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OUTDOORS: Virginia is for walleyes

OUTDOORS: Virginia is for walleyes

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Slowly but surely, Virginia is becoming a top choice for walleye fishermen. Good fisheries management and an excellent walleye hatchery system are to be thanked—that and some great Virginia lakes and rivers suitable for walleye.

A walleye is an elusive fish—not many can catch them. That’s because walleye feed and react differently than most other fish. Rarely will you go smallmouth fishing, for example, and catch a few walleye. It doesn’t happen. This is in part because walleye are extremely light sensitive—they go deep and stay deep when the sun is out. Walleye are often caught at night, as well as early and late in the day. Overcast and rainy days are ideal for catching these, the largest member of the perch family.

Those that target walleye exclusively are usually the most successful.

A former guide at Lake Anna, Glen Briggs, was one angler who managed to figure out the walleye puzzle. Briggs would locate schools of bass feeding up on shad at Lake Anna and then fish beneath the bass. That’s where he found the walleye. Most wouldn’t have, but if you do manage to catch one, you have the makings of a feast.

I remember as a boy that someone Daddy knew had fished the New River and caught a giant walleye—maybe eight or 10 pounds—and gave it to us. Daddy baked and basted the large fish whole and even made a gravy out of the drippings. It was delicious.

Walleye are not particular about their meals. They enjoy a crawfish or two, as do most freshwater fish, and they eat most any minnow that will fit in their mouths. Their favorite prey, when available, is a yellow perch. They also go for aquatic insects and worms.

An ordinary jig is a good choice for walleye fishing. A three- or five-inch jig worked slowly along the bottom will get strikes. Some anglers use a Lindy Rig, with a nightcrawler trailer, with good success. Crankbaits bounced off the bottom are also good walleye baits. Live bait—minnows, live shad or night crawlers—work as well.

There is some natural reproduction of walleye in Virginia, but the main reason for the resurgence in this fishery comes from the stocking of walleye fingerlings. At one time, Virginia swapped striper fingerlings for walleye fingerlings produced by other states. Now, we have our own production facility at the Vic Thomas Fish Hatchery in Brookneal, one of the three warmwater fish hatcheries in our state.

Walleye used for egg production are captured in March from the Staunton River, which runs parallel to the Vic Thomas Hatchery. The Staunton, by the way, is a terrific walleye fishery in itself. Brood fish are captured from the river by biologists using electro fishing techniques—both males and females are gathered. Milk is collected from the males and then eggs from the females, when they are ready to spawn. The eggs and milk are mixed under controlled conditions. Bits of clay are added to keep the eggs from adhering together, much like wild conditions when walleye spawn over sand and gravel. The fertilized eggs hatch in about 12 days and are then moved to an aquarium for three additional days. Then, the small larvae are transferred to a warm water pond for about 30 days. The fingerling walleye are then collected by biologists to be stocked in appropriate lakes and rivers. The original brood stock are all released unharmed back into the Staunton River.

It takes about three years from that point until the walleye reach creel-able sizes. The all-time Virginia state record for walleye weighed 22 ½ pounds, caught in 1973. Perhaps, soon, there will be one caught even larger. Yes indeed, Virginia is for walleyes.

—Contact Jim Brewer at j44brewer@gmail.com

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