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Fort Peck and Canyon Ferry Spawning Report 2016

 

FORT PECK

 

4/1/2016
The 2016 walleye egg-taking operation is officially underway in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Despite the early ice-out, water surface temperatures have still been relatively cool. Cold fronts have occasionally moved through the area and nighttime lows have still been hovering in the mid-20ís. This has caused temperatures to decrease slightly over the last few days. From Tuesday through Friday, water surface temperatures have gradually decreased from 43 to 40 degrees while checking our trap nets.

Due to the cooler temperatures, walleye spawning activity has been slow. We have captured a decent number of male walleye in a few of the trap nets, which is a typical pattern early on during the walleye spawn, and an occasional green female walleye. However, northern pike spawning activity seems to be going strong with ripe female pike being captured on a fairly consistently basis. In fact, we collected approximately 1.2 million northern pike eggs today. Once these eggs hatch, the fry and fingerlings will be used to meet stocking requests for several water other water bodies in the state of Montana.

The extended forecast looks promising with daytime temperatures climbing into the upper 60ís. Letís hope this spurs an increase in walleye spawning activity!

4/5/2016
The warm spell we experienced over the weekend quickly took a turn for the worse in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Daytime highs that were once hovering near 70 over the weekend quickly dropped into the mid-30ís today due to a cold front that moved through the area. The cold front brought in some breezy conditions followed by periods of snow. This caused water surface temperatures to drop from 50 degrees on Monday to the low 40ís today. As you might imagine, this will likely throw a wrench into the walleye spawning activity.

The good news is we were able to capture a few green (not releasing eggs) and ripe (releasing eggs) female walleye over the weekend before the cold spell hit. This allowed us to hold two small egg-takes since the last update. On Saturday we collected approximately 1.7 million eggs, and today we managed to collect another 1.4 million bringing the total to 3.1 million eggs. This puts us on the boards for the 2016 season, but we still have a way to go to reach our goal. Letís hope the weather starts to cooperate so the walleye will start cruising the shorelines once again in an attempt to spawn.

Photo 1: Sorting green female walleye in the holding pens
Photo 2: Fish culturist Ryan Lott collecting eggs from a green female walleye
Photo 3: Snow falling over the holding pens in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir

4/10/2016
Weather conditions have been interesting in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Temperatures have managed to warm since the last update, but the wind has been a bit breezy the past few days. The cold front wasnít as severe as it could have been. Water surface temperatures have warmed from 43 to 48 degrees. This has triggered a few more walleye to start cruising the shorelines once again. Good numbers of males have been captured as well as a few more green and ripe female walleye.

The slight increase in walleye numbers have allowed us to hold two more small egg-takes since the last update. We collected 3.2 million eggs on Friday and another 4.9 million on Saturday. This will bring the total to approximately 11 million eggs. The weather forecast looks promising for the next few days so letís hope the walleye spawning activity continues.

Photo: Trap net with walleye
Photo: Tyler Nemetz and Butch Shockley with a nice green female walleye

4/14/16
The weather in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir continues to cooperate for the time being. The stable and warm weather has allowed water surface temperatures to average around 50 degrees throughout our trap netting locations. These temperatures have been very conducive for walleye spawning activity as indicated by the increased numbers of walleye collected in our trap nets.

Weíve still been collecting good numbers of male walleye, but weíve seen a large increase in both green and ripe female walleye throughout our trap nets. In fact, some of our better trap nets have allowed us to collect upwards of 20 female walleye from a single trap net! It appears that we are nearing the peak in walleye spawning activity because we are now capturing equal numbers of green and ripe female walleye.

With large numbers of female walleye captured, weíve been able to hold several large egg-takes since the last update. Three more egg collection efforts have resulted in the 16 million more eggs. This should bring the total to approximately 26 million eggs thus far. It looks like some cool and rainy weather will be headed this direction so hopefully it doesnít throw too much of a wrench into the spawning operation.

Photo: Roy Arves with a dandy walleye captured from one of the trap nets
Photo: Gabe Peck with a green female walleye being transferred to the spawning barge

4/18/2016
The cool, rainy weather we experienced last Friday has passed, but it didnít pass without leaving its mark in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Fortunately, water surface temperatures didn't decrease as much as expected. Water surface temperatures dropped from 50 degrees to 46-48 degrees throughout our trap netting locations. This is good news as water temperatures in the upper 40's are still within the desired range for walleye spawning activity.

Numbers of walleye captured throughout our trap netting locations have remained stable, but the proportion of ripe to green female walleye has shifted. Numbers of ripe females collected have increased while numbers of green females have started to decrease. We have also captured a few spent (released eggs) female walleye over the last few days indicating we may be on the downhill slide. This is not surprising since walleye spawning activity has been occurring for nearly three weeks now.

The continued collection of ripe female walleye captured in trap nets, as well as green females that ripened in the holding pens, have allowed us to hold four more egg-takes since the last update. Each egg-take has allowed to collect approximately 7 million eggs each time. This has doubled the amount of eggs collected since the last update bringing the total to approximately 56 million eggs. We are approaching the goal of 60 million eggs and will likely start to wrap the operation up towards the end of this week. Stay tuned for one last update of the season.

Photo: Holding tank with a big load of female walleye headed back to the spawning barge and holding pens.
Photo: Cooper Axtman with the big catch of the day!

4/25/2016
Well, the 2016 walleye egg collection effort has concluded in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Weather conditions remained favorable last week causing water surface temperatures to warm into the low 50ís throughout the trap netting locations. This allowed walleye spawning activity to continue, but there are some definite signs the walleye spawn is winding down.

Numbers of female walleye captured have gradually decreased with a majority of the females collected being ripe. Very few green female walleye have been captured and more spent females have made their appearance in the trap nets. In fact, even some of the ripe female walleye collected werenít as plump with eggs as they were a week ago indicating they too have released a few of their eggs.

Due to the good number of ripe females captured in the trap nets, we managed to hold three more egg-takes since the last update. These egg-takes allowed us to collect approximately 7 million eggs each time. That brings the grand total to 79 million eggs for the season! This surpassed the 60 million goal, but additional eggs were collected in the event of poor hatching success.

Last, but especially not least, Iíd like to thank all the volunteers who contributed to an extremely successful season. It was great to see lots of new and familiar faces, talk about the Fort Peck fishery, and see some truly remarkable fish. Best of luck to everyone in 2016 wherever you choose to wet a line!

Photo: Judy Becker with healthy walleye on a drizzly day.
Photo: Tom Becker also with a nice walleye on a drizzly day.
Photo: Xander Pugh with one of the last female walleye captured of the season.
Photo (courtesy of BJ Kemp): Jeff Remus and JoAnn Elrod with one of the larger walleye captured during the trap netting and egg collection effort.






CANYON FERRY

 

4/13/2016
FWP staff kicked off the 2016 Canyon Ferry Reservoir walleye spawning survey on the south end of the reservoir on April 4th. The current weather pattern has only allowed traps to fish for a handful of days, but a few nice days late last week had walleye cruising the shoreline. As per usual, most of the fish weíve seen thus far have been males, both mature and immature, but about 10% of the total catch has been green (unripe) females. FWP staff has only handled one ripe female so far during the survey, which is typical this early in the survey.

Snow and inclement weather are projected to wreak havoc on the area for the next 2-3 days, so itís safe to say that optimal walleye spawning temperatures (48-52 degrees F) likely wonít be reached until the current weather system moves out. The peak of the walleye spawn in Canyon Ferry is typically around April 20th each year and the current forecast looks to be lining up with that timeframe once again in 2016.

FWP staff is also concurrently monitoring walleye movements in the area, using radio tagged fish, to better understand how walleye move between Canyon Ferry Reservoir and the Missouri River upstream to Toston Dam. In 2015, walleye migrated into the river, were relocated throughout the entire 23+ miles of river to Toston Dam, and then out-migrated to the reservoir in the fall of 2015. Some of those same walleye, along with recently implanted walleye, have been relocated in the river, specifically between the river delta and the HWY 12 Bridge (near Townsend), within the last week. So, if youíre interested in fishing in the river for walleye, Iíd say wait until the current fowl weather subsides, then get after it because theyíre headed your way.

Please call 495-3263 if youíre interested in volunteering for a day out on the water or just want to talk fishing!

Canyon Ferry Wrap-up

The 2016 Canyon Ferry Reservoir walleye spawning survey on the south end of the reservoir is officially over. Survey results indicate that the peak of the spawn may have occurred before FWP staff launched their first trap on April 4th. Seventy four total walleye were sampled from April 4th to April 25th and the majority of the walleye were captured this spring between April 4th and 11th. Captured walleye averaged 13.7-inches and 0.9-pounds. Eleven percent of the captured walleye were females and ripe females were only captured during the first 7 days of the survey. Optimal walleye spawning temperatures (48-52 degrees F) were reached on multiple occasions during the survey, but FWP staff was starting to see fewer total fish toward mid-April. When traps start to capture primarily immature males it typically indicates that the spawning period is ending. Again, survey results indicate that the spawn may have occurred up to a month earlier than normal.

FWP staff also continues to monitor walleye in the Missouri River upstream of Canyon Ferry Reservoir via electrofishing. Weekly electrofishing surveys have resulted in capturing 84 walleye that averaged 17.2-inches and 1.51-pounds. Eleven percent of the walleye surveyed in the river were females. Walleye started moving into the river in early April and have only been surveyed thus far between Crimson Bluffs and the river delta. However, the majority of the walleye surveyed this spring in the river have been between the HWY 12 Bridge and Cottonwood Boat Ramp on the Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area.

Please contact me if you have any questions about either of the surveys or if you happen to catch a tagged fish. Tag returns from anglers are one of the most valuable fisheries management tools that FWP has, so get out there and catch some fish!

Photo Caption: FWP Fisheries Technician Chris Hurley holds up a large female walleye surveyed during the 2016 Canyon Ferry Reservoir walleye spawning survey.