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Annual walleye spawn underway at Cherry Creek, Pueblo reservoirs

Colorado Parks and Wildlife hoping for 112 million eggs this year
Colorado walleye
Posted at 4:46 PM, Mar 28, 2023

CHERRY CREEK RESERVOIR, Colo. — A brisk spring morning on the Cherry Creek Reservoir offers a Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) aquatics team a picturesque setting for baiting some beauties.

“This morning, we’re heading out from the marina out to the gill nets,” explained Colorado Parks and Wildlife senior aquatics biologist Paul Winkle.

Unlike the average fisherman casting a single line, CPW is reeling in some wide nets as part of the annual walleye spawn.

“We’re out here on a beautiful day, Cherry Creek Reservoir, as we are picking up nets for walleye,” said Kara Van Hoose, spokesperson for CPW.

CPW is working to keep the walleye populations up for anglers.

“We’ve probably got 10 walleyes per net,” Winkle said. “Our goal this year is 112 million eggs between Cherry Creek Reservoir and Pueblo Reservoir.”

“We’ve got some eggs coming out — that’s good,” Van Hoose said on Monday. “That’s what we want to see. That’s gold to us. We catch other fish in the nets, too, that we don’t want. So we’re tossing those back.”

CPW says walleye aren’t native to Colorado, hence the reason for the spawn.

“The state brought walleyes into Colorado decades ago,” Winkle explained.

Colorado lake bottoms aren’t typically rocky enough for walleye to spawn naturally. Conditions are often too sandy.

“And that sand and silt will cover up the eggs, and then they won’t be able to get enough oxygen. And so they’ll die,” Winkle said. “It’s a small window of time when they spawn. The water temperature must be just right, which typically takes place about the middle of March to the end of March.”

So these teams catch male and female walleyes, and then combine the eggs and milt on barges at the marina.

“We’re giving nature a little bit of a nudge,” Van Hoose said.

“We’ll come back to our pontoon barges here at the marina, and we will squeeze the eggs and milt out of the girls and boys, respectively,” Winkle said.

Annual walleye spawn underway at Cherry Creek, Pueblo reservoirs

“Today, we’re actually making saugeye, which is a combination of walleye and sauger,” said Mandi Brandt, aquatics biologist with CPW. “Then we add mud or bentonite clay so the eggs don’t stick together, and we’ll take a turkey feather and we’ll stir the eggs and the milt around in the pan evenly. It’s a delicate process. And finally, the team washes them up and allows the fertilized eggs about 12 to 16 days to hatch at our hatchery in Wray, Colorado, before they are eventually put back in the reservoirs.”

The program has had such success in Colorado, CPW will often trade walleye with other states for other varieties of fish.

“We’ll call up our friends in other states and say, ‘Hey, do you guys need some walleye?’ And if they say yes, we’ll swap walleye out for whatever we need from them, what kind of fish species we need from them,” Van Hoose said.

“We get together with states like Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Wyoming, and we do these trades of fish,” Winkle said. “Sometimes we trade walleyes to other states' wipers, which are a cross between striped bass and white bass.”

A day on the water used to help to boost the walleye and saugeye populations.

“It’s kind of our version of March Madness,” Van Hoose said. “If you want to take your daughters and sons fishing, catch walleye with them. This is really exciting for you.”

Cherry Creek Reservoir will open to the boating public on Saturday, April 1. It will open to fishing in mid-April.

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