Bemidji MN DNR Walleye Egg Take Big Lake Creek
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"Bemidji Area Fisheries Mixing It Up At Big Lake Creek Walleye Eggs Take" — Jeff Sundin May 6, 2022

image of walleyes in trap net at Big Lake Creek spawing site near Bemidji I love it when Mother Nature throws a curve ball, but instead of getting a strike out, she gives the batter a homer!

On Thursday, I got to be the batter and the home run was discovering a neat little walleye spawning operation conducted by the Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries Staff. Overshadowed by larger operations like the one conducted by Grand Rapids Fisheries at Cutfoot Sioux, the annual Big Lake Creek walleye egg take would be an easy one to overlook.

The site is tucked away in the back woods on a little creek that draws little, if any attention. In fact, I drove past the road 3 times looking for it, even when I knew it was my destination and had instructions about how to find it. Eventually though, I did wiggle my way in and was relieved to see a half dozen DNR Fisheries folks preparing to gather, fertilize and deliver a fresh load walleye eggs to the DNR's Bemidji Hatchery.

Never having met most of the Bemidji fisheries staff, my first question was who's in charge of this operation. "I guess that would be me, Andy Thompson, Assistant area supervisor, replied.” When I asked if taking a few photos and writing a report would be okay, Thompson’s response was “sure, no problem, it looks like we’ve got a full trap, so there will be plenty of fish. Depending on circumstances in other areas, we might even be done after today unless some of the other regions need extra help.”

image of DNR Fisheries staff handling large walleye at Bemidji Areea hatcheryIn a typical season, “done after today” would have been an understatement. Usually, the quota for the Big Lake Creek operation is somewhere south of 150 quarts of fertilized walleye eggs. As you can see by the accompanying photo, there were more than enough fish to accomplish that goal in a single session. This year though, the late ice-out has forced Grand Rapids fisheries staff to sit on the sideline, their operation will be at best delayed, or at worst, cancelled altogether.

Walleye fry hatched from eggs gathered at the Big Lake Creek site don’t typically travel very far. Most of them are used to stock popular walleye lakes within the Bemidji region. Some are stocked by the Leech Lake Band in cooperation the DNR management plans of select lakes within the reservation.  “We’ve already exceeded our typical annual quota of eggs to be used in the Bemidji area. But this year, we’re planning on helping by sending some extras to Glenwood, and if they need the help, Grand Rapids too.” Thompson said. “So, it’s possible that we could stay through the weekend, we’ll find out more about that later today”, he added.

The operation itself was typical of other egg take operations I’ve visited. Walleyes are sorted and separated. “Green” fish, ones that are not ready to spawn are sorted into holding pens. “Ripe” fish are placed into water filled tubs and delivered to tables where the eggs will be taken, fertilized, bathed in mud, and put into coolers for delivery to the hatchery. If you’ve never seen the process, or would enjoy reading a more detailed description, I’d suggest following the link to the article I wrote in 2019. In it, I gave a detailed recap of the process after visiting with the Brainerd Area fisheries staff at the Pine River operation. There are lots of photos and complete step-by-step descriptions of the entire operation. Read >> MN DNR Walleye Egg Take Pine River 2019

image of big lake creek walleye spawning site The most significant difference between the Big Lake Creek operation and others I’ve seen is the size. The creek, as you can see, is shallow, narrow, and filled with obstructions. Thompson: “If it weren’t for this operation here, the walleye probably would not be able to navigate this creek at all. Beaver dams, fallen trees and the like need to be cleared every year so that the fish can move into the stream.”

The creek is a handy place for DNR to collect walleye eggs, but according to Thompson, walleyes in this system have lots of other options for spawning too. Some of the fish work their way up into the Mississippi River, some go into the Turtle River and some of the fish go to a different spawning site every season. Thompson: “When we have a late ice-out, like this one, fish migrate to this site more heavily than they would in an average year. These fish are incredibly adaptable and seem to figure out where to go based on conditions. If one site is compromised, they find another one that better suits the conditions at the time.”

Typical of every DNR crew I’ve ever met, Bemidji DNR fisheries staff were welcoming and helpful in every possible way. I’d love for all of you to have the chance to meet them and see this operation. But I’m not sure I should issue any blanket invitations. The site is small, parking is limited and the operations typically last only a few days. So, folks who want to visit would be well advised to contact Bemidji Area Fisheries first to be sure that there’s time and space available before driving over there.

I’m glad that Mother Nature’s curve ball forced into be adaptable like the walleyes. If it wasn’t for the late ice-out delaying the larger, more popular walleye egg collection at Cutfoot Sioux, I never would have wound up with the Bemidji crew yesterday; that would have been my loss.

Most of Minnesota's walleye are not stocked, they are produced naturally. But there are a significant number of lakes that do depend on receiving stocked fish. Some of them are among my favorite walleye lakes in the state and some of your favorites may well depend on stocking too. So, I guess this is the time when I make my perennial pitch about buying a walleye stamp. I know that it's easy to say no to voluntarily paying the extra 5 bucks, but when you think about it, there is no reason for any walleye angler not to buy one. If you’ve thought about it before, but you’re on the fence, let me take one swing at convincing you to buy a walleye stamp this year. Follow this link to learn why I think it's a good idea. Learn More >> Minnesota’s Voluntary Walleye Stamp

image links to bowen lodge on lake winnie Bowen Lodge Cutfoot Sioux, Lake Winnie Fishing Outlook May 6, 2022

image links to bowen lodge fishing update for lake winnie "With only 8 days remaining until the 2022 Minnesota Walleye opener, it’s going to be nip and tuck. Thanks though, to the arrival of this very much needed warm spell, images of lakes that now have open water are creeping slowly, but steadily northward toward Lake Winnibigoshish and Cutfoot Sioux. We’ve become cautiously optimistic that our lakes, at least for the most part, will be open and accessible on May 14th!

This year, more than ever, there is good reason for anticipation of a great walleye fishing season to be high. Early data from MN DNR 2021 Fisheries surveys continue to support the widely held belief that 2, back-to-back, “dynamo year classes” of walleyes from both the 2018 and 2019 spawning seasons now dominate the population of walleyes in Winnie.

That means the population of “catchable” size fish in our system will be better in 2022, than it has been for several years. We think even better than it was when the very strong, 2013-year class ..." Read >> Bowen Lodge Lake Winnie Fishing Outlook May 6, 2022

Jeff Sundin is a full time fishing guide, outdoor writer and photographer. Learn about guided fishing trips and more, click >> More About Jeff Sundin.