Let's talk spawning ...

By Lindsay Leko

April 27, 2017 12:00 AM

Well, it is safe to say spring has arrived, although snow’s still on the ground in part of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
I am sure that we’ll get one or two more dumps of snow yet.
This winter I managed to get out with some friends to catch burbot on Last Mountain Lake.
I know that many anglers think burbot are the ugliest fish around, but they are a fierce fighting fish and very tasty.
Try fish fry batter, some hot sauce and homemade beans, it’s a meal fit for a king.
My dad still can’t believe I eat them.
When we were done, we went after some late day walleye.
The colours of these fish were incredible.
Nothing huge but a couple of five pounders were landed.
What a great day.
By the time you read this, the angling seasons in the province will be closed.
In the south and central zones, it closed on March 31 and will open on May 5 in the south and May 15 for the central zone.
Those in the northern zone could fish until April 15. The northern zone season doesn’t start up again until May 25.
These closures do not apply to most stocked trout ponds.
The reason we close the season in April is because fish species such as walleye, pike and perch tend to spawn during this time.
Perch in their life cycle will start to spawn between their third and fourth year of life.
They spawn annually in the spring when the water temperature is between seven to 12 degrees Celsius.
The females lay their eggs, approximately 20,000, in a transparent tube that attaches to weeds or branches submerged in the water.
Once they are laid, the males will fertilize them.
Once fertilized, the eggs should hatch in about two to three weeks.
Northern pike are not really interested in feeding during the spawn.
They will eat prior to the spawn to build up energy.
The pike spawn normally starts in early to mid-April depending upon the water temperature.
The males will move into the spawning grounds before the females and wait for them to arrive.
These spawning areas include shallow bays and areas with lots of vegetation.
The females will come in and lay thousands of eggs at one time.
The larger the female, the more eggs produced.
Once the eggs are laid on vegetation, the males will fertilize them, with the females leaving the spawning area soon after.
Once fertilized, the eggs will usually hatch in two weeks.
Saskatchewan’s most popular fish, the walleye, also spawn in the spring.
They leave the deeper waters and migrate to the warmer waters to lay their eggs.
For the best success rate, the female will wait for the water temperature to reach around seven degrees Celsius.
A cold snap can affect the time and duration of the spawn.
Walleye prefer to spawn in shallow waters and lay their eggs on rocky bottom areas and will do so in lakes and rivers.
Even though the number of fish spawning combined with the number of eggs they produce is high, the successful hatch rate is not that high.
Many of the fertilized eggs succumb to fungus or siltation while others may be consumed by other fish or invertebrates. 
In Saskatchewan, fisheries staff assist with this spawn process by hatching the eggs in a controlled setting.
Every year fisheries biologists meet at various locations to collect walleye eggs during the spawn.
Mature females and males are caught with live traps and the eggs from the females and milt (sperm) from the males are collected.
A clay like substance is mixed in as well to prevent the eggs from sticking together when the eggs are taken.
They use a large feather to mix the eggs, milt and clay, so they do not damage the eggs.
From there, they are transferred to fresh clean water for hardening and then transported to the hatchery.
Once back at the hatchery, the eggs are given all the necessary elements to make them grow.
In special jar containers they continue to incubate until they hatch into the fry stage.
Walleye fry are about three to four millimeters long with a developed eye.
These fry are then put into oxygenated water containers and taken out and released into select Saskatchewan lakes that are part of the walleye stocking program.
For the upcoming 2017/2018 angling season, there are really no new regulation changes or changes in limits.
As you have all heard by now, license fees for angling have gone up, but it is pretty reasonable for a season of entertainment.
Fines for angling without a licence have also gone up so it is going to cost you more if you choose to angle without a licence.
The 2017/18 Anglers guide is now available online and the actual hard copies are in our offices.
Did you know…
Newly hatched pike have a sticky patch on their heads that allows them to attach themselves to vegetation while resting or growing in between feeds.
The Fort Qu’Appelle Fish Culture Station raises walleye, rainbow trout, tiger trout, lake trout, brown trout, brook trout and splake.
The Fort Qu’Appelle Fish Culture Station is the only fish hatchery in Saskatchewan hatching and stocking fish to enhance public angling opportunities.
The first stocking of a Saskatchewan waterbody took place in 1900.
Eight million whitefish fry from a Manitoba hatchery were transported 300 miles by rail and horse-drawn wagon to the Qu’Appelle Valley lakes.
In Saskatchewan, approximately 85 lakes are stocked with walleye from the Fort Qu’Appelle Fish Culture Station.
Saskatchewan lakes are stocked by boat, truck and aircraft.
The Fort Qu’Appelle Fish Culture Station offers free tours during the summer.
Until next time, stay safe.
Ministry of Environment conservation officer Lindsey Leko has spent more than 25 years as a conservation officer in Saskatchewan. For many years, Officer Leko contributed a column to local papers on a variety of issues related to hunting, fishing, and other resource-related issues. If you have questions, please contact lindsey.leko@gov.sk.ca.

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