PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) will not be conducting walleye spawning operations this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In mid-March, boats, nets, gear and fisheries staff were ready to trap-and-transfer fish and spawn walleyes,” said Geno Adams, GFP senior fisheries program manager. “Pandemic protocol limited field operations and now solitary work. Standard spring field work activities for fisheries, like walleye spawning and trap-and-transfer, require staff to work in close proximity and are not occurring this spring.”
Stocking hatchery-reared walleye fry and fingerlings is an important management practice that helps maintain walleye populations in many South Dakota waters, especially those waters where natural reproduction is inconsistent or non-existent. However, walleye populations in South Dakota are currently in excellent shape. This is due in part to the recent high water, which commonly coincides with good natural reproduction and survival of stocked fish.
“Ice anglers caught numerous young walleyes produced on area lakes in 2019,” said Brian Blackwell, GFP fisheries biologist in northeastern South Dakota. “We are in good shape and will be fine without stocking in 2020. This will be a good chance to see if natural reproduction will once again respond to increased water levels.”
Blackwell also stated that stocking fry and fingerlings following a year of strong production, like 2019, often yields poor results as the stocked fish simply serve as food for their older counterparts. GFP fisheries managers typically try to stock walleyes into lakes where numbers of adult fish are low, and recruitment of young walleyes has been poor for at least one or two years prior.
Last year’s high water likely benefitted northern pike and yellow perch in terms of natural reproduction, as ice anglers reported fast action for small fish of both species this winter.
Although the interruption of spring spawning activities pales in comparison with the other hardships inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, GFP hopes that the spring of 2021 will once again present an opportunity to head out to eastern South Dakota lakes and Missouri River reservoirs to spawn walleyes in order to collect eggs for Blue Dog State Fish Hatchery. Those hatchery-reared walleye fry and fingerlings will, in turn, be stocked back into our lakes and reservoirs.