By Steve Weisman
Spring arrived on March 20, but I think somebody forgot to let it know! A month later we’re coming off of back to back “spring” snowstorms!
I am sure that the dock and hoist services are really getting frustrated.
In visiting with the biologists at the Spirit Lake Hatchery, the netting process, although not as difficult as in 2012, has also been a slow, steady process. Donna Muhm, Spirit Lake Hatchery manager, said, “It has gone better than a year ago, but we’re certainly not having 1200 fish nights!”
It’s tough to have consistent netting when you two snow events back to back. Certainly, there were big fish brought in with the largest ones, a 12.9 pounder and a 10,8 pounder, coming off of West Okoboji, followed by a 9.2 pounder out of East Okoboji and an 8.4 pounder out of Big Spirit. However, for the most part, the netting has not produced huge catches of big fish. It definitely goes back to the inclement, cold weather not matching up with the photo light period, which is especially crucial for walleyes.
As of April 22, here are the ups and downs of the walleye netting numbers from the three lakes. The best night on East Okoboji was April 8 with 159 walleyes caught. The best night on West Okoboji was on April 21 with 148 fish and 372 on April 14 on Big Spirit. Big Spirit had the four largest nettings with 313 on April 13, 372 on April 14, 184 on April 15 and 242 on April 16.
The evening of April 17 was a really tough one with only 69 broodstock taken from East Okoboji, 66 from Big Spirit and 25 from West Okoboji. With the onslaught of winter storm Yogi on Thursday, April 18, the crews didn’t even risk going out.
On average, the muskie netting was also best on Big Spirit with 43 being taken on April 13 and 54 on April 14, while the most taken on East Okoboji was 20 on April 8. The largest musky was a 42.6 pounder from East Okoboji, followed by a 40.9 pounder from Big Spirit and a 33.4 pounder from West Okoboji.
As I mentioned in an earlier story, DNR data shows the walleye population on Big Spirit continues to be excellent with growth rates and recruitment at all time highs since the 17-22 inch slot limit was instituted in 2007.
Fisheries Biologist Mike Hawkins says that the 2001-year class was a big year class that on average took six years to reach 14 inches. Now year classes are reaching 14 inches in 3-4 years. The 2007-year class was the system’s last big year class, but now Hawkins says there are back to back year classes coming. “Both the 2010 and 2011 year classes have good numbers with the 2010 year class approaching 14 inches and the 2011 year class 12-13 inches. Anglers should have good numbers of harvest sized fish this year.”
Anyway, here we are moving ever closer toward the Annual Great Walleye Weekend Scheduled for May 4 and 5. Even with the weather and the frustration with docks and hoists, the excitement still holds. The walleye opener is part of a two-day fishing tournament that benefits Easter Seals.
Last year $35,000 was raised with those funds helping to support Easter Seals programs for residents in Dickinson County and the surrounding area who have a disability. An entry costs $15 for youngsters under 15 and $25 for anglers 15 and over. Registrations for past participants will be mailed out, while forms are available at www.okobojichamber.com, Oh Shucks Bait and Tackle, Stan’s Bait and Tackle, Pioneer Beach Resort and Kabele’s Trading Post.
The action officially begins at 12:01 on May 4 and concludes with an awards ceremony and barbecue at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 5 at the Dickinson County Expo Building.
Since this is the 31th year for the event, the top prize has been increased to $31,000. This prize goes to the individual who catches one of the six specially tagged walleyes released in the area lakes just prior to the event. However, if more than one tagged walleye is taken, the $31,000 is equally divided. If someone not entered in the contest catches a specially tagged walleyes, the money will not be awarded.
Additionally, 18 other tagged fish are released, each with cash or merchandise awards assigned to them if caught. These tagged fish include 6 perch, 6 bullhead and 6 crappie. Anglers who catch a tagged fish can report to any Lakes Area bait shop for confirmation.
Cast Off Party returns
A quick reminder of the Cast Off Party at East Okoboji’s The Ritz from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, May 3. The evening will consist of a social hour followed by the choice of a prime rib or chicken dinner and a walleye fishing seminar presented by M. Doug Burns, owner of The Iowa Guide Service. Also on the seminar agenda will be DNR Fisheries Biologist Mike Hawkins, who will talk about the walleye populations in the Iowa Great Lakes and also results of the recent gill netting operation.
Cost for the event is $25 with all proceeds going to the East Seals support programs for residents in Dickinson County and the surrounding area with a disability.
The Cast Off Party is limited to 90 people, so those who want to attend must RSVP online at www.okobojichamber.com or call (712-332-2107).
A final thought
The recent rain and snow have helped raise water levels somewhat, and the water continues to come into the lakes. Certainly not in a rushing stream, but enough so that there will be some moving water and current around the bridges. Water levels should be good enough to make dock and wader fishing a good bet.
By the way, don’t forget the other fish. You know, the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, bluegill, crappie, yellow bass and white bass. This is the perfect time to catch a bunch of panfish in the shallows: the canals, Triboji, the Harbor, the trestle, the Grade, Templar. Best of all, you don’t need a boat to do this. It’s shore and dock fishing at its best! Plus, the good news is the water levels have come up enough that all of these areas now have plenty of water for good fishing!
pike numbers continue to be strong in both Big Spirit and West Okoboji, and these fish are an untapped fishery.
If you are looking for a little fishing information, check with local bait shops such as Oh Shucks Bait and Tackle on the southwest side of West Okoboji, Stan’s Bait and Tackle in Milford, Kabele’s Trading Post and Pioneer Beach Resort both in the town of Spirit Lake.