By Louie Stout
The future of walleye fishing on the St. Joseph River continues to brighten.
As they have done every other year, the Michiana Walleye Association partnered with the Indiana DNR to stock more fish into the river.
In early October, the DNR planted 8,900 walleyes in the river at Maggie’s Landing in Mishawaka. On that same day, another 2,000 – purchased by the walleye club – went in at the county line bridge near Midway Bait and Tackle. The walleye fish were purchased with funds the club raised through its various fund-raisers and donations it gained from interested businesses.
The DNR contribution was 600 fish shy of what it stocked in 2017 but 400 more than it stocked in 2015.
The DNR and club fish averaged 7 inches long and were purchased from Gollon Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin. That hatchery has provided healthy walleyes for these biennial stockings for the past several years.
Earlier this fall, the DNR planted an additional 2,500 at Maggies. The fish averaged 6.9 inches and were surplus fish that Indiana raised at its Fawn River Hatchery near Howe, Ind.
Those fish went stocked at Maggies Landing near the end of August.
“It was earlier than we prefer, but they had reached a point where the hatchery was overloaded and needed to get them out,” said fisheries biologist Larry Koza who oversees the St. Joseph River project. “I felt it was important to give the river stocking a little bit of a boost.”
Fawn River raises as many walleyes as it can to be stocked in northern Indiana lakes. The fish come from eggs the state gathers from adult fish captured at Brookville Reservoir in southern Indiana.
“We’re trying to improve our process at Fawn River to raise more walleye for these later stockings,” said Koza. “The more we can raise on our own, the fewer we have to purchase.”
Raising walleye this far south is a delicate process due to weather and water temperature. That’s why you see most successful walleye hatcheries in cooler and more northern climates.
Although the St. Joe walleyes get stocked in the larger impoundment of the river, many drift over the dams and wind up downstream. That’s why you can find decent walleye fishing in the lower reaches of Indiana’s portion of the river.
The waters above the Elkhart Dam have their share of walleyes, but those are fish that filter down from upstream stockings conducted by Michigan.
Although walleye fishing is certainly fair or better in Indiana waters above Twin Branch, anglers often grumble they are catching a lot of undersized fish and very few keeper sizes. River walleyes must be 16 inches to be kept legally.
However, Koza says his fall surveys consistently turn up quite a few nice size walleyes.
“They’re in there,” he said. “It’s a common complaint we get on our inland lakes, too. But studies show there are quite a few bigger walleyes in these fisheries.”
Koza went on to say that if anglers are catching a lot of small walleyes in an area, they might want to change locations.
“We find that in our surveys; these fish group by size,” he said. “The bigger fish tend to use different areas.”