Annual walleye breeding underway at Cherry Creek, Pueblo Reservoirs

CHERRY CREEK RESERVOIR, Colorado — A crisp spring morning at Cherry Creek Reservoir provides a scenic backdrop for a Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) water sports team to bait some beauties.

“This morning we’re driving from the marina to the gillnets,” said Paul Winkle, senior aquarium biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Unlike the average fisherman who casts a single line, CPW hauls in some wide nets as part of the annual zander brood.

“We’re out here, Cherry Creek Reservoir, on a nice day collecting nets for walleye,” said CPW spokeswoman Kara Van Hoose.

CPW works to maintain walleye populations for anglers.

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

“We’ve got a couple of eggs coming out — that’s good,” Van Hoose said Monday. “We want to see that. This is gold for us. We also catch other fish in the nets that we don’t want. So we throw them back.”

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

“The state brought walleye to Colorado decades ago,” Winkle explained.

The bottom of Lake Colorado is usually not rocky enough for walleye to spawn naturally. Conditions are often too sandy.

“And that sand and silt will cover the eggs, and then they won’t get enough oxygen. And that’s why they’re going to die,” Winkle said. “It’s a small window in which they spawn. The water temperature has to be just right, which is usually around mid-March to late March.”

So these teams catch male and female walleye and then combine the eggs and milk on barges in the marina.

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

“We’re going to go back to our pontoon boats here at the marina and squeeze the eggs and milk out of the girls and boys, respectively,” Winkle said.

Annual walleye breeding underway at Cherry Creek, Pueblo Reservoirs

“Today, we actually make suckers, a combination of zander and sucker,” said Mandi Brandt, aquarium biologist at CPW. “Then we add mud or bentonite to keep the eggs from sticking together, and we take a turkey feather and stir the eggs and milk evenly in the pan. It’s a delicate process. And finally, the team washes them and hatches the fertilized eggs for about 12 to 16 days at our hatchery in Wray, Colorado, before finally laying them back into the reservoirs.”

The program has been so successful in Colorado that CPW often trades walleye with other states for other species of fish.

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

“We get together with states like Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Wyoming and run this fish trade,” Winkle said. “Sometimes we trade walleye for windshield wipers from other states, which are a cross between striped bass and white bass.”

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

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

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

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