Walleye

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Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum vitreum) can be identified by their brassy, olive-colored back and sides and white stomach. They have no distinguishing features except for sharp teeth, whitish eyes, a dark spot on the webbing between the last three spines of the first dorsal fin, and a white tip on the lower portion of the caudal fin. Walleye belong to the perch family. They are known by many names including the pike-perch, walleyed pike, and jack salmon.

Typical walleye habitat includes clean or only slightly dirty water, with firm bottoms away from underwater vegetation.

Millions of walleyes make their spawning run every spring. From mid-April to early May, walleye spawn at night. Males will wait for the females in the spawning areas that are generally in clear water, with a little current, and areas that are one to five feet deep with a gravel bottom. Unlike many fish, they do not build nests, but are free-spawners. The number of eggs laid is dependent on the female’s body weight - 23,000-50,000 eggs per pound.   Normally 100,000 - 400,000 eggs are produced. Spawning may take up to three weeks. Afterward, both adults return to deeper water, offering no protection for the eggs. After 12- 18 days, the fry will hatch. Of the total amount of eggs laid, only five to twenty per cent will actually hatch. Reasons for not hatching include cold-water temperatures, heavy winds blowing them onshore and silt covering the eggs. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) reported that 1996 saw the most successful spawn in 10 years.

Walleye are carnivorous. The young will eat aquatic insects. As they mature their main diet consists of fish. Adults will reach an adult body length of 11-30 inches and average one to three pounds (18 pounds maximum).

In early Ohio history, walleye were found in Lake Erie and the Ohio, Muskingum, St. Marys, Auglaize, Mahoning, and Scioto Rivers. They were an important food fish to the prehistoric and historic Indians as well as early settlers. Moravian missionary David Zeisberger in the end of the 18th century reported "yellow perch" with "sharp teeth like those of a pike." The true yellow perch does not have sharp teeth, so it is most certain that he was referring to the walleye.

Walleye were still abundant throughout Lake Erie, and the above mentioned rivers, up to 1874. The 1885 commercial walleye catch from Lake Erie amounted to 1,401,200 pounds. From 1950- 55, the catch totals for both the United States and Canadian Lake Erie ports ranged from 1,000,000 to 15,000,000 pounds.

In the twentieth century, between 1925 and 1950, they were abundant only in Lake Erie. After the building of the State dam across the Scioto River south of Chillicothe, walleye almost disappeared from the river. After 1940, any found in the Scioto were considered "strays." With the construction of dams in many waterways, walleye populations decreased and few are now caught in their original streams.

By the 1960s, walleye populations in Lake Erie had begun to drop dramatically to just 162,820 lbs. in 1966. Commercial fishing for walleye in Ohio waters was banned in 1970.

ODNR raises walleye in several of their fish hatcheries, releasing them annually into Berlin, Hoover, Mosquito, and Pymatuning Reservoirs. In April 1999, 13 million were released into Grand Lake St. Marys as part of a three to five year introduction plan into the lake. Lake Erie populations rise and fall each year. In 2006, they released 9.3 million walleye and saugeye fingerlings into Ohio waterways.

Without a doubt, walleye are one of the most prized game fish in Ohio. Ohio’s 2003 sport harvest of walleye totaled 2,771,697 pounds. They are the most important game fish in Lake Erie. The lake is often called the "Walleye Capital of the World." Walleye are no longer harvested commercially but there are a number of charter boats that will take walleye fishermen out on the lake for a day or more fishing. During the 1980s and 90s, over three million walleyes are harvested each year throughout Ohio. Fisherman took 2.3 million walleyes from Lake Erie in 1998. July 1998, Lake Erie saw catch rates of .8 fish per hour, the highest recorded since the mid-1980s. The 2003 charter boat harvest saw a decline to just over one million walleye due to a decline in adult populations. In March 2004, ODNR, to protect immature fish, initiated a year round 15 inch minimum size limit.

The record walleye in Ohio was taken from Lake Erie in 1999. It weighed 16.19 lbs., and measured 33" long.

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