An Inside Look at Walleye and Saugeye Management in Ohio

Fisheries Management Technician Dan Wright removes fish from a net at Mosquito Lake in March. Walleye eggs are collected and fertilized then sent to three state hatcheries. The goal was to produce 800 gallons of fertilized eggs, which will turn into millions of fry and fry to store lakes and reservoirs in Ohio. (Matt Wolfe, Ohio Wildlife Division, photos)

For nearly half of March, biologists and technicians from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division spent their time fishing for walleye in Mosquito Lake. Their goal was to get more walleye — or, in some cases, sauger — to release there or in other lakes and reservoirs. But they also make a lot of fans.

Anglers are not permitted on the net boats but are encouraged to stop nearby and observe. And when the walleye arrive at the dock, where the eggs and sperm are harvested and combined, “they always draw a big crowd,” said Dan Wright, a fisheries management technician.

“We do a lot with education, including some school groups.”

Unless ice prevents it, net fishing usually begins around March 15th. This is when walleye come into shallow water, looking for suitable breeding habitat. For walleye, it’s a hard, rocky bottom.


Mosquito Lake Fishing Net
Beginning in mid-March, nets ranging from 60 to 150 feet long are placed on the east side of Mosquito Lake. The nets form a kind of fence near the shore where walleyes come to spawn, giving biologists the best chance of catching females ready to lay their eggs. (Matt Wolfe, Ohio Wildlife Division, photo)

Division staff have set up their nets in shallow water where they hope to find more females, as well as others ready to lay their eggs.

A single female can carry up to 150,000 eggs, Wright said. When spawning occurs naturally, there are multitudes of bachelors swimming around a female ready to spawn. What they do to get her to release her eggs almost feels like domestic violence.

“Biologists talk about rolling walleye,” Wright said. “The female swims higher in the water column, and then the males swim under her and smack her belly with their noses. They basically push her to the surface, and it looks like she’s rolling in the water.

Walleye are scattered spawners, he said. When the female releases her eggs, the males release their sperm. Eggs are fertilized almost instantly as they drift to the bottom. And then are totally ignored.

It’s very different from the breeding habits of, say, bluegill or bass. In these species, the females lay eggs in specific places and then the males guard them until they hatch.

Most walleyes prefer to spawn in places with a current, which keeps the bottom clean. There is no current in Mosquito Lake, but there is usually enough wind on the eastern shore to create waves, which have much the same effect.

At Mosquito, “we set up 16 nets ranging in length from 60 to 150 feet,” Wright said. “We placed them from the dam at the south end to the Route 88 causeway.”

Walleyes hoping to spawn come to explore the shallow waters near the shore, then are practically funneled into the nets. Wright and the rest of the walleye fishing crew go to Mosquito around 7 a.m. every morning to “run the nets,” he said.


They remove all walleye that have been caught and release everything else back into the lake. In terms of fish biology, everything else is called “bicatch”.

This year’s bicatch included crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch and various baitfish. But other years there were occasional muddy pups, “which made it interesting,” Wright said.

If they are “making pickerel” that day, staff will need to harvest both eggs and sperm. In this case, the captured male and female walleye are kept and put in tanks in the boat.

chris amen
Chris Amen places a female walleye in the tank while he and other fish biologists run the nets across Mosquito Lake. Male and female walleye are brought to the dock where state hatchery personnel collect and mix their eggs and sperm. (Matt Wolfe, Ohio Wildlife Division, photo)


“If we do saugeye that day, we only keep the females,” he said.

Saugeye are hybrids, the result of walleye eggs and sauger sperm. Walleye tend to spend more time offshore, while sauger are river fish.

Saugeye tends to do best in Ohio’s inland lakes, Wright said. And because they are hybrids, they grow faster and are more aggressive, making them popular with anglers. Saugeye are usually “made” for just a few days in the middle of the net fishing season.

That’s because the sauger that gave sperm was caught by electrofishing on the Ohio River about a week before net fishing began. Sperm were transported from a hatchery and could only be kept alive for so long.

The hatchery people needed an average count of female walleye to know how much sperm to bring.

Back on the boat, the biologists who find walleye in their nets press the belly of the fish a little to see if eggs or sperm come out. This is how they know whether the fish are male or female; in other words, which to keep and which to discard.

If the fish is a female, biologists press again to see if more eggs come out. If that doesn’t happen, she’s not “flowing” or ready to release the eggs, Wright said. She is then put back in the water, perhaps to be caught at a more convenient time.

Casey Bonpaster
Senecaville State Hatchery Superintendent Casey Goodpaster squeezes the belly of a female walleye to release her eggs. Using a quill pen to stir, he will mix the eggs with walleye or sauger sperm to fertilize them. (Matt Wolfe, Ohio Wildlife Division, photo)

The male and female walleyes are already separated in different tanks when the boats arrive at the dock. Then the hatchery people take over.

Fertilized eggs from Mosquito Lake are taken to three different state hatcheries: Senecaville, near Salt Fork; St. Mary’s on the eastern shore of Great St. Mary’s Lake, and Hebron, north of Buckeye Lake. All three are managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Hatchery staff on the dock start with female walleye, squeezing their bellies to drop the eggs into pans – just roasting and baking dishes you can find in any store. Each pan is filled with the eggs of several females. If it is walleye day, the male walleye’s bellies are pressed on the pans to squeeze out the sperm or milt.

This part is usually pretty easy because “male walleyes are like teenagers,” Wright said.

When the sperm lands on the eggs, hatchery staff stir the mixture with a quill pen. Why the goose? They are soft enough not to damage eggs, but strong enough for eggs and sperm to mix well, he said. If it is a sauger day, the sauger sperm from the hatchery is placed on the eggs and stirred. Again, fertilization is almost instantaneous, so five minutes of shaking is usually enough.

Then the fertilized eggs are put in water containing tannic acid, which removes the sticky layer on the eggs. In the wild, the eggs would be stuck to a rock with water flowing around it. In the hatchery, there could be up to 125,000 eggs in each one-litre jar, into which water is pumped.

“They don’t want the eggs to clump or stick together in the jars,” Wright said. “The water needs to circulate so the eggs can get nutrients and oxygen.”

Hatchery staff on the dock then add water to the fertilized eggs to harden them and form a protective layer. The added water comes from the specific hatchery where the eggs will be sent.


After that, the eggs are placed in an iodine solution to remove any contaminants.

Invasive zebra mussels can be found in Mosquito Lake, along with bacteria that can cause sepsis. “We don’t want these contaminants entering other lakes and streams,” Wright said.

The walleye net’s goal is to get 800 pints of eggs, which are split between the three hatcheries. Hatcheries also obtain eggs from walleye from the Maumee River. The eggs usually take two or three weeks to hatch, depending on the temperature of the water flowing through the hatchery jars.

About 80% of the eggs in these jars will hatch successfully, a hatch rate that far exceeds that of nature, Wright said. When the eggs have hatched, they are either bagged and sent to lakes and reservoirs as fry, or released into hatchery ponds to become fry.

Ohio lakes are stocked at 1,000 fingerlings or 200 fingerlings per acre. That means Mosquito Lake receives 7.2 million fingerlings and 1.4 million fingerlings, Wright said.

Without the efforts of the Division of Wildlife Staff at both Mosquito Lake and the Maumee River, “walleye and saugeye fishing would not exist in Ohio’s interior lakes,” he said. declared. “Thanks to these efforts, walleye and sageye will continue to be stocked for the enjoyment of anglers.”


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