Frank Wesson 1870 Pocket Rifle

By Steve Weisman 
It’s almost show time! 
The time is drawing nearer and nearer. The Annual Great Walleye Weekend is just around the corner. This year will be the 34th Annual Great Walleye Weekend, May 7 and 8. This two-day fishing tournament brings thousands of anglers to the Iowa Great Lakes to see if they can catch one of the specially tagged walleye. 
This year’s event includes an increase in the number of tagged walleyes to 10 versus the normal 6-tagged walleyes. Plus, the grand prize for this year is $34,000 to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the tournament.
In addition to the tagged walleyes, there are also prizes from sponsors Pure Fishing and Fisherman's Factory Outlet for the heaviest stringer of three walleye, heaviest northern pike, heaviest stringer of five panfish and heaviest stringer of 10 bullhead.
To enter the Walleye Weekend contest, the cost is $25 for individuals 16 years of age and older and $15 for anglers 15 and under. Anglers can also register ($15) for an extended contest that runs to September 1, 2016.                         
Registration forms are available online at, Fisherman's Factory Outlet, Kabele's Trading Post, Oh Shucks, Pioneer Beach, Stan's Bait & Tackle, and at the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce office in Arnolds Park. For more information regarding the 34th Annual Walleye Weekend, please visit or call (712) 332-2107.

Kick-off dinner
As I mentioned in last week’s column, for the second consecutive year, Great Lakes Marine Service and Sales ( will be hosting the Kick-Off Dinner and Seminars Friday, May 6 from 5-9 p.m., the Kick-off Dinner and Seminars will be held at the Dickinson County Expo Building, Cost will be $25, which includes a catered meal and seminars by Brian Bashore and Brian Fowlds, two accomplished walleye tournament anglers and guides, who were well received at their seminars a year ago. 
People planning on attending should pre-register at being taken at Great Lakes Marine Service & Sales (located just east of Pizza Ranch on HWY 9) or go to For more information, give Shane and Christa a call at (712) 336-3822.

So, what will the fishing be like? 	
This is the first time in quite a few years that we have running water moving through our lakes. As a matter of fact, water began going over the spillway on Big Spirit in early winter and hasn’t stopped since. Tiles are running, so areas where water is running in or there is a current will definitely attract the walleyes. 
On Big Spirit such areas include Reeds Run, Buffalo Run and the Foot Bridge, while on East Okoboji, good running water is located at the north end of the lake out from the hatchery. The bridge areas throughout the Okoboji chain will all have current, plus the Trestle area is good. 
That’s the good news. The bad news is the waters are again really clear, which means the daytime bite for walleyes might be pretty tough. It’s difficult to fish rock piles and structure in the daylight when you can count the rocks and boulders below you!
So, you know the best bite will probably be the evening and after dark. Of course, none of this happens until 12:01 on Saturday morning. Depending upon the weather and wind, the lakes will be lit up with boats and anglers fishing for walleyes. A lot of these anglers will be long lining crankbaits along the shorelines and out from the flowing water and current areas. 
At the same time, lights will be on at the end of docks, as anglers cast crankbaits, twisters and jigs, along with lighted slip bobber outfits rigged with minnows, shiners or leeches.
Midnight to daylight can be a long time depending upon the weather conditions and if the walleyes cooperate. 
By daylight on Saturday, the lakes will be filled with boats. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the really clear water makes the daylight bite tough. Other times, the ‘eyes will be on a bite. A really go-to bait on Big Spirit (if you can find them or if bait shops have them) is the spot-tail shiner. They can be like candy!
After observing the Spirit Lake Hatchery in April, we again know that the broodstock on the Iowa Great Lakes is healthy. We also know that there is an abundance of slot fish (17-22 inchers). According to DNR fisheries biologists, the 17-22 inch slot limit has helped make the walleye population even stronger and helped to increase the average overall size of the fish. 
However, part of the frustration, especially last year, was not being about to catch many of those 14-16 inch fish. Lots and lots of slot fish and fish over the slot, and then a lot of walleyes in the 8-12 inch range. My hope is that these fish will have grown to the point where we now have more in the 14-15 inch range.  
The baitfish, especially the spottail shiners, are in excellent shape. Add to this a huge year class of perch fingerlings, and it’s no wonder that the walleyes on Big Spirit are fat! If you ice fished Big Spirit this winter, you know what I mean about giant schools of shiners and tiny perch. At the same time, there are also lots of tiny perch and bluegills (flats) on the Okoboji chain, so food is plentiful there, too.
Walleyes are the magnet for the opener, but don’t forget all of the other fish that might be more willing to bite: bluegills, crappies, perch, bullheads, catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and northern pike. If we only had the time to target each of them…oh well. There’s something for everybody!
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 Shop on the north edge of Milford, Kabele's Trading Post and Fisherman’s Factory Outlet all in the town of Spirit Lake. 

Cutline: (photo submitted) The author lands a walleye caught using a bottom bouncer, plain hook and spottail shiner during last year’s opening weekend.

Walleye Opener around corner; good walleye population expected

April 18, 2016 Comments (0) Conservation / Wildlife, Home Page

Muskie Study to Look at Yearling Muskie Survival on Big Spirit Lake

By Steve Weisman

The local chapter of Upper Great Plains Muskie Inc. Chapter 29 (Iowa Great Lakes), along with a donation from the national chapter’s Hugh Becker Foundation and the Heartland Muskies Inc. chapter from Clear Lake, have donated a combined total of nearly $15,500 to help the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University fund a study of yearling muskie survival on Big Spirit Lake. Once muskies hatch they are held in the hatchery the first summer and then sent to the Lake Rathbun Hatchery in September and held in cement lined ponds until the following spring, when they have reached 10-12 inches in length.

Larry Perry, President of the local chapter says, “This is the first study of this type, and we all feel it will provide excellent data that we have never had before. Our local club donated $6,500, the Hugh Becker Foundation donated $7,000 and the Heartland club from Clear Lake donated $1980.”

Jonathan Meerbeek, Iowa DNR Research Biologist at the Spirit Lake Hatchery, believes this study will have a profound impact on the ability of the fisheries personnel to increase the survival of yearling muskies and help more of them to reach the 30-inch length (4 years). “Currently we really don’t have the data to determine what happens to these fish once they are released into the lake. Normally we don’t see these fish until they are around four years of age. At that point, they begin to appear in our nets and we can track them after that with PIT tags.”

Meerbeek notes that there is concern about the mortality between the time they are released as 10 to 12-inch yearlings and when they next are able to get data on them at about year four. “This funding gives us the opportunity to purchase 64 telemetry tags, along with a receiver and antenna to monitor these fish during those first crucial months.”


The study

Later this spring, the study will begin when 64 muskie yearlings will be fitted with radio telemetry tags that will allow both DNR and Iowa State University personnel to monitor and track the movements of these fish through the first four months of life in Big Spirit. For this year, Iowa State University has provided the receiver and antenna to be able to track the fish.

“We want to know if simple changes to our stocking techniques can improve survival of yearling muskies,” says Meerbeek. “All of these yearlings will have wintered over at our Lake Rathbun facility, and will be brought here in special climatically controlled tanks in May.” Once here the yearlings will be stocked under three different scenarios.

“The first group will be stocked in Hales Slough once they arrive. Hales Slough has been the DNR’s traditional stocking location because of the favorable yearling habitat conditions there. However, one of our concerns is that once released, they have a tendency to just hang around that area. With the telemetry tags, we will be able to track them and better see what happens to them. We will learn quickly whether the stress of the trip and nearby predators take their toll.”

The second group will be held at the hatchery for 24-48 hours before they are stocked. “By doing this, we will be able to track a group of yearling muskie that we have tried to alleviate stress from being transported.”

The third group of yearlings will be taken out off shore in Angler’s Bay. The DNR wonders if stocking yearlings off shore may reduce predation risks from both fish and bird predators. “We will take these fish out 200 yards or so from shore. We will then track these fish and see what their survival is compared to the other two groups.”

The tags themselves will last 3-4 months, which means they will be easily tracked through the summer. “Our monitoring will be very intense for the first two to three weeks after the stocking occurs.” Fish will be tracked daily up to two weeks post-stocking and tracked weekly until August 31. Tracked individuals will be considered dead if no movement is detected in four consecutive encounters (i.e., initial survival estimate).

Perry says the local members of Upper Great Plains Muskie Inc. Chapter 29 are excited to be part of the study. “The fact that we were able to get enough money to get three different control groups is very important. This will give us data that we have never had before, and at the same time, we will be able to learn more about what is going on in the muskie habitat and the lake itself. We also hope that what we learn from this study might be used in other parts of the country.”

(photo by Steve Weisman) Fisheries Biologist Jonathan Meerbeek (second from right) shows members of the Upper Great Plains Muskie Inc. Chapter 29 the antenna and receiver that will be used to track yearling muskies. Club members include (L to R) Leo Kofoot, Larry Perry, Tom Gude, Steve Horswell and Mark Mitchell.

(photo by Steve Weisman) Fisheries Biologist Jonathan Meerbeek (second from right) shows members of the Upper Great Plains Muskie Inc. Chapter 29 the antenna and receiver that will be used to track yearling muskies. Club members include (L to R) Leo Kofoot, Larry Perry, Tom Gude, Steve Horswell and Mark Mitchell.




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