocks and the inadvisability of many suggested remedies.

Tuesday: A look atsuggestions to bolster walleye stocks and a veteran fisherman's campaign.

Contact Steve Pollick at:

spollick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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