The walleye population is making a big comeback in Portage and Torch Lakes. Why you ask? The answer involves the resumption of stocking, a local angling group and the fading of a potentially devastating fish disease.
With the discovery of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) in Lakes Erie and St Clair, Fisheries Division of the Michigan DNR placed a moratorium on all hatchery walleye rearing in 2006.
What exactly is VHS? It is a viral disease of fresh & salt water fish that produces mortalities through internal bleeding, as the virus causes the bursting of capillaries. It can and did cause large-scale mortalities in Lakes Erie and St. Clair and several inland lakes in the LP. This was an extremely virulent strain believed to be of maritime origin, transported via an ocean freighter through ballast water. It can be spread by moving fish from one lake to another, moving bilge or live well water between lakes, stocking infected fish, ballast water transfer between Great lakes, and natural movement of fish between lakes. Presently, this strain of VHS is no longer of concern.
Therefore, no walleye were stocked in area lakes from 2005-2010. In 2011, the DNR resumed walleye rearing and has stocked 2.45 million fry (quarter-inch long) and 113,045 fingerlings (1 1/4 to 2 inches long) in Portage and Torch Lakes. The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) has also stocked 960,000 fry and 25,862 fingerlings.
Fingerling survival is 10 times higher than fry. The stockings will continue into the future. This summer reports are of good numbers of 11-16 inch walleye being caught.
The hope is to return walleye populations to a level where the Professional Walleye Tour will again bring a tournament to Portage/Torch, as they have in the past.
In February of 2011 a group of concerned local anglers formed the Copper Country Walleye Association (CCWA), of which I am proud to be a charter member, to assist the DNR in stocking walleye in area lakes.
In early 2013, the CCWA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with DNR to assist them with projects, including walleye stocking. To date they have provided financial assistance to buy fertilizer for walleye rearing ponds, helped harvest walleye from rearing ponds, cut brush on the Boston Pond Dam berm, stocked walleye fry throughout the Portage/Torch Waterway, collected fish for contaminant analysis from Torch Lake, and assisted in fish surveys, notably Gratiot Lake. They are not a bunch of couch potatoes!
They have about 100 individual and ten business members. If you are interested in joining, and are encouraged to do so, their next meeting is 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Monte Carlo in Hancock.
They also are active in recruiting young anglers. They assist the Chassell VFW in their winter ice fishing event by conducting the weigh-in and teaching young anglers techniques. They have a summer-long Thursday evening tournament on Portage and Torch lakes which is catch and release only.
Since 1998 AYA (anglers and young anglers) Fishing Tournaments were established to enable youth to fish in a friendly, competitive atmosphere and educate them in fishing methods. This is a catch and release tournament. No dead fish are weighed. Teams consist of two youth and one adult angler.
Each event includes a full day of fishing, followed by a weigh-in, prizes, awards and a barbecue. Winners from each local event are invited to the International Final held on Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario.
The CCWA has sponsored such a local event the past two years. The local event winner this year was Brent Leonard, nephew Cooper, and Brady Ketzenberger, with a five fish limit of walleye weighing 27.5 pounds. Second was Gerry Lucier and Trent Lawrence (26.6 pounds), while third went to Jim Baker, Daughter Lily, and Emma Oldt (24.5 pound). The winner received a 12-foot Lund with Mercury engine, a Shoreland trailer, and electric trolling motor. All three top finishers received trophies.
This year there were 19 local events in five Canadian Provinces and the states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, with 4,500 kids participating.
In August Brent, Cooper, and Brady traveled to Kenora, Ontario for the International Final. The format is two youth, one adult angler and a local guide. Lake of the Woods is a one-million acre plus lake, contains over 14,500 islands and is known as the walleye capital of the world. The results were drum roll please!
Brent, Cooper, and Brady finished fifth overall and second among USA entries with a six fish limit weighing 34.21 pounds, which included a 12-plus pounder. Brent has also won the Thursday evening tournament the past two years. One might call him a walleye whisperer, eh?