Posted by Phil Lilley on February 28th, 2013
The popularity of Bull Shoals’ walleye has only increased in the past 25 years, especially with the number of residents who have moved here from northern states. During this period MDC has made walleye a priority species in the lake as we’ve established minimum length/daily limits and increased stocking rates. Also, both MDC and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) are sharing information and working together to maintain and improve this fishery.Written by A.J. Pratt, MDC Fisheries Biologist
Since the mid 1980’s MDC and AGFC have consistently stocked walleye into Bull Shoals. On average MDC stocks approximately 352,000 fingerlings per year while AGFC typically stocks closer to 200,000 fingerlings per year. Depending upon the availability of surplus, the lake may receive more than 600,000 fingerlings in a given year.
Our typical stocking process involves collecting broodstock from the Forsyth/Pothole area of Bull Shoals in mid-March. Once collected from the lake, most male and female are sent to the hatchery to be later returned to the lake after the spawning process. Sometimes while at the lake, eggs are collected from “flowing” females and fertilized by a few of the numerous male walleye collected. Traditionally, broodstock collected from Bull Shoals produce enough fingerlings to stock Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes. However, there are times both lakes receive surplus fingerlings reared from Lake of the Ozarks broodstock.
Once fry develop they are stocked into rearing ponds where they feed on plankton. Usually, by early to mid-May the walleye fingerlings are close to two inches in length and become cannibalistic. At this time the fish are harvested from the ponds.
MDC stocks fingerlings into the most fertile areas of the lake (Beaver Creek, K-Dock, Big Creek, and Theodosia) and normally stocks them in deeper water, away from the shoreline. These methods provide fingerlings the highest abundance of plankton and other food items while reducing the likelihood of being eaten by sunfish swimming the shoreline. Sometimes walleye become stressed when they are harvested from the ponds and transported to the lake, resulting in the death of some fish from each tank. When this happens, those fish are usually flushed at the shore and are not taken out to deeper water (I believe one of the contributors witnessed this happen). However, recent surveys have resulted in increased numbers of juvenile walleye, indicating our stockings are having a positive impact.
Numerous studies have been conducted by agencies to determine whether stocking more, smaller fish or fewer, larger fish results in higher survival of stocked fish. A number of factors come into play, such as the exceptional cost of minnows to feed walleye fingerlings, ponds needed to raise other fish species (i.e. catfish, sunfish) which spawn later in the year, lower survival rates of fish held over in shallow ponds during hot summer months, costs for hauling larger fish, benefits of getting fish into the natural environment as soon as possible, etc. Overall, MDC and many other agencies have found stocking the two-inch fingerling provides the greatest benefit:cost ratio.
In a recent study our stockings contributed to 60% and 99% of the young walleye in the lake, in years with “normal” water levels (2005 and 2007), respectively. During high water years (2004 and 2008), natural reproduction dominated and our stockings contributed only 11% and 12% of the respective year class. During the entire study period our stockings, on average, contributed to 43% to the young walleye in the lake.
The Bull Shoals population has a varied genetic background and has mostly originated from stocks in northern states. There is a remnant of the “river” fish, but it is a very small percentage. The northern strains are more easily raised in a hatchery system. The “river” strain has proven exceptionally more difficult to raise; with typically very poor results to show for the effort invested. I do not believe we would have our current fishery if we were solely dependent upon the “river” fish.
Overall, I believe the Bull Shoals fishery is in good shape. We continue to learn more about the fishery and are always look for ways to improve it. We will run into bumps along the way (2011 fish kill and natural swings in the population), but the future looks promising.
If you have any additional questions regarding our walleye program or the Bull Shoals fishery, feel free to contact me. If you see us at the lake, do not hesitate to come by as I will be glad to talk to you about these or any other fishery related issues. Good luck with your fishing!
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