Walleye and Saugeye Management and Fishing in Pennsylvania
Prepared by R. Lorantas, D. Kristine and C. Hobbs
PFBC Warmwater Unit
2005 (stocking numbers updated after 2005)
Goal: Maintain or create robust sport fisheries through preservation and enhancement of essential habitats, judicious stocking, and through harvest management of wild walleye populations and populations maintained by stocking. Manage border-water walleye populations through cooperative inter-jurisdictional harvest management.
Walleye occur throughout Pennsylvania. Walleye were originally indigenous to the Ohio and Lake Erie Drainages in Pennsylvania. The Ohio drainage includes the Ohio River, Allegheny River, and Monongahela River drainages. Naturally sustained lake (lentic) and riverine (lotic) populations occur within these locations. It is believed that walleye did not originally occur in Atlantic slope drainages (Susquehanna, Potomac, and Delaware River drainages in Pennsylvania), however walleye have been widely stocked into the Susquehanna and Delaware River drainages for many years. Naturalized (self-sustaining) walleye populations now occur in the Susquehanna River and Delaware River drainages. Where walleye populations occur at low or modest densities and where habitats are expected to support greater densities, annual maintenance stocking takes place. Since 1975, Pennsylvania has cultured and stocked walleye fry and fingerling (Table 1). All walleye originate from wild collected brood fish from Pymatuning Lake or Lake Wallenpaupack.
Fisheries for saugeye, a fast growing, inter-specific hybrid between walleye and sauger are sustained though stocking and harvest management. Stocking is necessary to maintain populations of saugeye in waters where fisheries exist (put-grow-and-take-fishery). Saugeye are typically cultured by Fish and Wildlife agencies outside of Pennsylvania for stocking within Pennsylvania. Fry derived from culture operations are provided to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in exchange for fish routinely cultured in Pennsylvania. Saugeye fry are reared to fingerling size at Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatcheries. If received as fingerling they are directly stocked into waters as described in management plans. Saugeye survival and abundance has been observed to be greater in turbid reservoirs than that of walleye. Since 1984 fingerling saugeye have been stocked into several Pennsylvania waterways annually (Table 1). Saugeye not only exhibit fast growth but also exhibit survival that frequently exceeds that of each parent species. The saugeye hybrid is capable of reproduction and back crossing with each parent species so stocking is restricted to just a few reservoirs, where escape is unlikely, within the Ohio drainage. The Ohio drainage includes the Ohio River, Monongahela River, and Allegheny River drainages. This practice maintains the genetic integrity of native walleye and sauger within the Ohio drainage.
Sport harvest limits and stocking represent the most widely applied techniques used by fishery managers in Pennsylvania to sustain and enhance walleye sport fisheries. Walleye spawning is initiated in early spring when water temperatures reach 45°F. Incubation duration is dependent upon the influence of spring warming on water temperature. Walleye spawn in 2 to 3 weeks at temperatures of 45°F to 50°F. Sauger spawning occurs at similar times and temperatures, a characteristic that facilitates artificial production of the walleye-sauger hybrid.
Walleye and saugeye stocking by the
Fish and Boat Commission.
Saugeye stocking began in 1984.
Latest Stocking Information
For both walleye and saugeye, Pennsylvania maintains a closed season from mid-March through the first Saturday in May to accommodate walleye spawning. The minimum size limit for walleye and saugeye is 15 inches with a maximum of 6 in daily possession (combined walleye and saugeye). It requires in excess of 3 years for walleye and saugeye to attain the minimum size limit (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Average length of walleye, saugeye, and sauger
Biologists in assessment gear in Pennsylvania (March - June).
Lake Erie’s regulations have been more restrictive than statewide regulations, although in 2006 they are the
same as inland regulations. With respect to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania is one of 5 jurisdictions involved in managing the
walleye fishery. A healthy walleye population on Lake Erie is sustained by cooperative annual sampling and stock assessments
that allocate a total allowable catch to each of 5 jurisdictions (Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario, and Pennsylvania).
Each jurisdiction is responsible for regulating harvest such that they do not exceed their catch allocation. In 2006
Pennsylvania will maintain catch compliance with a 15 inch minimum size limit and 6 fish creel limit with strict
limits on commercial harvest. It requires 4 years for a walleye to attain that length
in Pennsylvania (Table 2). A closed season is maintained from mid-March through the first Saturday in April to restrict
harvest during walleye spawning.
Table 2. Average weight and average age of walleye and
saugeye at a given length (March - June).
With respect to Pennsylvania’s inland waters, many are stocked with walleye to sustain good fishing. Why are some waters stocked and others not stocked; some stocked with fingerlings and others stocked with fry? All stocking plans originate from sampling and assessment of individual waters by fishery biologists. Biologists examine habitat suitability, forage fish density and presence of other gamefish predators. These characteristics guide biologists in making stocking decisions. Not only do they guide stocking decisions, they also guide the lifestage (fry vs. fingerling) to be stocked. Penn State Cooperative Fish and Wildlife researchers have found that densities of zooplankton in reservoirs and lakes in spring in Pennsylvania explain in excess of 80% of the variation in survival of fry (Peterson 1997). Although zooplankton production varies annually in Pennsylvania reservoirs and lakes, waters that characteristically yield good fry survival have been identified and biologists allocate fry to those lakes.
Why don’t walleye sustain themselves in all Pennsylvania waterways in which they naturally occur? Many rivers supporting walleye populations are adjacent to large human population centers and have been affected by human activities over time that have lead to some impairment of walleye habitats, consequently to maintain fishing quality stocking is necessary. Additionally, many man-made habitats such as reservoirs or dams on rivers represent changed or altered habitats such that stocking is necessary to maintain quality fishing at those locations. It should be noted that in that in the past decade improvements in water quality, an essential habitat component, have lead to dramatic improvements in production of walleye within its native range. Lorson and Smith (2004) note presence of one fish species at Maxwell Dam on the Monongahela River in 1968; surveys in 2003 have record the presence of 26 species and numerous individuals of those species including walleye. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission supports continued improvements in water quality that enhance sportfishing.
Catching walleye and saugeye can be accomplished from the shoreline or from the deck of a boat. Both casting and trolling are popular methods. A live minnow or night crawler alone, or in combination with a spinner, or jig is effective. Productive artificial baits include crankbaits spoons or spinners. Some boat anglers employ sophisticated depth controlled trolling with downriggers, planar boards, and diving planes. Whatever your bait choice, waters identified on our GIS map will enhance your success. In addition surveys carried out by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission illustrate the number of fish caught per angler hour in medium reservoirs (Fig. 2), large reservoirs (Fig. 3) and rivers (Fig. 4). These graphics indicate that catch rates are highest in spring and fall on large reservoirs and rivers, resource categories where walleye are most abundant.
Figure 2. Average catch per angler hour of walleye from medium size Pennsylvania reservoirs. Angler surveys of waters containing saugeye do not exist.
Figure 3. Average catch per angler hour of walleye from large size Pennsylvania reservoirs. Angler surveys of waters containing saugeye do not exist.
Figure 4. Average catch per angler hour of walleye from Pennsylvania rivers.
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