May 2007

Apache Lake Stocked With 3.3 Million Fish
’The walleye were just two eyes and a wiggle in size’

PHOENIX – Apache Lake received a multi-million fish boost when Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists stocked this scenic fishery along the Salt River with walleye sac-fry recently.

In April, biologists were assisted by volunteers from the Southwest Walleye Anglers to stock 3.3 million, 3-day-old walleye. “The walleye were just two eyes and a wiggle in size,” says Jim Warnecke, a fisheries biologist with the Game and Fish Department.

The walleye were donated to Arizona by the State of Colorado and came from a state fish hatchery in Pueblo, Colo. Biologists from Arizona picked up the millions of small fish and after 13 hours and 700 miles, released the young walleye into their new Arizona home.

The timing had to be just right; walleye are light sensitive and the cover of night was necessary to help the fish survive their first night. Over the cover of darkness, baby walleye in air-fill bags of water were taken by boat to specific stocking sites designated by biologists.

“The little fish were released mid-lake into sites we knew contained large numbers of zooplankton, which are microscopic food for the walleye,” Warnecke explains.

Members of the Southwest Walleye Anglers provided additional boats and manpower to transport the fish to the pre-selected stocking locations. It took just 10 minutes of floating for the 33 bags of baby walleye to acclimate to Apache Lake’s water temperature, and then they were released into their new watery domain.

“Walleye don’t reproduce in central Arizona desert reservoirs and must be stocked to build catchable populations. Hopefully, the recent plants of baby walleye will survive in sufficient numbers to continue building populations at Apache Lake,” Warnecke says.

These walleye should help rejuvenate this classic fishery that has experienced fish die-offs due to golden alga blooms in recent years. This popular lake is exhibiting some signs of recovery.

Spring fish surveys at Apache Lake recently showed abundant numbers of young walleye 12-15 inches in length during gill netting surveys that were probably survivors of the numerous walleye stockings in 2005. The surveys also showed plentiful yellow bass and a decent population of largemouth bass as well. Unfortunately, only one smallmouth bass showed up in the survey.

To help it along the comeback trail, in early spring Apache Lake was bolstered with 85,000 rainbow trout measuring around 4 inches long. Biologists say the rainbows that survive until fall should reach catchable size and provide anglers with improved fishing opportunities.