Spring work will benefit other waters in Utah too

WILLARD — Recent work at Willard Bay Reservoir will provide more walleye to catch at the reservoir in the future. But the reservoir north of Ogden isn't the only water that will benefit: anglers who fish other walleye waters in Utah will benefit too.

DWR biologists remove walleye from nets.

DWR biologists remove walleye from nets.

Photo by Chris Penne

Since mid-March, biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources have been catching walleye at the reservoir using nets and electrofishing equipment. Before they release the walleye back into the water, the biologists take the fish to shore to collect their eggs and milt (sperm). Chris Penne is the DWR aquatic biologist who oversees the fishery at Willard Bay.

"Seven days a week," Penne says, "rain or shine, a crew of professionals and volunteers has been netting and electrofishing walleye at Willard Bay. The process we use is fairly simple:"

Step 1 – After fish are captured, DWR biologists place the walleye in large holding containers that are filled with water. The containers are also fitted with oxygen diffusers. The diffusers keep the walleye healthy and happy on their ride to shore.

Step 2 – After the walleye arrive at shore, crews take the fish from the containers and collect their eggs and milt. After collecting the eggs and milt, biologists place the walleye back into the water-filled containers and take them onto the reservoir. There, the unharmed fish are released back into the water for anglers to catch.

Step 3 – The crews use the milt to fertilize the eggs. The fertilized eggs are then taken to the Springville State Fish Hatchery in Utah County. There, hatchery workers incubate and hatch the eggs.

Before they hatch, the eggs that will produce walleye for Red Fleet Reservoir in northeastern Utah undergo a special pressure treatment process. The process results in sterile fish that can't produce young. You can learn more about this fascinating process by reading a blog post on the DWR's website.

Workers at the Springville hatchery will use the eggs collected at Willard Bay to create millions of young walleye called fry. They hope to generate about 5.5 million walleye fry this year. The fry will include both fertile and sterile walleye.

Step 4 – Once the fry hatch and swim up from their eggs, they're ready for stocking. The fertile fish will go into Willard Bay where they'll reproduce as adults, providing even more walleye for anglers to catch at the reservoir in the future.

"Willard Bay Reservoir currently has an excellent walleye fishery," Penne says. "Our efforts to produce and stock walleye fry should make it even better in the future."

Penne says recent studies show walleye fry, which are less than 1/2-inch long when stocked, experience good survival in Willard Bay. "These fish can make significant contributions to the walleye population," he says. "Placing these fry in the reservoir should make walleye fishing at Willard Bay more consistent from year to year."

The sterile fish hatchery workers raise will go into Red Fleet Reservoir. Placing sterile walleye in Red Fleet will allow biologists to better control their numbers. Controlling the number of walleye is vital to protecting endangered and native fish that are in the Colorado River system downstream from the reservoir.

Fry that aren't placed in Willard Bay or Red Fleet will be stocked into other waters in Utah that have walleye, including Deer Creek, Yuba and Big Sandwash reservoirs. Some of the fry will also be donated to Idaho to assist the state with its walleye management efforts.