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Fort Peck and Canyon Ferry Spawning Report 2018



April 24, 2018

After what seemed to be a winter that would never end, things have finally decided to break loose on Fort Peck Reservoir. We managed to get holding pens, barges, and trap nets set over the weekend even though there was still ice cover on most of the main lake. Today was our second day of the season checking trap nets and collecting walleye. Water surface temperatures varied greatly from one location to another in the upper Big Dry Arm where our trap nets have been placed. In some of the shallower locations, we’ve observed water surface temperatures close to 55 degrees, but water surface temperatures towards the main lake are still in the low 40’s. As a result we’ve been seeing a combination of green (holding eggs), ripe (releasing eggs), and spent(released their eggs) female walleye.

We’ve managed to hold two egg-takes since we’ve started due to a decent number of ripe female walleye collected. We collected approximately 3.2 million eggs on Monday and 2.7 million eggs on Tuesday giving us 5.9 million walleye eggs thus far. We also collected 1.1 million pike eggs that will be used to meet stocking requests for certain waterbodies in eastern Montana for 2018.

Photo: Ripe female walleye waiting to be spawned
Photo: Ryan Lott collecting eggs from a ripe female walleye
Photo: Hank Poeschl, Mark Sigler, and Ed Dodge with a female walleye collected from a trap net

April 28, 2018

The weather has cooperated for the most part over the last few days in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures today in our trap netting locations ranged from 55 degrees in the far upper portions to 44 degrees further down the reservoir. As a result, we continue to see a mixed bag in the condition of female walleye being collected with a combination of greens, ripe, and spent fish.

Given the much later start and variable water temperatures throughout the reservoir, it’s not surprising we’re seeing spent female walleye along with ripes and greens in our trap net catches. The good news is we’ve still managed to capture enough ripe and have a few more green females ripen up so we can collect a few more eggs. Since the last update, we’ve managed to hold two more small egg-takes which will bring our total close to 12 million eggs. It looks like there might be a cold front moving our way, but we’ll continue to plug along and see what we can do.

Photo: Sorting through a trap net full of fish
Photo: Sean Lott with a big green female walleye being transferred to a holding pen
Photo: Ron, Jacob, and AJ Hunziker with a female walleye

April 30th 2018

The weather has cooled a bit from the warm temperatures we experienced over the weekend in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. It’s hard to believe air temperatures yesterday were in the 70’s, and today we only had a daytime high in the upper 40’s and bundled up! Water surface temperatures are ranging from 47 degrees to 56 degrees throughout our trap netting locations. We’re continuing to collect good numbers of walleye, but the condition of females captured hasn’t been conducive to collecting large amounts of eggs.

Trap net catches continue to be comprised of either ripe or spent female walleye with very few greens. The lack of green females, which typically ripen up in the holding pens and contribute to our effort, have given us fewer fish to spawn this season. However, we did manage to hold another small egg-take since the last update due to the ripe females captured the past couple days. We managed to collect approximately 3.5 million eggs on Sunday which should put us a little over 15 million eggs thus far. It looks like the weather will start to warm up over the next few days so we’ll plug along and see what we can do.

Photo: Jack Boonstra wrangling some wily walleye
Photo: Jack Boonstra with a huge smallmouth buffalo

May 4, 2018

The weather has really warmed in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures throughout our trap netting locations have been ranging from 50 to 58 degrees. However, we haven’t seen much of an increase in walleye spawning activity and it’s likely things may be winding down based on what we’ve been finding in our trap nets.

A majority of the female walleye captured in trap nets continue to be spent with very few greens. We’ve continued to capture ripe female walleye, but their numbers appear to be decreasing as well. Despite the decrease in numbers, the numbers of ripe females captured have given us a few more fish to spawn.

The steady trickle of ripe females captured has allowed us to hold three small egg-takes since the last update. Each egg-take we’ve managed to collect roughly 1.5 to 2 million more eggs. This should bring our total to approximately 20 million eggs. We plan on continuing through the weekend in hopes to collect a few more eggs to add to the total.

Photo: Richard Lockman with a healthy green female walleye
Photo: Sorting through a trap net full of fish

May 15, 2018

Well, it’s been an interesting walleye spawning season this year on Fort Peck Reservoir. It seems like the weather went from winter straight into summer. Water surface temperatures in the upper Big Dry Arm have been ranging from 56 to 66 degrees throughout our trap netting locations. These warmer temperatures have led to a dwindling number of walleye, but other species have taken their place as temperatures are becoming favorable for their spawning. Based on this, we’ve decided to pulled our nets for the 2018 season.

Not only have there been fewer numbers of walleyes collected in the trap nets, but a majority of females collected continue to be spent. Fortunately, we have managed to collect a handful of ripe female walleye to hold two more small egg takes since the last update. These two small egg collections have given us close to 2 million more eggs to add to our total. This should give us close to 22 million total eggs for the season which was half our goal of 50 million eggs. So what does this mean?

It looks like there should be enough eggs, which will turn into fry, to stock the rearing ponds for fingerling production; however, there will likely be very few walleye fry plants. Fort Peck Reservoir receives a majority of the walleye fry stockings so it will be impacted the most. Even though fewer eggs were collected this year, it is possible that the high number of spent females captured this year spawned on their own which could compensate for the loss of fry plants. Increasing water levels have created more spawning and rearing habitat which should also lead to improved forage conditions. These factors can greatly aid in the survival of any naturally reproduced or stocked walleyes.

On behalf of the fisheries and hatchery staff, I would like to thank all the volunteers who assisted in this year’s walleye spawning operation. We all look forward to seeing you again next year and best of luck fishing.

Photo: Fish culturist Bob Braund with a large female walleye
Photo: Sean Uy with a BIG bigmouth buffalo
Photo: James Poitra with a channel catfish enjoying the warm water

Monthly Fishing Tips

Picking a Walleye Ice Rod

By Next Bite
It’s coming quick this year – ice season. Often early ice can be one of the best times of year, so let’s get ready! We use two types of rods when ice fishing for walleyes. One is for jigging and one is a dead stick, which is simply hanging a bait in a secondary hole. One of the things that makes catching walleyes tricky is the way they bite. They don’t really bite a bait, they suck it in. As they move close to their prey, they open their mouth, flare their gills and suck a volume of water, hopefully containing your bait, into their mouth. Then with their sharp teeth they hold the bait in their mouth, waiting for it to quit struggling while determining if they want to swallow it. If they detect something is wrong (bad taste, too much resistance, wrong texture) they just open their mouth, slam their gills tight and blow the bait out. The problem is this can all happen is less than a second! So as a walleye angler, we need sensitivity in our equipment to not only feel a soft bite, but to feel it quickly and then set the hook before the walleye spits out our offering. The hookset can often be problematic with walleyes, as their mouth is very boney. To set the hook point into their mouth you have to make your lure move inside the mouth, so it can drive into those bones. With a walleye this can often be difficult because of the way they are holding that bait solidly in their teeth. A hard, solid hookset, is imperative. Lastly, the rod needs to be able to handle the fight of a walleye. Since the rods are short, normally less than 3-feet, you don’t have a nice long bow in the rod to take up the head shaking of a big walleye. These head shakes are amplified by the use of no-stretch lines (see below). So, a good walleye ice rod needs to be able to absorb the pull of the fish. It is also important with this short length be able to keep continuous tension on the fish, so it can not throw the bait. Add to that the issue of having to fight the fish up through a small hole and you must have the right action to consistently land fish.

Jigging Rod
This is the rod you’re working by popping, dropping, jiggling, and pounding as you try to entice a walleye to first get interested, and then to strike. We use a couple of different rods for jigging. The Clam Ice Team Professional Series 26” Medium Action Walleye Rod and the JT Outdoors 30? Gold Digger are great all-around rods. For targeting bigger walleye, we use the JT Outdoors 34? Black Reign. All of these rods have similar attributes. The shorter ones are particularly good in one-man shacks like the Clam Legend XL Thermal and the longer rods for bigger shacks like the Clam X200 Pro Thermal.

These rods are all super sensitive and lightweight. When fishing in cold conditions, walleyes often don’t hit the bait very aggressively, once again, they are just sucking it in. Also, many times you will be getting bites as the fish chases your bait in an upward direction, so it is hard to detect the bite because they are pushing slack in the line as they bite while they swim toward you. You’ve got to be able to feel them to move on to the next step – setting the hook!

To increase sensitivity, we use a no stretch line as our mainline. The best choice out there is Berkley NanoFil. NanoFil is a uni-filament line, meaning it is a single strand of no-stretch material with no braiding or weaving. The no-stretch attribute greatly increases your ability to feel what is often a subtle bite. The beauty of uni-filament is that it does not retain water in the line, so ice build-up is greatly reduced. Nothing dampens sensitivity more than a big glob of ice on the line! The ice that does build up on NanoFil is on the outside of the line and is quickly taken off with a single sweep between your fingers. For walleye fishing, 8-10lb NanoFil is best. Often in ice fishing conditions, the water is much clearer than in summertime. There is no algae or sediment from wind to cloud things up. For this reason, you will want to use a Fluorocarbon leader to make the line that is tied to the bait nearly invisible. We use a small #14 to #18 swivel to attach the NanoFil to the Fluorocarbon leader. The length and pound test of the leader depends on conditions. If you are targeting larger fish, then lean towards a 10lb leader made with Berkley Professional Grade 100% Fluorocarbon. For smaller fish or in super clear conditions, you might go as light as 6lb Fluorocarbon. A standard leader length is 2-feet, although in gin clear water a 4-foot one is not uncommon. The nice thing is that you can rig your reel one time with NanoFil and then adjust your leader to the situation. You can even quickly change to a 2-pound leader if some nice crappies happen to show up! A power hookset can be achieved with these rods because they all fast taper. This means that only the last few inches of the rod have a lot of bend. Since the majority of the rod is stiff, it has a strong backbone and thus amazing hook setting power. With the few inches on the end of the rod being extremely flexible, you have some rod bend during the fight. It is a very specific action to get the right power in the backbone but flexibility in the tip, and these three rods nailed it!

Dead stick
There are a couple instances when we use dead sticks. The first is when walleyes are in a finicky mood. Often hanging a rod with a simple jig and live minnow in a hole next to where we are jigging produces better than the jigging rod. Jigging is still important to draw the fish in, but we see it on our Lowrance HDS units all the time, a walleye comes in and looks at the jig rod, doesn’t bite, but fades over to the jig and a minnow and slurps it in. Second, we are also big proponents of using JT Outdoor Hot Boxes for our dead sticks. These boxes have a propane heat source in them to keep the hole clear of ice, so they can be set up remotely from our shacks. They are very portable and quick to set up. These boxes really give us big advantages! If you are fishing a flat or basin area by spreading out lures similar to how you would use planer boards in the summer, you can multiply your results. If you are fishing structure it is nice to be able to set up rods in several depths. Try jigging in a shack at the top of the break with a Hot Box set at the middle or bottom of the break to cover several depths. In any situation, the big difference between a jigging rod and a dead stick is that you’re are not typically holding the rod to detect the bite. The walleye is going to suck the bait in and either hold it while determining if it is going to eat it, or it will slowly start to move away. Since there is a delay between the bite and the hookset you need to use a much more limber rod for this set-up. Enter the JT Outdoors 36” Walleye Snare Rod. This is one of the coolest rods out there for ice fishing! It is super flexible at the tip to about half way down the rod. You could call this rod action Slow Taper. The idea is that the walleye will suck in the bait and feel little or no resistance from the rod. Remember too much resistance will make them want to spit the bait. The Snare Rod has a built-in red ball at the end of the rod, so even at a distance you can see the slightest bite as the rod tip and ball will move slightly down. When you get to the rod at this point, a solid sweeping hookset will double over the Snare Rod enough to get into its strong backbone and drive the hooks home! We have never seen another rod on the market that duplicates this rods ability to trick a walleye into holding on to a bait with its limberness, but still have the hook setting strength of a Snare Rod! Sometimes, especially with Hot Boxes it might take a while to get to a biting walleye. What’s interesting is that you will catch a surprising number of fish that sit still and hold on to the lure a long time. The other thing that may happen is that once the walleye determines its ok to eat the bait, it will typically swallow the bait a little deeper and it will start to move away. Correspondingly the Snare Rod will double over even more. Often the red ball will even touch the water! This is where things get interesting. As the Snare Rod bends more and more, it also starts putting more pressure on the fish. Many times the fish will make a sudden move to try to get away. This move often puts the Snare Rod into its strong backbone and the fish will literally set the hook by its self – thus the name Snare Rod! One big advantage of the Snare rod, is once the fish is hooked up, you’ll have all kinds of flex in the rod and fish rarely get off. Set up the Snare with the same Nanofil mainline and don’t be afraid to drop down a size or two in your leader pound test, this is a more finesse technique, so a lighter leader will often allow the minnow to swim more actively on a light jig.

Two rods, same result – The Next Bite!