Being caught at Marion Reservoir with more than five walleye in a boat is usually a sure-fire way to get a ticket for violating state fishing regulations, but Craig Johnson got off scot-free Thursday, even though he had far more than five.
How many more? About 1.7 million, give or take a few.
Johnson, a biologist with the Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism Department fishery in Pratt, met up with game warden Cody Morris at Durham Cove to conduct the lake’s first replenishment of the popular sport fish since 1993.
“The overall trend of the population since that time has been a gradual downward trend,” Johnson said. “What I’m hoping to do with this is kind of throw a little boost into the population to increase the natural spawners we have in the lake.”
The reservoir is one of only a few lakes in the state with a self-sustaining walleye population, Johnson said, and regular stocking of other lakes has been supported by male walleye from Marion whose sperm has been used to fertilize eggs harvested from females.
Johnson and Morris headed out from Durham Cove in a flat-bottomed boat jammed with coolers, each containing a plastic bag containing about 83,000 tiny walleye just three or four days old. They scouted for places with the right conditions to release the fry.
“There’s a whole combination of factors that you really need to have come together for these fish to really take off and go,” Johnson said. “There’s a fine line between really good and really bad. The main thing with these is to get them to a place where they have something to eat.”
Shallow bottoms, ample cover, and warmer water temperatures that promote growth of plankton, the primary food source for young fish, should limit the loss of fry to about 1 percent, Johnson said.
Fishing guide Warren Kreutziger reacted positively to the news the lake was being stocked.
“Our population has been going down,” he said. “I was glad to see them stock them. It’s one of the more popular fish in Kansas.”
The reservoir had been a regular stop on the Kansas Walleye Association tournament circuit until a recent absence of three or four years, Kreutziger said. KWA came back last year, but poor weather conditions hampered fishing.
“Nobody caught much,” Kreutziger said. “With what they caught last year, I don’t know if they’ll be back this year.”
Marion isn’t in this year’s six-tournament rotation, but KWA president Ted Webster remained high on the reservoir’s walleye prospects.
“Marion has been a fantastic destination,” he said. “Just like all lakes they’re going to have their ups and downs. They’ve had good walleye fishing without the stocking. This can only help. It’s good for Marion, it’s good for the community. People want to go there, and if there’s fish to be had, people will show up.”
Webster, a three-time state champion, said the popularity of walleye fishing, with accompanying advances in technology and technique, has created challenges to maintaining stock.
“Harvest is the No. 1 problem,” he said. “Twenty years ago people didn’t know how to fish for the fish nearly as well. You just can’t keep harvesting fish and expect a smaller lake to sustain that pressure.”
He described a recent trip to Kanopolis Lake where he discovered about 50 boats with walleye fishermen packed into a small area.
“Word got out with cell phones that the bite was hot,” Webster said. “We have such heavy harvest rates. If a fish gets to 18 inches, it’s going in someone’s live well.”
The state is considering changes to length and creel limits to help walleye populations, but Webster said anglers have to be part of the solution by using careful catch-and-release methods.
“We as anglers and conservationists have to step up, too,” he said. “I just can’t stress conservation enough.”
Johnson said the fry stocked in the reservoir should grow to be about 10 inches by late October. Webster said it would take about three years for most to reach legal harvesting size.
“If we can make it better for anglers without negatively impacting other sport fish we’re certainly interested in doing that,” Johnson said.