WV Wildlife: Walleye Spawning

A mature, female, native walleye. These fish are especially important since they can produce thousands of eggs for future walleyes. (WCHS/WVAH)

When you hear the word, Walleye--you may think of the Great Lakes.

Indeed, this large member of the perch family is the state fish of several states that border Canada.

One thing you may not know is that the Walleye--millions of years ago--got its start right here in present-day West Virginia along the Great Teays River.

Those pioneering ancestors may be gone now, but the Walleye's genes continue to live on here in the Mountain State--especially at Summersville Lake in Nicholas County.

Aaron Yeager, a West Virginia DNR fisheries biologist, has been working with these fish for a long time now.

"These are the fish that we have to protect--right there", said Yeager.

Yeager and his crew member, Jeremy, have been working a lot recently to make sure that these native fish continue to thrive in our waters.

To increase the odds of this, as contradictive as it may sound initially, fish first have to be caught.

On a cool March night, we braved the waves of the Gauley--that feeds into Summersville--to do some fishing, electrofishing that is.

Since these natives evolved in flowing water--they have no issue running up the Gauley to find food and to spawn.

And we scooped some big ones out that night!

Afterwards, these fish--underrated with their beauty--are weighed and then tagged before being placed in holding pins. These holding pins were designed to keep the fish in their native water and to allow them to relax before spawning.

Once the fish settle down overnight--it's time to keep their genes going.

Spawning these native walleyes in a controlled environment will greatly increase their odds of reproductive success--exactly what Yeager wants.

And spawning them on the spot? Even better.

"So, we're going to increase that allele frequency down here of the native genetics that we want to keep--that's the important thing. I can spawn them right here. No harm done? No harm done whatsoever. We simply take the eggs, when she's ready to give them up--we let her go immediately", said Yeager.

That's good news for these West Virginia fish and good news for anglers in the future. These natives are naturally suited to our streams here in the mountain state.

"It's what I’m most proud to do at Summersville with these walleye--is put a female back after we've taken her eggs. The future of walleye fishing in Summersville lake--right there in that bowl", said Yeager.

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