CPW’s 2020 walleye spawn canceled, but not all is lost for Colorado’s popular warm water sport fish
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado Parks and Wildlife called off its walleye spawning operation this year to follow proper social distancing guidelines, but just because there will be a one-year gap in eggs sent to the state’s fish hatcheries does not mean Colorado’s robust walleye populations will dwindle.
CPW utilizes three bodies of water in the state for its broodstock - Lake Pueblo along with Chatfield and Cherry Creek Reservoirs. Broodstock is a group of mature fish used for breeding purposes.
Each spring during the walleye spawning operations, CPW Aquatic Biologists, other staff and an army of volunteers set out to collect a goal of roughly 130 million walleye eggs to deliver to the hatcheries. Walleye have been stocked in Colorado’s waters since around 1949.
Aquatic biologists only spent two days on the water at Lake Pueblo (March 16-17), less than one full day at Cherry Creek (March 16) and none at Chatfield when the decision was made to stop the spawning operation to comply with social distancing guidelines established by health officials.
In that short period, an estimated 5.3 million fertilized eggs were collected from Lake Pueblo that were delivered to the Pueblo Fish Hatchery. Cherry Creek produced 1.2 million eggs, which were delivered to the Wray Fish Hatchery.
Last year, CPW stocked 66.5 million walleye and saugeye fry across Colorado and nearly one million walleye and saugeye fingerlings. Fry is the developmental stage of fish immediately after the larvae stage, at an age of less than a week from hatching. Fingerlings are young fish that have reached the size of about 1.2 inches in length.
Even though the state will not be taking enough walleye eggs to cover our waters for this year, aquatic biologists want anglers to know that they still will be able to enjoy productive walleye fishing the years to come.
“Our walleye populations in our recreation waters across the state are strong,” said CPW Aquatic Section Manager Matt Nicholl. “Stocking is just one tool that fish managers use. Missing a year-class stocked into these waters is not going to crash our walleye populations.”
The game plan for the eggs collected in this year’s limited spawning operation is to put them back into the brood waters to help maintain the valuable resources that ultimately serve as the supply chain for walleye across the state.
“We are going to focus on Lake Pueblo, Chatfield and Cherry Creek with the eggs that we did take,” Nicholl said. “We are going to stock 1.1 million fry in Lake Pueblo and then take everything else into fingerling production and those will then be stocked into Chatfield and Cherry Creek.”
The normal walleye spawning operation takes place over the course of three to four weeks and requires a number of people to be working in close proximity to each other. In a little cramped boathouse, a dozen or so crew members sort the slippery, wiggling fish into holding tanks. Then the fish make their way down an assembly line where, one by one, the female walleyes are massaged and stripped of their roe, or eggs, and the males of their milt, or semen, which are then carefully mixed in plastic tubs with filtered lake water.
The work goes on until the biologists reach their goal for fertilized eggs, the spawn ends, or the lake water temperatures rise resulting in too many other species being caught.