Though many lakes connected to the Pine River are frozen, the river is running free in many places, and the DNR is preparing to begin the annual task of stripping walleye of their eggs.
Due to lingering winter conditions, residents may wonder if the cold water temperature will impact fish spawning habits. DNR conservation officer Nikki Shoutz said it might, but not as much as you might think. Water temperature is not the only factor that triggers spawning.
“The actual run is triggered by light, and not just water temperature. They run pretty much the same time every year, which is usually right around now,” Shoutz said. “Then the DNR Fisheries will drop the trap net, separate the northerns and suckers, keep females in one crib and males in another until the water temperature gets warmer.”
Because daylight hours are steadily increasing, fisheries on Leech Lake and the Whitefish Chain are already preparing to collect spawn from fish in their respective rivers. Doug Shultz, Walker Area DNR Fisheries supervisor, said walleye in the Boy River usually begin to spawn when surface temperatures reach 50 degrees, but it may happen at even lower temperatures this year.
“We’re actually looking at trying to get started (this) week. We’re reaching the point where photo period, or hours of daylight, is going to start driving it and not water temperature,” Shultz said.
Likewise, Marc Bacigalupi, Brainerd Area DNR Fisheries supervisor, said they also plan to set up the walleye stripping station on the Pine River this week, though in previous weeks an ice floe was blocking the area where they usually install docks and cribs for processing the fish and spawn. It has since dissipated.
Bacigalupi said low water temperatures could delay spawning into early May; however, as suggested by Shoutz and Shultz, the days are getting long enough that the walleye will soon spawn in spite of temperatures.
“There have been years when we’ve seen delays like this. Even 2011 was a little bit of a late year,” Bacigalupi said. “We’re still expecting a good, significant egg take from the Pine River run.”
The Pine River spawning station has a quota of collecting 750 quarts of fertilized eggs to be distributed among 11 hatcheries. Each quart would contain approximately 125,000 eggs. Bacigalupi said 67 percent of those eggs will successfully hatch.
This station is one of eight in the state that collects walleye spawn, some of which will be returned to the Whitefish Chain.
Shoutz said, “The Whitefish Chain does get a good portion of those back. A lot of people don’t know that. One guy said, ‘I don’t like people taking our tuna’.”