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Walleye celebration helps stock local fishery

ESCANABA — Thousands of large walleye fingerlings were planted in Little Bay de Noc recently thanks to the efforts of local volunteers. The Walleye Celebration, an event organized by Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen, Inc., took place on Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Kipling Pond in Gladstone.

“It’s a demonstration that even in tough times, we can still raise walleye,” Frank Pearson, external vice president of Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen, said of the event.

During the event, walleye fingerlings were taken out of the Kipling Pond in nets. They were then counted and weighed before being released into Little Bay de Noc.

“Every fish that comes in here is going in the water within minutes,” Pearson said.

Restocking efforts at the pond continued through Monday, Sept. 28. On Sunday, Sept. 27, volunteers found there had been some net setting errors during the Walleye Celebration; as a result, they reset the nets and harvested additional fingerlings on Monday.

Ultimately, an estimated 6,000-plus walleye fingerlings were released into Little Bay de Noc through these efforts. The fingerlings had an average length of five inches, though some were up to 10.6 inches long.

Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen has been involved with local walleye restocking efforts since the mid-1980s. This July, the organization helped to stock Little Bay de Noc with 24,976 fingerlings, which had an average size of 2.5 inches.

The organization has been experimenting with releasing older fingerlings in autumn for a few years. These fingerlings have a survival rate of roughly 20 to 30 percent, compared to a survival rate of roughly 3 percent for spring fingerlings.

Earlier fall fingerling release efforts saw only limited success due to the lack of a consistent source of food for the fingerlings. In 2020, Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen was able to actively support the growth of these fish by raising fathead minnows as a food source for them.

“We’ve been doing that pretty aggressively since the last week of July,” Pearson said.

Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen Executive Board Member Mike Smith noted this work has been done in the interest of restoring Delta County’s status as a world-class destination for walleye fishing.

“Bay de Noc used to be the walleye capital of Michigan,” he said.

While the local walleye fishery has declined over the years due to a variety of environmental factors, the organization’s efforts have helped to improve the bays’ walleye population.

Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen’s expanded walleye planting efforts were primarily funded by the Hannahville Indian Community. The community provided the organization with a 2 percent grant for its work.

“We’re very excited about this project … it’s important to the tribe and to the tribal values to protect the environment and Mother Earth,” said Carol Bergquist, director of Hannahville’s Department of Planning and Evaluation, which deals with environmental programs.

The Hannahville Indian Community has provided funding to Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen’s walleye-planting efforts in the past, as well. Additional financial support for the release of fingerlings this fall was provided by Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County. The Delta County Chamber of Commerce and Visit Escanaba have been proud supporters of the group’s efforts for many years.

Boy Scouts with Troop 411 also got involved with the Walleye Celebration. According to Scoutmaster Craig Woerpel. The troop had participated in similar events in the past, but only in a limited capacity.

“This year, we wanted to make sure we were more involved,” he said.

To this end, a total of 11 Scouts helped remove walleye from the Kipling Pond and release them into the bay during the Walleye Celebration. They camped in the area the night before and the night of the event.

“It’s exciting to them, to see the process of planting the fish and knowing eventually they can catch them,” Woerpel said.

Thanks to Brian Whitens for capturing this celebration for his show, Discovering, which airs on WLUC TV6. Whiten’s video of the walleye celebration can be found at https://youtu.be/ERFtxy7K3hk. Check it out and see why, thanks to dedicated volunteers, our waterfront community will continue to be known as a world-class destination for walleye fishing.

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Vickie Micheau is executive director of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce

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