Published April 06, 2012, 12:00 AM

Walleyes, northern pike, perch begin spring spawning runs

The weather has a big impact on how fast the spawn for the various species of fish progresses in the spring. The cool temperatures right after the ice went out on the lakes this year had most of the fish in a holding pattern. Now that the temperatures have begun to warm, walleyes, northern pike and perch have started to spawn in most of the lakes in the Bemidji area.

By: Paul Nelson, Bemidji Pioneer

The weather has a big impact on how fast the spawn for the various species of fish progresses in the spring. The cool temperatures right after the ice went out on the lakes this year had most of the fish in a holding pattern. Now that the temperatures have begun to warm, walleyes, northern pike and perch have started to spawn in most of the lakes in the Bemidji area.

The walleye egg stripping station in Cutfoot Sioux on the northeast corner of Lake Winnibigoshish has been collecting walleyes as they run up river to spawn. Most of the walleyes were not “ripe” when they were captured in the nets, but the warming water temperatures should ripen the females quickly and get them ready to drop their eggs.

The DNR workers will strip the eggs from the female walleyes and put them into containers along with the milt from several male walleyes. A special mud is added to help firm the eggs and the mixture is gently stirred with a feather and then brought to the hatchery to incubate.

Once the walleye fry hatch, they will either be stocked directly into the lakes or put into ponds to grow to fingerling size. The fingerlings are netted from the ponds in the fall and put into lakes where it has been determined that fingerling stocking is more successful than stocking fry.

River spawning walleyes are often a week or two ahead of the walleyes that stay in the lakes to spawn. Having walleyes spawn in both rivers and lakes helps ensure more walleye fry will survive and increase the chances for producing strong age classes of fish naturally, without the aid of stocking.

Lakes with high populations of crappies and sunfish often have better success stocking walleye fingerlings. By stocking fingerlings instead of fry it is possible to reduce the amount of predation on the young walleyes and increase survival rates.

Anglers will need to purchase 2012 fishing licenses to continue fishing Minnesota waters after April 30 when the 2011 licenses expire.

Anglers have the option of buying a walleye stamp along with their fishing licenses. The funds raised by the walleye stamps are earmarked to stock walleyes in Minnesota lakes and the money can’t be used for any other purpose.

Anglers wanting to support stocking more walleyes in Minnesota lakes should buy a walleye stamp. Anglers have the option of paying a little extra and receiving the actual walleye stamp, which has value as a collectable.

Perch is another species of fish that will spawn almost as soon as the ice is off the lakes. Perch move into the shallows and seek out standing weeds to lay their eggs. Perch lay their eggs in strands on top of the weeds to help keep them off the bottom and provide good circulation around the eggs as they incubate.

Once perch have finished spawning, many of the larger females will immediately move into deeper water where they will recover from the spawn before resuming their normal feeding patterns.

Male perch are less impacted by the spawn and will often stay in the shallows to wait for any late arriving females and resume normal feeding patterns much sooner than female perch.

Northern pike often begin spawning before the ice is all the way off the lakes. Northern pike like to spawn in backwaters and will often make spawning runs into flooded areas or into smaller creeks and streams. Northern pike like to run all the way into backwaters to spawn, which in high-water years may mean that some of their young get landlocked as the waters recede.

Crappies and sunfish spawn much later in the spring when water temperatures reach close to 70 degrees. They are not in the shallows to spawn in the spring. They are there to feed.

Crappies and sunfish will seek out the warmest water in the lakes early in the spring. These areas include shallow dark bottomed bays, inlets with warm water flowing into the lakes, necked-off areas, boat harbors and anywhere else that warms significantly faster than the rest of the lake.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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