Warmer temperatures and melting ice mean the annual walleye spawning operation on Fort Peck Reservoir is quickly approaching.
According to Heath Headley, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Fort Peck biologist, agency staff and volunteers will again be trapping fish and taking eggs from areas in the upper Big Dry Arm of the reservoir. But higher water levels may force part of the operation to be moved upstream toward Nelson Creek this year.
“Even though water levels are still rising, there is still only marginal depth near Nelson Creek,” Headley said. “It’s likely we’ll center things near McGuire Creek again.”
And volunteers, he added, are key to the operation. “We wouldn’t be able to set all the trap nets, collect fish, and spawn them on a daily basis unless we had help,” he explained. “Volunteers are the main reason this has been so successful over the years.”
Prospective volunteers who contact Headley at (406) 526-3471, EXT 206 will receive an information packet containing a self-addressed envelope and volunteer form, which must be completed and signed. Parents or guardians must sign the form for minors.
“On the form folks are asked to supply their preferred dates to volunteer, so they should list the dates they desire,” Headley said. “We will call to confirm the dates, so it’s important for folks to provide us with numbers where they can be reached both day and night.”
Headley said the spawning operation will begin as soon as the water opens up enough to move in boats and equipment. If all goes as planned, a small number of test nets will be set up the first or second week of April.
“If the test nets have enough ripe walleye in them to start spawning, we will begin a full operation immediately,” Headley said. “We plan on needing full crews from April 12 through the end of April, but we have gone into May in the past,” Headley said. “Anyone is welcome to volunteer the second week of April, but they should understand we will not be handling many fish. The main focus then will be on setting up the operation.”
FWP will supply waders, raincoats, and cotton gloves, but volunteers should bring the following:
· Warm clothing, preferably in layers;
· Food for cold lunches;
· Camera equipment.
Each day of the operation starts at 8 a.m. in the conference room at the Fort Peck Hatchery. FWP will provide transportation from the hatchery to the spawning sites and back.
Walleye spawning activity on Fort Peck Reservoir usually doesn’t pick up until the second or third week of April, and the peak typically takes place somewhere between April 18 - 21. Success of the spawn is heavily dependent on water temperature, which can fluctuate greatly.
Even though the reservoir’s ice cover stayed late in 2009, there was a rapid warming trend at a critical time during last year’s walleye spawn. Headley said those favorable conditions led to trap nets full of walleye and a very large egg-take in a short amount of time.
Last year a total of 7,011 fish were caught in trap nets from April 18-28. During this time, 1,740 walleye were captured with females averaging 8.5 pounds and males averaging 2.5 pounds. The biggest walleye measured was 14 pounds and 31.1 inches, but some of the biggest females were ripe and didn’t get measured.
FWP staff and volunteers last year collected 132 million walleye eggs. From those, 3.2-million fingerlings and 45.6-million fry were stocked back into Fort Peck Reservoir. Various other walleye waters throughout the state are also supplied with fish as a result of this annual egg-taking effort.