As the sun came up over Le Sueur County’s Steele Lake, Peter Muggli and Sky Wigen slipped their boat into the frigid waters.
Never mind that it was a Saturday, the Waterville area fisheries crew was on Mother Nature’s timeline – the ice was out and the northern pike spawn was imminent. They were just one of several teams fanning out across their work area.
The duo worked together to pull up nets they had set just 24 hours earlier before sorting out the northern pike and placing them in the boat’s on-board tank. Those fish were headed to the Waterville State Fish Hatchery just a few miles away, where they would contribute to the DNR’s statewide stocking program, which is especially critical in the shallow lakes of southern Minnesota according to fisheries biologists.
“Northern pike require shallow areas with vegetation for natural reproduction,” said Waterville area fisheries supervisor Craig Soupir. “This type of habitat has disappeared over the years on many of our lakes.”
After all of the nets have been pulled from Steele Lake and the northern pike placed in the tank, Muggli and Wigen load up the boat and drive through the muddy and rutted gravel roads between that lake and the fish hatchery.
They are the first crew back, but before long, the other crews pull in and the place becomes abuzz with activity. An assembly line of sorts comes together as fisheries staff go through the task of stripping eggs and milt before combining them and activating them with water, beginning the process of producing young fish.
The Waterville hatchery is just one of 15 hatcheries in the state. In Waterville alone, 40 million walleye fry are produced each year, and another 1.5 million northern pike are hatched each year. Muskellunge was added in the last decade, and 300,000 muskies are hatched annually at the facility.
Following the fertilization process, the hatchery’s rearing ponds are the next stage in producing fish for the DNR’s stocking effforts. Waterville’s 50 acres of rearing ponds produce 225,000 walleye fingerlings, 70,000 muskellunge fingerlings and 20,000 catfish fingerlings. Those fish, depending on the species, can range from one to 12 inches.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Waterville fisheries crew. They’re proud of their role in the area’s angling fortunes.
SOURCE: Minnesota DNR