Pictured above are walleyes that were collected by the DNR during a walleye population estimate survey on the Chetek Chain in May.

Results from the spring netting survey on the Chetek Chain of Lakes were released this past week by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the survey revealed a definitive increase in the walleye population estimates on Prairie Lake and Pokegama Lake. The spring netting survey was conducted back on May 2–5 and was the first walleye population estimate survey taken on the Chetek Chain since 2012.

Six years ago, the DNR estimated that the walleye population on both Prairie Lake and Pokegama Lake was at 0.5 adult walleye per acre—an adult walleye in this survey is a fish that measures 15 inches or longer, a fish that is sexable, such as 13-to-14-inch males, which are deemed mature fish, or fish whose sex is unknown but are 16 inches or longer in length. 

Fast-forward to 2018 and this year’s new data showed that the adult walleye density in Prairie Lake increased to 1.5 adult walleyes per acre—tripling the 2012 data. Pokegama Lake saw an even larger increase, jumping up to 2.2 adult walleyes per acre, which is more than four times higher than it was six years ago.

“Those are good numbers for a stocked population lake, but not great. The Chetek Chain seems to be one of the better lakes in response to stocking of large fingerlings in the area that I cover. However, naturally reproducing lakes typically will have a better adult-walleye-per-acre ratio than stocked lakes,” explained Aaron Cole, who is the fisheries biologist for Barron and Polk counties. “Take Red Cedar Lake (located in Barron and Washburn counties), for instance; it has 4.2 adult walleyes per acre. But 2.2 fish per acre in Pokegama Lake is still pretty good; and it could potentially get better. Sure, there are walleye lakes in eastern Wisconsin where you see 10–20 fish per acre, but those are completely different water systems. Lakes with higher fish densities typically have smaller fish. You don’t see as many 25-to-28-inch walleyes in those lakes like you would in the Chetek Chain. 

Cole agreed that the large fingerlings that are stocked  annually into Chetek’s six-lake chain from Walleyes for Chetek—since 2002— and the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative—in 2013, 2015 and 2017—have helped boost the walleye population in recent years.

However, this is not the first time the Chetek Chain of Lakes has boasted strong numbers in relation to adult walleyes per acre.

The 2018 survey numbers are fairly similar to the survey numbers taken in 2001, which showed that Prairie Lake had an adult walleye density of 1.8 walleyes per acre, and Pokegama was the exact same as this year’s survey at 2.2 walleyes per acre.

Cole noted that the Chetek Chain could level off around two adult walleyes per acre, but as more large fingerlings are stocked, the walleye population estimate could also increase to as much as three adult walleyes per acre.  

Regardless of why walleye population decreased from 2001 to 2012—stocking successes, low natural reproduction, changes to habitat, overharvesting, fish kill, etc.—the numbers show a steady increase of walleyes over the past six years. Not to mention, the DNR’s surveys are beneficial for future lake management and comparison to past years. Plus, the DNR is not quite done surveying the Chetek Chain either.

“This fall, we will be electroshocking again (on the Chetek Chain) and looking for walleyes that are age 1 (those hatched in spring 2017) and age 0 (those hatched in spring 2018). We want to see if there has been any natural reproduction this past spring, as well as the stocking success from past couple of years. Fish are most vulnerable from age 0 to age 1, so it will be interesting to see how those classes of fish are doing specifically.” Cole said.

Hopefully, the DNR’s fall survey yields a fair amount of naturally reproducing walleyes mixed in amongst the stocked fish. But for now, the future remains bright for walleye population in the Chetek Chain of Lakes.

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